There's an old saying in business: "what gets measured gets done". Designers are passionate about the creative aspects of their work, and this passion is what takes projects to the next level. The difficulty for our industry is establishing and communicating the precise value of what we have to offer.
Dissecting layouts, explaining the subtleties of a font or colour choice, obsessing over the minutiae that separate the simply great from the exceptional - all are design practices that should be recognized as valuable to the bigger picture.
But for designers to prove to clients that our work is meaningful, important and even profound, we have to provide powerful client presentations consisting of our best case studies, stories and testimonials. Numbers - such as sales results, funds raised, site visits, 'likes' - go a long way to back up your stories and provide great proof of the results design offers. These numbers can also protect us from the somewhat arbitrary and subjective dictates of taste. Numbers can help save you from the dreaded 'I just don't like it, what else have you got?' and are also helpful indicators of whether you are on the right track in helping your client's business to thrive.
The Value of Measurement
I used to work in direct marketing, creating fundraising campaigns for a not for profit clientele. The precise measurement of campaign results brought joy to the spreadsheets of my account management colleagues (at least when the campaigns were successful), allowing us to see a year-over-year improvement, where even a single percentage point in ROI for an annual campaign could be cause for celebration. Holding steady during the height of the recession was a major coup.
When pitching a new creative approach, clients want to know: "Has it worked before? Who's done it already? What are the numbers?” This is only natural. Budgets are tight; risk must be mitigated; and often ideas must be sold up the pipeline, requiring clients to jump through a few hoops themselves to make something happen. Having information ready and available goes a long way to making this process much smoother.
In the case of corporate branding or rebranding a company/ organization, the stakes are even higher and the conversation can veer into the existential. Design issues merge with identity issues and get to the heart of who the client is, how they present themselves to the world, what they stand for, what they do, and why people should care. In these situations, it is essential to be able to justify the money being spent on communications efforts and illustrate the business value of strategic rebranding.
If branding is such an important part of a company's assets, shouldn't it be quantified?
Well, of course in large corporations it is. "Intangible assets" are worth millions for the Apples and McDonalds of this world. In major financial transactions, stock prices, mergers and acquisitions, brand value is very real.
This is also true for not-for-profit organizations; a Harvard Business School case study a few years ago placed the Habitat for Humanity International brand on par with that of Starbucks at $1.8 billion.
I recently gave a talk I called "Making the Business Case for Branding" to a group of not for profit organization executives at a leadership conference. I explained what branding is and is not. I detailed the merits of a communications audit in establishing benchmarks for a rebrand. Then, as my pièce de résistance I introduced Brand Valuation. I used the Habitat for Humanity case study, I profiled Interbrand's brand valuation methodology, and I presented other examples that spoke to this audience. I made the case, and the feedback was enthusiastic.
But here's the thing. The quality of the creative is only one element of the science of dissecting a successful direct marketing campaign. And, for many clients, putting a dollar value on their brand is a stretch. Quantifying the R.O.I. of a beautifully designed publication or website is a murky business and brand valuation can seem like a construct more associated with large multinationals, too abstract to be applied to their specific situation.
Designers need to identify more ways to measure the value of branding and design so it will resonate with decision-makers. It is key if designers are to be given a more strategic role by their clients and even become their trusted advisers.