13 November 2006
Linda Fisher
Linda Fisher

In Part 1 of this two-part series, design business consultant Linda Fisher revealed why some corporations may outsource creative services and others stay in-house. In Part 2, she advises on how to position your design firm to take full advantage of the corporate outsourcing wave.

Why Your Design Business Needs Brand Positioning
Frank J. Casale, chairman of The Outsourcing Institute stated that: "More and more companies are looking at outsourcing not just as a tactical, and reactive move, but as a strategic and proactive move for a wide range of non-core functions. Sometimes it just takes a new perspective. Companies that are willing to consider outsourcing as part of their strategic planning process are ultimately the big winners--especially now, when everybody is trying to do more with less."

If this is the case, and I believe it is, I have an important question for my readers: "How will the corporate community find your design business's services?" Have you positioned your firm to take advantage of the outsourcing trend that is happening on a world-side scale? Now, more than ever, it becomes even more crucial to have a strategic marketing plan in place. With that plan comes a solid mission statement and positioning. In other words, a brand strategy.

As I have preached to you: "Your focus should not only be on brand management for your clients, but on management of your own business's brand." At core, every service that is offered by design businesses boils down to managing a client's corporate Brand. It's all about the Brand. Yours, and theirs.

How can corporate prospects find you, and your design business, unless you have clearly positioned your firm as a "match" for their needs? A clear, simple mission statement and positioning statement--that is, who we are and what we do, and this is the industry sector we service--gets your message to that all-important buyer who will buy your firm's services over your competitor's.

Look at your design business with a critical eye. Do you have a strategic marketing plan? Do you have a clear mission? Position? Can your prospects find your firm easily? What does an Internet search yield? Have you ever tried this to see if your prospects will even see the name of your design firm when they launch a search using a major search engine? If you can't find your firm, how will your key publics find it? Answer: they won't.

As the corporate trend to outsource continues, the smart principals of design businesses will lay the groundwork now to put a strategic marketing plan in place. They understand that they are positioning themselves to capture significant market share of the business in their focused industry sector. They understand that the power of strong brand management will help to further leverage their design business's tangible and intangible assets. That's how global design leaders are born.

In this era of increased competition in a global business environment, upticks and downturns in the world economy and corporate adjustments and readjustments, great business opportunities are being created for the canny and the wise. The insightful will take advantage of these opportunities. Will you?

Insights from Both Sides of the Business
We gain rare and valued perspectives from our corporate interviews. Our research yields a great deal about the mindset and mandates of corporate brand managers and buyers of creative services. We share these insights with our clients and conference audiences.

A few corporate contacts also have the rare advantage of having worked in both sides of the business. Pamela DeCesare, Director of Packaging and Brand Design for Kraft Foods, and fellow member of Design Management Institute, wrote an article entitled: "Dynamic Duos: Maximizing the Potential of Partnerships." In this article, Pamela shares her insights with her readers.

Pamela began her career, after graduating from Syracuse University, as a young designer. Although she immersed herself in her clients' businesses to better understand their corporate perspectives, she always felt that there were..."invisible 'lines in the sand' within the worlds of some of my clients--boundaries I felt would hinder my path to design excellence and effective partnerships."

She went on to say that: "By virtue of my position as director of packaging and brand design for Kraft Foods, I was finally allowed in...I am now an insider, a person closely aligned to the core of those critical brand drivers, strongly held beliefs, and unspoken expectations that bubble up from the client world."

"Recently, my corporate design management group identified a need for some short-term, on-site support from a design partner that required that partner's account manager to work with us in an account management/design management capacity. While we were pleased with the closer-than-ever link to the design firm this scenario created, what we did not anticipate was the reaction we received from our new on-site team member! Once at the table with us, she was positively overwhelmed at the realization of the true role of the design manager, as well as at the dynamic interactions of the marketing, packaging and other corporate functions. She was impressed with the level of input, guidance, direction and mediation that occurred through the course of the project, and while she knew our team, and our marketers well before working onsite, she was newly impressed as she experienced our world from the inside. A new respect for her design management partners and marketing was born."

The New Awareness in Design + Business: Managing the Brand Is Job #1
The net result of this discussion of in-house vs outsourcing of creative services yields this most provocative and important of insights: that for both design firms and corporate businesses--managing the brand is job #1. It also points to our need in the design industry to put strategic marketing plans in place. This will require design firms to brand themselves. To learn to become more corporate in organization if they expect to fit into corporate plans. To hone our mission and position statements. Marketing and public relations that are consistently done, will increase our visibility to the global corporate community. Out of the hundreds of thousands of design firms in the world, only those who have differentiated themselves, and marketed their position will stand out in the crowded marketplace. Then, we will reap the rewards of our efforts.

My advice to design firm principals is this: to become leaders you must think like corporate executives and focus on a balanced management approach to your business. You must focus on executive, financial and operations functions. In the midst of all of your other responsibilities, managing your Brand is really and truly job #1. My caveat to design firm principals is this: as the economy grows and strengthens, and a host of profitable projects come your way, do not abandon your marketing activities. Do you think that marketing isn't as important as design project management? Business principals who come from a design background, are inclined to focus on project and client quality. True leadership in the design business focuses on a balance between marketing + design + operations.

The design businesses who focus on the business aspects of their firms, and who operate with strategic plans, will rise to the top--they will become the leaders. The design businesses who don't do those things will limp along, taking whatever business they can find, or fail and go out of business. Now is the time for action!

P.S. My vision regarding opportunity today: there is a wide-open opportunity for a design firm who aims to be a leader--to become one. Size of firm, location, language, culture or fear of flying will not matter. The savvy people will set their sights high, garner leadership recognition and global visibility. It's that easy.

About this article
This article was written with the assistance of Claire Ratushny and originally published in Design Management Resources' free newsletter, read in over 40 countries: "Marketing & PR Exclusively for Design Firms" Click here to subscribe.

About Linda Fisher
Linda Fisher is founder and president of Design Management Resources, Inc. She forms strategic partnerships with her clients by consulting with design firm principals to define their mission, position and business goals. Ms. Fisher is a regular on the speaking circuit and conducts intensive workshops to educate design firms about sound business tenets. She has written numerous articles for internationally recognized publications, including How Magazine and Communication Arts. She also writes an international newsletter, "Marketing + PR Exclusively for Design Firms", which is read in over 40 countries.

About Design Management Resources, Inc.
Based in the United States, Design Management Resources provides strategic consulting for design firms who are global leaders - or aim to be. The company specializes in:
- Living Marketing Plans
- Public Relations
- Positioning: Differentiating Strategies to Compete in the Global Marketplace

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