Design is a powerful tool to drive business. Design is something far greater than how something looks, the execution of a website design, the colors of your next app, or the look and feel of your last marketing campaign.

Design is holistic and encompasses your business at a strategic level. Design is evident in how your run your business, how you manage meetings, how your employees operate, and how your business goals are determined and met.

Companies who recognize design as an important facet of their entire organization have led within their markets, reinvented themselves many times over, never cease to be at the forefront of innovation and creativity, and drive profits greater than their competitors. (Examples not limited to: Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, Warby Parker, Burberry)

Design is a part of our everyday lives.

Design as a strategy will inform your business in meaningful ways that will serve as a roadmap to make business decisions that will positively impact every part of your company. From business goals, brand messaging, marketing campaigns, products, services and creative efforts; a design strategy leading the company and serving as a foundational element will create a roadmap to the type of business you had envisioned. This also allows you the ability to stop guessing about what direction to take. Once you fully understand your brand and your customers at a deeper level, you can take out the guesswork and risk because you will then be focused on moving the business forward by leveraging the findings from your foundation.

Design is not a tactic. Design is not the end of a production line. Design is not the choice of colors or the logo or what the website should look like. Design is a holistic approach to solving systemic problems across organizations, campaigns, platforms, products and business strategy.

THE DESIGN STRATEGY

Design strategy does not dictate a roadmap, but is meant to inform a foundational direction to solving problems from a holistic approach.

Design strategy is understanding the business, marketing, product, service and marketplace to inform a more cohesive approach to building a brand and products that matter to your customers. This approach takes into account and balances all needs from business, creative, brand and product. Furthermore, design strategy seeks to understand the goals of an organization, the goals of a campaign, and/or the goals of the future life of the business.

Design strategy serves as an intermediary to take business and creative goals together to form solutions that will drive the company forward by meeting business and brand goals.

Design strategy implements specific solutions and tactics that are balanced between the business and creative goals to drive profits and increase brand loyalty. However, these goals are a broad definition and the overall strategy seeks to dive deep into the discovery of each organization to curate solutions that will meet the needs of the business, the brand and the customers. A holistic approach anchored in strategy that serves as a foundation to build the future of any business and brand is key to the success of setting a design strategy and leading your business into the future.

THE FOUNDATION

The key pieces of this foundation include an in-depth look into your company’s brand, company values, goals, awareness, efficiency, target audience, competitors, features, benefits, messaging and mission statement. From here, you can begin to measure new creative efforts, company efficiency, goals and fostering the environment in which these manifest through a new creative culture.

Efficiency is a priority. Many times, the strategy is defined from various areas of business, the tactics are determined and the orders are given to execute. The designers and creative team gets to work hoping that the outcome of the work will be part magic and part aligned to the various strategies determined by business, marketing, and efficiency. However, this has proven time and again to be a broken system. The business usually gets half of what they want. The marketing team gets part of what they want and the creatives/designers go into rounds of revisions until the end product is a lukewarm end result where everyone is sort of happy.

I have found that creating a foundation anchored in business and creative serves as a guide for all parties involved to allow the best results to flourish. Everything is measured against the foundation. The business goals are met. The creative goals are met. And more likely than not, the inefficiencies are mitigated because everyone is on the same page – allowing the foundation to guide and meet each part of the business.

This allows more room for everyone involved to focus on driving business through creativity, innovation and staying aligned with who you are as a business. The overall goal is building brand equity and driving profits while reducing risk through creative endeavors.

The companies who have succeeded in this approach have put design strategy at the forefront of their companies. I have also adopted this approach and have seen massive growth for projects, clients and brands I have worked with. Companies like Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, Warby Parker, Burberry, and Reebok have adopted this strategic approach.

You must put strategy before execution.

Alignment across every part of your business must be evident. All parts must be aligned. All pieces must be understood and then put back together accordingly to drive the strategy and business forward.

You must define your brand before communicating the brand.

The foundation serves as a measuring tool for the acceptable and unacceptable. Through a process where alignment occurs at every function of your brand, the foundation sorts through to create clarity and gets rid of the excess. This creates a foundation where your brand can strategically move forward to meet business solutions while maintaining differentiating factors of who you are within your marketplace.

Defining the who, why and what at the deepest level will allow every part of your business to always focus back to the foundation. This reduces risk, guesswork, direction and strategies that do not align with your foundation. This also creates opportunity to allow the foundation to serve as the basis for innovation, creativity and merging business and creative in effective ways. The solutions will become more creative, more efficient, and drive profits because the entire organization is aligned to an agreed foundation.

This foundation will develop a design strategy that resonates across all facets of your business. As you begin to discover and unpack the very elements of your brand and business goals, the foundation will begin to serve as a tool to every part of your business – not just for creatives and marketing. But it will begin to allow a holistic view of your business and brand and how the execution, solutions and tactics will align with the hard work put into the foundation of your business. This is the design strategy that will differentiate your brand, resonate with your customers and drive new business.

A foundation is essential to solving problems before creative any diagnosis. It is irresponsible to offer solutions without fully understanding the problems and goals of a business. Without knowing the deeper facets of a business, a designer cannot effectively or efficiently solve your business needs. It is not only irresponsible to diagnose before fully understanding the business, the goals, and brand, it is malpractice. Any designer who is eager to take on your problem and begin executing without fully understanding the multiple facets of your business through discovery is wasting your time and money.

DEFINING THE BRAND

A brand is not your logo, your style guide or clever messaging from the marketing team. A brand is what others say about you. A brand is how you differentiate yourself and your relationship with your audience.

Your brand must speak directly to your audience through two-way dialogue.

Your brand is ever-changing and adjusting with the marketplace but staying true to your foundational values of your organization. You must fully understand these foundational values before you can effectively present your brand to the world, connect with your audience and build brand equity.

Sidenote: brand equity is one of the most powerful and lucrative pieces of business today. Coca-Cola’s bottomline is $80M a year, include their brand equity and they are worth $130M a year. This has nothing to do with their logo or style guide, but the foundational aspects of who they are and who they communicate with.

Your brand is an honest reflection of who you are and where you are headed. As a business owner, you must be willing to look objectively at your brand. Not through the eyes of a marketer. Not through the eyes of what you think your brand is. But what the reality of who you are and where you want to go. My job in this stage of working with my clients is to facilitate this process to uncover the truths of your brand, to think about things you may have never thought about with your brand, and to allow the reality of your brand to surface – only to help create a roadmap on the path of building for the future for your business.

How do I facilitate this process? Through a series of in-depth discovery sessions, conversations, research and interviews that serve as a starting point to understand your brand. Most of the time, I work with clients who know what they sell, how they sell it and why they sell. But to really define the culture, impact and why your brand is important are pieces of a brand that will differentiate you from the competition. This is a tedious process, but worth the effort. My clients will agree.

Differentiation is key. You must differentiate yourself within the marketplace, Differentiate yourself from your competitors. Differentiate yourself for your customers. Differentiate yourself for new customers. The only way to do this successfully is to look deeper into your company, define the foundation, and begin to build a strategy that impacts every part of your business, holistically.

DEFINING THE AUDIENCE

Your audience and what they say about you is the utmost important part of your brand.

To reach your audience, you must speak to their needs. But to speak to these needs, you must dive into the psyche of your audience to define who they are, where they have been and how they need you. Over my career, I have developed strategies to work through this process and uncover the true needs of the brand audience to help my clients grow their business.

You must understand who they are. You may have an idea. You may have done insights. You may have a good idea of demographics. But those statistics need to be met with their needs and then strategically combined with effective messaging and creative execution to meet them where they are.

You must be willing to put aside your own assumptions and bias to reach their needs ahead of your own. This will create clarity in your strategy, your messaging, your tactics and your approach.

DEFINING THE FUTURE

You can only see the future once you understand your past. Innovation, new ideas, growth, creativity and building a brand can only flourish when the conditions are right to step into the future of your business. This happens when time during work is cultivated in certainty and allowing the future to manifest itself without risk. To mitigate risk, a foundation is essential. Creative risk, business risk, marketing risks. These are all facets to drive growth, inspire your customers, create the desired company culture and continue to move your business forward. However, when the burdens and baggage of the business past serve as roadblocks and do not allow for alignment within your organization, these desired parts of growth for business cannot flourish. The foundation and design strategy serve as a function to free up the roadblocks and create alignment for your business to move into the future with more certainty.

To form tangible goals, you must align your business goals, projected profits, desire for growth and new initiatives with a strategy that takes the business and creative under a single focus defined by a design strategy. Alignment here is where you can begin to merge business solutions and creativity and innovation from a single foundation – giving your business the clarity and focus to innovate and grow each part of your business.

A design strategy will create clarity for you goals, awareness and moving forward efficiently.

REINVENTION // DISRUPTION // INNOVATION

A foundation that merges business and creative together will serve as measuring tool to define every future decision of your brand. This creates opportunity for innovation, creative strategies, business growth and brand loyalty by measuring every aspect of your business to a design strategy. It creates certainty to your future by laying a foundation of who you are through deep insight that many organizations have ever done, or have consolidated into a single foundational tool.

This foundation allows you freedom for moving forward. You can think deeper about how to drive business forward through leading, innovation and having certainty of where you are headed.

To reinvent, disrupt or innovate your brand, you don’t need to restructure your entire company, you don’t need to hire new people, you don’t need to create more products. You need to step back, create a foundation that exists within a design strategy and use this foundation to create the future of your business. By using the attributes defined of your brand, and understanding your audience through new insights, you can create strategies and tactics that reinvent, disrupt and innovate your brand voice in new and exciting ways. This isn’t throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks. This isn’t fast following new trends and hoping they work. This is about being strategic with the foundation of your organization and translating this to your business goals, brand, creative, and marketing strategy.

Once you have a foundation, it will begin to serve as a guide to create a brand that speaks directly to your audience in ways you never imagined. By applying cultural and relevant philosophies of messaging and communication – the diagnosis of the future will be clear. The guesswork and risk becomes mitigated. The clarity of your brand, marketing, communication and creative efforts increases drastically.

A foundation removes as much risk as possible to move forward into a future focused on your business goals. Every foundation is different. The foundation creates brand clarity. The foundation creates synergy between business and creative.

Foundational aspects include:

  • Design strategy defined for the future of business and creative growth
  • Recommendations for business and creative solutions
  • A brand foundation to guide creative and marketing efforts
  • Discovery of brand attributes
  • Defining your target audience
  • Setting business and creative goals
  • Defining and prioritizing efficiency
  • Defining and prioritizing impactful awareness
  • Merging features and benefits to effective messaging

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A foundation is worth building before diagnosing any solutions. Without understanding where the problems exist, you cant be effective with growth through business or creative efforts. The foundation creates true alignment between business and creative.