6 Questions to Ask Before You Spend a Dime on Graphic Design

image of a U.S. dime (ten-cent coin)

I’ve helped businesses craft effective marketing materials for almost 25 years now, and I’ve had every type of client.

There are the clients who want their website to appeal to everyone — no matter if that means making the design and content so bland it might as well not be there at all.

There are clients who don’t really know why their service is good, or the ones who don’t have a marketing strategy beyond “pitch this product.”

Sure, I could take their money and create a single-product promotion, a bland one-time campaign, or help them run one ad that they think will turn everything around. But it burns me up inside.

Because I know that even with a limited budget, they can create an effective marketing campaign.

So here it is: before you throw money at a designer to start a project, ask yourself these questions:

1. Do I know who I’m trying to reach?

As the Copyblogger radio show talked about last week, this is where every marketing effort has to start.

Who, specifically, do you want to sell to?

I know, I know. You want to sell to everyone. But stop for a minute and think: who really needs your service? Who can’t live without your product?

That’s who you need to focus your communication on. The hungry, clamoring buyers who must have what you offer. If you bring in a few people outside that group, great — but target the ones who have to have your offering.

When you think about this group, write down:

Paint a thorough picture of who you want to reach. Round out that picture with as much detail as you can.

This information will allow you to shape your content and your marketing design in a way that resonates with the specific people you want to reach.

2. Do I know where to find my market?

Are there publications or websites that serve the market you want to reach? How about clubs or associations they might belong to?

Research in-person opportunities like conventions and other networking events that might give you a way to reach the group you’re targeting.

Narrow down where they like to hang out online. Do they frequent certain forums? Are they into Facebook or Twitter? Is it a LinkedIn kind of crowd?

Figure out where they hang out, and you won’t spin your wheels (or waste your money) placing ads and distributing marketing materials in all the wrong places.

3. Do I have a decent tagline?

Your tagline is the short phrase that accompanies your business name. There are two styles of taglines, and to be most effective, you should pick the style that best matches your business name.

  • If your business name doesn’t state what you do, your tagline should.
  • If your business name makes it clear what you do, your tagline can add to that, potentially being less specific and more intriguing.

Let’s look at two examples:

Say your company is called “QuickDoc Emergency Medicine.” The name of this business says what they do: this is the place we go when we have a medical emergency that doesn’t call for a hospital waiting room.

The tagline for Quick Doc Emergency Medicine could be, “We Make It Better. Fast.”

Now imagine your business is called “Smith Company.” If you use “We Make It Better. Fast.” with that company name, you’re not giving us enough information. We have no idea what you do, or why we should be interested.

So if your company’s name says it all, feel free to be creative with your tagline. But if your company name is more creative (think: Google), use a specific, benefits-oriented tagline to communicate what you do.

4. Do I have a compelling offer?

A lot has been written on the pages of this blog about creating compelling offers. Here are the main points:

  • Solve a real problem (in other words, a problem your buyers care about, not one they don’t).
  • Meet a basic need. These are: to make or save money; feel like part of a larger group; save time and effort; support your loved ones; impress others; build security; or gain more pleasure from life.
  • Overdeliver on the value you provide for the price.
  • Make a solid guarantee that puts your prospect’s mind at ease.
  • Incorporate a call to action that clearly communicates what you’d like the recipient to do next.

Creating an irresistible offer is at the heart of any marketing piece. Even if you’re simply sharing information, make sure it’s presented so that you solve problems, meet needs, and deliver value.

5. Have I positioned the offer in terms of benefits along with features?

Features are what your service creates or your product does. They refer to tangible aspects of your product like the color, size, and accessories. If you offer a service, they may refer to things like availability, delivery options, and your level of service.

Benefits refer to those intangible qualities your product or service offers that make your customer’s life better. They connect your product or service with the emotion it evokes when customers buy from you.

Some people think features are bad, or wrong to include. They aren’t. Features are important: specifications, colors and delivery information all help your prospect make a buying decision.

But they don’t work very well alone. Pair features with benefits to plug into a part of your prospect’s brain that motivates them to act. People buy so they can experience the emotional and logical benefits you’ve promised.

6. Do I have a system in place that will lead toward sales?

Individual marketing pieces should be considered only one part of a larger sales system that will lead your prospects to the point of becoming customers.

Before you talk to a designer about creating your next marketing piece (or you put it together yourself), make sure you have a plan in place so that you know how all the pieces fit together to help your customer make the journey from prospect to paying customer.

You might set it up like a marketing funnel in which a prospect moves from a free offering to a low-priced product, and continues on to higher-priced offers.

Or you could divide your target market into groups who will be interested in one service over another, and plan to meet all their varied needs.

Either way, have a system in place. Drive prospects from one marketing arena to another — from your e-mail newsletter to your website and your Facebook page, for example. Weave a web of helpful content that will keep them engaged no matter where they interact with your company. And use your system to help them make the journey to loyal, paying customer.

Think, plan, and then create

It’s easy to get marketing wrong: you can end up dumping a lot of money into ineffective solutions if you’re not careful.

But a little pre-planning can make all the difference. Pull back to see how your efforts fit together, and make sure you craft your content carefully.

Then, whether you do it yourself or hire a designer, you’ll be spending your dimes on design and marketing efforts that will yield results.

What do you think about before you start working on a new marketing piece? Anything to add? Let’s hear it in the comments.

About the Author: Pamela Wilson helps small business grow with great design and marketing.

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Comments

  1. Great post! You mentioned problem solving. I’ve found this to be key! I talk with current & potential clients to determine their biggest challenges in doing business. Then I use this to fuel my marketing. The more clear I can get about solving a specific problem, the more effective my efforts seem to be. Thanks for a great post!

    • Thanks, Piper.

      You’re right: speaking with clients and prospects will yield all sorts of useful nuggets of information. It’s a great way to nail down how to communicate with them, and what to say.

    • Problem solving is the key and I’m happy you highlighted it. I just returned from a free entrepreneur seminar held at a local Illinois Institute of Technology campus. While the presenter has been a multi-millionaire in several businesses, he did emphasize:

      1. Be a good listener and identify the problems others need solving.

      2. Believe in yourself.

      The core truths are there and Copyblogger keeps hitting them home – just as Pam did in today’s post.

      Randy

  2. Man, I love this. Really. Because many of my clients want nothing to do with thinking anything through. They want to have (crappy) ad messages that are spread to more places.

    They repeat junk like “Now is a great time to buy OR SELL a home,.” or “All the smart people didn’t panic 2009 and the Dow has doubled since then.”

    Over. And Over.

    Design doesn’t matter when the original thinking isn’t there. It’s such a bummer.

    • Those same ad messages are so prevalent that I think people believe “that’s what marketing sounds like.”

      Well, that’s what some marketing sounds like. But not good marketing.

  3. This is really good, I am way too lazy to learn graphics and sometimes I reach out to a designer way too early, thanks for this

  4. Love this Pamela! It’s so easy to get whisked away with a beautifully designed website and marketing materials, and not plan enough! Sure, people might look at your stuff and love it, but I think solving people’s problems is the key to keep them coming back for more.

  5. I’m with it.

    Sounds so simple right? Wrong! For the longest time, I, and many other people know didn’t clearly define WHO they were talking to, and better yet WHERE to find them.

    Makes a huge difference. I needed it to stick in my mind, so I started thinking like this:

    Would I want to sell a bunch of Mcdonalds hamburgers to a fitness freak? Nah. I’d want to sell broccoli, spinach, water and chicken to them and I’d have to go to the gym to find them.

    Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned along the way, Pamela. I agree completely that features are imperative.

    Ryan

  6. A terrific and crystal-clear post, Pamela. And more fuel I can use with clients to get them past the “let’s make it pretty” mindset and into “let’s tell people what the heck we do!” mode.

    I’m always amazed at how often we ask clients to tell us – very simply and briefly – what they do, and get met with blank stares. Or worse, they need to meet up offline and get back to us in a few days. It’s what you DO!!

  7. Thanks Pamela,

    Excellent post!
    These tips are extremely important when it comes to Internet Marketing generally.
    Thanks again

  8. Great post Pamela. I especially like #2: how to find your market. When you can find your market, the sales pitch along with “thoughtful” marketing materials (website, brochure, fliers, e-newsletter) seal the deal. Comments made by readers are also excellent.

  9. You make some excellent points, Pamela. Like you, I find that many small business clients think that all they have to do is announce their services to the world and they’ll start getting tons of business.

    It takes time and patience to sift through everything they give you to come up with the right message that will differentiate them from their competition and reach the right people. I especially liked what you said about not selling to everyone because almost every small business owner believes that “everyone” is going to want what they’re selling.

    Some of my most successful clients were able to create a sense of exclusivity, saying that they’ll ONLY sell to certain qualified customers. They’re usually scared to try this approach, but it can work in the right situation.

    Thanks again for a great post.

    Sid

    • Thanks, Sid. I find people resist narrowing the market they try to appeal to, but once they are brave enough to try it, everything is easier. It’s easier to create messages that are effective, and it’s easier to make offers that are irresistible.

  10. Branding oneself is difficult, but something I’m ironing out right now. Your points are great considerations – what problem are you able to solve for your clients and how do you get your message through clearly and quickly. Then you need to find someone to help you convey that message who gets where you’re coming from, so shop around. Many people are willing to just fleece your pockets and fill them with empty promises. Branding yourself can be challenging, but it is an ever evolving thing as you move forward in your business. Thanks for the good info as always!

    • I have to tell you, Cindy, I’ve had so many clients say that after our work was done, they got as much out of the questions I asked and the thinking I “forced” them to do as they did from the work that resulted from it. That’s one of the reasons I wrote this post!

      • I know of at least one high-priced consultant who’s gone on record saying that his clients learn more from the preparation they do for meeting with him (I think he has a detailed questionnaire that has questions that look a whole lot like these) than they do in the actual meeting.

        So there you have it, folks, the value of a $10K/day consulting session for free here on Copyblogger. :)

  11. Pamela, love this article! I just wish that more graphic designers could see this.

    Speaking as a designer with 20+ years experience, I’ve found that I’ve had to wear at least three hats when dealing with most clients.

    The Marketer’s Hat
    The Copywriter’s Hat
    and The Designer’s Hat

    I’ve also found that it’s best when I separate each function and charge accordingly based on whether I do the work or need to bring others on board. A ridiculously high percentage of my clients come to me with the expectation that a designer will do all of those dark arts for the price of the design.

    There’s usually an educational process with the potential client before any contracts are signed to make sure what is expected and how it will be provided. That also gives me a chance to find out where the client is regarding all of the points you touched on above.

  12. I like how you say that you should plan everything out before you handle graphic design. The last thing you want is last minute changes. Personally, I’ve found that developing a website first and letting your market develop before you really focus on graphic design.

  13. Perhaps it also VERY important to note, that all these steps need to be followed BEFORE starting a new company, because branding, tag lines etc is very difficult to incorporate or change after launch or existence.

  14. Very good post. The only point I am going to have to disagree with is #1 from above. Yes it is a great idea to know your audience and know who needs your service but knowing who needs it doesn’t help you create a graphic design or logo any better.

    For instance I offer small business search engine optimization and online lead generation services for middle aged Americans age 30 to 55, primarily female in the SF Bay Area, CA. My audience has a physical business location and a website.

    Their website’s suck! They aren’t optimized and they don’t pitch benefits. The content is weak and they aren’t even found in search listings for their main keywords and phrases.

    Now tell me, what kind of logo would you create knowing all this?

    Good post buddy but #1 is slightly off.

    • Marshall, I would design a very different logo for 30-55 year old females than I would for, say, 50-75 year old males. It doesn’t matter if their websites suck: I’d want to target my work to appeal to them. I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

  15. Great post Pamela! Your point #5 reminds me of a saying I learned a long time ago, “Features tell, benefits sell”.

    You make something that takes a lot of thinking sound so easy and very doable. I’m printing this one out and keeping it handy!

    Thank you for the valuable information – Theresa

  16. The Last para of the posts sums it up nicely. Everything certainly needs a plan & that plan must be executed in the right way.

  17. I think often times people get lost in the look of their website or making it look “pretty” and they forget about functionality partly or all together. The thing that I always try to convey is that there needs to be a call to action. Even if the website is beautiful, if website visitors don’t know what they are supposed to do or where they are supposed to go on the site, then they’ll just leave, plain and simple.

  18. The internet marketing agency I write for is readying the launch of a redesigned website. And what hit me the hardest about this piece was the bit on taglines. I think our team should definitely consider finding a tagline that tells our clients what we’re all about. Thanks for that, otherwise I probably wouldn’t have even noticed it.

  19. Love this post! We have integrated a questionnaire into our project development, even before we’ll develop a proposal/contract. I always say, “If you know your business plan and have a firm idea of your business, then it should be a piece of cake.” At least half hem and haw about doing it, and those are the ones who need to do it the most. I also integrated an “Ideal Clients” page on our site so that people can see that, even though we’re for hire, we also have expectations of our clients.

  20. My husband, who is a graphic designer, and I were just talking about this. He serves a classical music company, as well as independent artists on the side. But most people just say “I don’t care what it looks like” and then have a million revisions. They clearly have no idea what their intention is. Branding? Rebranding? Sales? Information?

    I developed a survey for him to give clients when he first starts working with them. Sometimes they hedge at the most basic information, like naming 3 album covers that speaks to their style. Or even what colors they gravitate to. It tells him if they’re worth taking on or not.

  21. I’ve only recently decided to get a graphic designer to help with a product that I’m launching in a few months. And I will be honest, I only knew some of the answers to these questions. My designer was patient (thankfully) and asked some of these questions that I didn’t come to her with answers for. Had I known what I needed to go to her with, it would have made both our lives easier! Thanks Pamela, great information for those of us new to this.

    • That’s exactly why I wrote this, Karen. I’m trying to make everyone’s lives a little easier! If you think this stuff through, everyone can get right to work taking action on the information. Thanks for your comment!

  22. Before working on any marketing piece, I deliberately “play the cynic” and say, “SO WHAT!!” I then go on to answer the “so what!”. Some people who say that, just enjoy being difficult, but others really do want to be sold. If I can’t legitimately answer this question, than I abandon that plan. I constantly ask myself questions like “What do you want this piece to do? How do you want people to react when they see it?,has this been done by someone else before? How successful was it, and why? And most importantly, how can I do something similar, my way?
    Sometimes there is the temptation to try something bizarre and off the wall, that we disregard simple basic ideas that have a proven track record of success. In my business, I help online professionals increase their visibility, by encouraging them to use my visuals in their advertising. Now this is simple. This is done offline to enhance news articles, book covers, etc yet some online marketers fail to see that instead looking for some expense techno thingie to get noticed. I just saw, draw em a picture, long enough for them to stop so they can see your content.

    http://www.Subwaysurfer.blogspot.com

  23. The ‘compelling offer’ hit points are great for me to think about when writing most of my web and blog content. I’m not writing fiction, I’m writing about skin care and skin health. Really everything I write should have relevance to the reader; they should know that they are going to get something out of the time they spend reading what I’ve written-especially if they act on it.

    This post is a nice check in to review what I’ve been doing with my web project. Thanks!

  24. Ok, that does it. Copyblogger reads my mind. This time I’ve got solid proof.

    You keep talking about what’s on my mind. All day, I’ve been thinking about Graphic Design, and now I pull this up in my reader. This is ridiculous. Absolutely completely ridiculous.

    Pamela, I just started following Social Triggers about three weeks ago. I told Derek that he was one of the extremely very few people that can tell a good blog from a monkey’s uncle. He gets this stuff. So do you.

    That webinar looks totally awesome. I’m signed up.

    Thanks a bunch guys. I think it’s time we all had some broccoli ice cream.

    • I am really looking forward to the webinar: thanks for your enthusiasm, Martyn. I plan to share lots of good information, and have tons of visual examples to drive my points home.

      Hope you enjoyed your ice cream. ;-)

      • Oh no! I can’t stand the flavor. I’m just tucking my cone under the pillow and calling it good. Be my guest and finish it off.

        The webinar’s going to be awesome. I can already smell it.

  25. This is why demographics are so key for companies, and surveys and testing can lead to slogans, images…etc. Look at how many companies rebrand their logo’s or slogans after years of using the same ones.

  26. Great post! It really doesn’t matter whether you’re in web design, copywriting or some other niche of marketing media, the principles are all really the same:

    – Know your target market
    – Provide value and information to your customers.
    – Over deliver on your offers, whether free or paid.
    – Be consistent with the image and message of your business across all mediums.
    – Solve an urgent need for your prospects.

    Thanks for the reminders! And also, great job on linking to other helpful posts throughout your discussion. It makes it so much easier to know where to begin when you want to learn more in depth techniques on a particular point. Great job!

  27. Chock full of good reminders and fresh perspective on perennial business concerns: How do I get the most bang for every marketing buck? I would add that, right now, personality and levity win.

    Some of my clients are reluctant to be funny in their marketing campaigns. They’re afraid humor will damage their credibility or somehow diminish their professionalism, and this fear causes them to play it safe and create forgettable messages. In an effort to not be “tacky,” they don’t stand out at all. Yet, they laugh along with everybody else at new Old Spice and Volkswagen commercials aired during the Superbowl.

    If it can work for the grooming and automobile industries, why can’t it work in banking and law, auto repair and drycleaning? Some of these markets are just waiting to be shaken up by smart, funny campaigns with enticing special offers. Part of my job as a writer and marketer is persuading my clients to take this route, but I wish it took less education. I’d sum it up this way: When crafting marketing campaigns, remember to be likeable.

    • What a great point, Austin. There’s no better way to put a human face on a business than to use humor and a touch of quirkiness where appropriate.

      I hope your clients pay attention: you’re giving them solid advice. :-)

  28. Terrific post. Many companies prefer to skip the planning altogether and get right to designing the ad. It’s double tougher when they can’t or even don’t want to isolate their target market or the benefits they’re bringing. The process of initial self-discovery is sometimes tougher than planning the marketing campaign itself.

    • It’s definitely tougher to do this thinking than to create the actual campaign, in my experience at least.

      But if you put the time and thought into it, it makes everything that comes afterward much easier.

  29. Totally agree. Appeal might be something important in the eyes of your prospects however in the same time it will cost you money and amount of efforts.

    Build a strong structure and framework first, then you can move on to the design matters.

  30. Great advice! Too many companies get caught up on the look and cost of their web sites and never get to “how to I get customers?” This should get a few of them on the right track.

  31. Awesome Pamela! I wish that every marketer and business owner had to read and follow this checklist :) I once worked in a marketing department where these questions were never answered at the get go, but rather as the designs progressed, forcing the designer to make dozens of changes. Beyond frustrating and such a waste of time & resources!

    • Ouch: I’ll bet that was frustrating, for everyone involved. Doing round after round of changes is no fun for anyone (spoken from experience, unfortunately!)

  32. That first one is such a biggie. I find that people don’t get specific enough. They generalize, and it doesn’t work when it comes to design. You have to be able to visualize exactly what your target audience members look like and work from there. Buyer personas come in handy!

    Cheers,
    Tia

  33. Great post, Pamela. I mentioned it today on my blog as a valuable resource for beating your competition by understanding and marketing to your buyer personas. Too many times businesses focus on the wrong things instead of who they’re trying to serve. In doing so I feel they become the competition – their own worst enemy.
    Thanks, Greg

  34. Very sound and practical advise. I’ve always liked the saying that if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. This blog post did a great job in getting us thinking about the real objective before taking random action. Good advise any day of the week for sure. Thanks for the post.

  35. All that you say is true Pamela, but I find that I have to just jump in and start something and during that process I get many answers to questions that I couldn’t have contemplated before starting. I’m resigned to the fact/reality that I will probably go through 3 redesign iterations before the final product. The final design will hopefully encompass my real needs.

  36. Ah if only this were mandatory that people new this before contacting the designer! I especially back #4. Too many times have people wanted marketing for an idea/product that is not compelling at all, and I give the warning “hmm you may want to think this through beforehand”. They end up saying “nono I got it ALL under control and it’s well thought out!”. And guess what happens? It’s a flop! Cheers for the article

  37. Such great ideas, and most of us who arec doing these things already realise what you have to do.

    But so good to have it reinforced again. Brings you back to reality.

    The hardest thing is the continual battle with management who blunder on, and think if they run into a market place and fire a shotgun, maybe just maybe they will hit someone.