Should a start-up go to market design first or content first?

If you’re a start-up, almost by definition strapped for cash, you should be very careful where you spend the little marketing money you have. Design or content? Scroll down…

start-up empty wallet

A while ago a start-up started a discussion on LinkedIn about being at the point where they need to  “establish their identity”, as the topic owner put it. He went on to say that they wanted to crowdsource the design, covering their visual identity and its applications to stationery, website and presentation materials.

As expected, our writer received many answers from design professionals who—understandably—focused on the visual aspects. However, if you are in the same position, perhaps my contribution (which never got posted as I wasn’t a member of the group) from the standpoint of a copywriter who has written numerous corporate graphics manuals and edited dozens more might help you.

First of all, should you crowdsource?

Crowdsourcing is fine for ideas. For implementation, I’m not so sure. In the end, as the owner of your business, it’s you who needs to make the decisions. You know the saying “Too many cooks spoil the broth”.

Second, the topic poster’s specifics.

A) Should we order these one-by-one? Or should we have a one design contests where the winner will provide the whole package?

Identity is always an entity. You can’t build what you are piece by piece. You can’t be a little this and a little that, and make tweaks afterwards. Therefore, you should hire someone to do the whole package.

That said, a contest might not be the best possible idea. If I were starting a new business, I’d rather pick a designer who understands where I’m heading and who is a good fit in terms of personal chemistry. Unless you’re a skilled designer yourself, you won’t be able to judge whether the design you get will or will not work. Yes, I could cut my hair myself, but I’d rather have a professional do it for me.

B) What is a good creative brief? Should we shortly describe who are are, what is our business? In essence define our identity? We don’t want to waste designers time, but want to give enough freedom for creativity.

A good brief for visual design is pretty much the same as a good brief for your written marketing content or, indeed, anything you are going to make public about your business.
Yes, you should describe who you are—more specifically, your value proposition and your positioning in the marketplace. You should outline your ultimate goal. You should let your contractor know how you’ve planned to get to your goal. You should point out some of your most important competitors.

As a friend of mine who runs a reputable design agency once said: “Visual identity is your strategy in visual form.”

C) What is the price range going to be? Is 500USD to 1000USD a realistic budget for the work in hand? I know that we are not going to get Saatchi & Saatchi with this kind of money, but is it enough to get decent results? Do remember that this is a start-up, and one that doesn’t have venture funding… yet.

Regardless of the route you take, crowdsourcing or finding one trusted partner, any amount of money will get you some results. I don’t fully subscribe to the idea “you get what you pay for” because if you have amazing luck in finding your contractor, you could actually get someone who genuinely tries to make it work for you even if you’re not breaking the bank. In that sense, the planned investment range might work. Be warned, though: this rarely happens. Reputable designers will charge more. A lot more.

And now forget everything I said above

When aiming for a certain result, we as businesspeople should always weigh all our options. Sometimes it requires thinking a little outside the box. The key phrase is “alternative investment”. In plain language, “Could I get more out of this wad of money in some other way?”

For a start-up, an alternative investment could be skipping the visual identity altogether. Instead of burning $1,000 on what is essentially branding, I would rather spend that money on something that quickly converts to sales, something that a start-up needs many times more urgently than a nice outward appearance.

In the age before the internet, magnificent sales results were achieved with one single visual identity: a white sheet of paper with text in typewriter font. A totally applicable approach even in today’s networked world.

The point is to craft a message that gets devoured by the people it is intended for. We are moved by books, set in one font without embellishments and continuing for hundreds of pages. We read magazine articles. We appreciate Einstein for what he had to say, not for how dapper a suit he wore.

That’s why you should first make sure you have something to offer that your potential buyers want to buy. Then focus on conversion. How all this is visually designed is secondary. Choose wisely what you really need to invest in.

[Image courtesy of Flickr/NoHoDamon]

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