Show + Tell: What to Expect, What Could Go Wrong, and How to Deal with Things when They Go Off the Rails.
8 things to keep in mind when navigating a rebrand or web build.
The Story in Numbers:
Time in business: 6 years, 10 months.
Staff: 7 (Full + Part-Time).
Active Clients: 13
Website Staging Version: 55.
Current stage: staging.
Last time: Minimum Viable Brand
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You ever read the “About Us” page of any digital marketing/branding/design agency ever? It’s painfully accurate.
For years we struggled to get a clear, compelling, bullshit-free version of what we do/how we do it up on our site. We looked at hundreds, if not thousands of sites across the world to see if there was any way to strike the balance between explanatory and mansplanatory, between clever and vague, between ambitious and pretentious. We read about a lot of Game Change Game Changers, Visionopolists, Firestarters and UX Lunatics.
For years and years we tried to produce something that pulled us up out of the morass, and we failed. During our own brand relaunch, we’ve had a chance to road-test this kind of chit-chat. Kick the tires. Take it for a spin. Other car metaphors.
More than that, this whole “Show+Tell” process got me thinking: what do people really want to read when they read these things? That you work with clients, not for clients? That you believe in unearthing deep insights that drive outcomes and have a tangible impact on the bottom line? That you’re a changemaker or a firestarter?
Probably not, no.
I think it’s obvious enough that clients want to know how this is all going to go. Am I going to like you? Am I going to like this process? What’s less obvious, but I think more pressing, is a fear of unknown unknowns. Like, How do I know when it’s going right, and when it’s not? Who can I trust? What are you not telling me? How much should this cost? What happens when things go wrong? What does getting my money’s worth even look like?
“What do I not know I don’t know?”
I think by and large, we’re an industry that fails to see ourselves through the eyes of our clients. As both that tweet there and the guy who made Slack and Flickr (but mostly Slack) have said, we’re trying to sell people saddles when they’re barely thinking about horseback rides.
We all know that too often, client relationships turn to shit — even the ones that start off well. We also know that more often than not it’s not because anyone’s an asshole. It’s because of poor communication, a breakdown of trust, or a misalignment of incentives.
So, I want to try something different. A way of introducing the process that’s a little more honest. Less positive, more realistic. A little manual for what to expect, in good times and bad, based on past experience. Here goes.
Welcome to the first day of your new brand.
Hi. We’re excited to do business with you. Please sit down. But before you get too comfortable, here are some things we’ve found it pays to remember.
1. This is going to be a process.
It’s a “journey.” At times, momentum takes over and you’re doing all the things at once, amazed at how quick and effortless it can all feel. Then all of a sudden you’re going nowhere, bogged down in a quagmire of details. This is all part of the process. This is the Pareto principle in action. Plus, building new things is usually complicated, difficult, and confusing. It’s a big investment for everyone involved. But new things are also more interesting, and usually more rewarding. After all, what’s the point of being you if being you is nothing new?
2. Nobody quite knows what we want until we start.
We find that usually clients either 1) don’t really know what they want or need, or; 2) think they need one thing and end up needing something else entirely. This is problematic, but also pretty typical for anyone with a services business. We build our own process around this inevitable uncertainty: we start out with workshops and ballpark figures so that we can figure out what’s needed first, and work through the details together. You’re not hiring us because we already know the answer; you’re hiring us because you think we’ll be good at solving your particular problem.
3. This is an investment. Only invest what you can afford.
Your business doesn’t have infinite money, and you don’t have infinite time. Neither do we. This project will cost us both both, so you want to make sure that you’re spending what you can afford. As a rule of thumb, if you don’t want to spend any more than $20k on a brand and $30k on a basic website, you have to seriously limit your expectations. You can’t expect the world if you’re not willing to pay for it —but you may not need it, either. Sometimes a Toyota Corolla will get your family from A to B just fine.
4. We all need to focus.
You’re busy, so we try and manage this process to make it as easy as possible for you. But if you want this project completed on-time and on-budget, you’ll need to set that time aside for regular catch-ups and assessments. So set weekly time aside to work on this project. Don’t wait until 2 days before launch to finally try your website out. Do read our emails. That sort of thing.
5. We’ll only learn what’s right by collaborating.
Everyone says “this will be a collaborative process.” What people don’t often admit is that failure, uncertainty and ignorance are necessary aspects of collaboration. That’s why we work in workshops: to get everything that you think about your business, your industry, and your future out of your head. To bring a mixture of uncertainty and ignorance to challenge your assumptions. And we never get it completely right the first time. Rather, we learn through doing. So we’ll need to articulate and debate hunches, opinions, feelings, and ad-hoc reckons. You’ll have to have the guts to challenge us, just as we challenge you. So, stay involved, and work through what’s not working for you.
6. Respect roles and responsibilities.
Are you a typographer? Is graphic design your passion? Do you want a job working with our design team? Probably not. So while we debate whether things are working or not, let’s not talk through “fonts options”. We shouldn’t be discussing the technical details — almost every time we’ve had these conversations in the past, we’ve been having the wrong conversations. If there’s something that isn’t working, let’s work together to try to understand what the deeper problem is. Because it’s seldom a particular font.
7. Not everyone will like what we do together. And that’s good.
Remember, if you please everybody, you’ll wind up inspiring nobody. Those people who care the most about not offending anyone are the people nobody likes. It’s not your job (nor ours) to pander to every single person’s individual tastes, or, worse, to find the vanilla middle-ground that nobody feels strongly about. If that’s what you want, you’re better off going to 99 Designs and casting a vote like Survivor.
8. You’ll know when it feels right.
Our job is to listen to everything you tell us, and figure out the best way to articulate it. Often, that’ll come straight out of your mouth. So, if and when we present to you, we don’t want you to feel side-swiped or shocked. We want you a little scared, but good-scared. Really, we want you to be borderline pissed off that you couldn’t have done that yourself. That it all could have been so simple. Because if you’ve got anything worth saying, chances are, it’s on the tip of your tongue the whole time.
We work for Love + Money.
It’s not an easy process. Creating a simple solution to a complex question is always tough. Our time, our energy, and our love itself is still a finite resource. And we’re charging you by the hour. But we’re in it for the long haul if you are too.
We work for Love + Money. If you do too, we probably want to work with you.