an online conversation
about design management

Selling design strategy to clients

I have been developing series of workshops on design and strategy as a follow-on from The business of design publication. This has lead me to examine more closely what it is that we do when we claim to use design as part of our client’s business strategy to help them develop a design led business.

I was part of a CEO roundtable for a number of years and within the group I had the chance to closely examine a number of strategies from a range of businesses.

I noted then, and now, that many businesses don’t have a defined strategy.

This lead me to define what I think should be the major areas of strategy within a business.

I think there are four areas of business strategy:

  • Operational strategy
  • Service or product strategy
  • Marketing strategy
  • Brand strategy

It is obvious that designers fit into the last section. But can we fully assist the client without getting involved in the other strategy areas?

If you google ‘strategy’ you will get a massive, overwhelming response.

By settling on the four areas above I have been able to cut through this and define, for clients, how design and strategy should work in their business.

I explain the four areas of strategy this way:

Operational strategy: Operational strategy specifies how a company will maintain and improve its operations over a set time frame. The operational strategy is derived from the mission, vision, values and purpose that a business has developed. This is where the design can first show their expertise. Using strategic visualisation the designer can show the business how to visualise their mission, vision, values and purpose. This makes them more tangible for all the stakeholders in the business.

Service or product strategy: This is the core of the business; without products or services the business does not exist. When you look at the service or product there are aspects that design obviously influences – quality, branding, packaging. The service or product strategy will define what is to happen in all of these areas and then the tactics will define how design (amongst many other things) will achieve the goals set in the strategy.

Marketing strategy: The marketer takes the operational strategy and product/service strategy and writes a marketing strategy that has a set of tactics and some KPIs. This strategy will cover promotion and positioning of the product or service. Designers obviously influence this area because their work has an impact on the success that is measured in the KPIs. The design of the website, for instance, will need to fit in with the marketing strategy so that the correct metrics are put in place behind the website.

Brand strategy: This is the area that most businesses accept the designer has an input. It should be developed as an extension of all the other strategies and should enmesh with them. The key area that designers have to add in developing brand strategy is empathy. Designers have developed thinking and designing skills that give them the ability to empathise with their client’s customers.

Brand strategy is the entry point to strategic design. By showing clients that you achieve this empathy you can gain access to the strategy planning process for the business. That entry can be used to demonstrate how you can add to all levels of strategic planning in the business.