I I studied Graphic Design at Red River College in the early 2000’s—and as the title suggests, I really was very much “in my own head” during that time. The fact is, when you begin learning your craft as a student, you’re mostly just trying to make things look good. Your design solutions become an ego stroke for yourself, rather than an effective communication to the target audience. It’s easy to fall into this trap because as a student designer, all you want to do is make cool shit. Sure, your instructor told you who it’s for, but you don’t care. You’d rather get a lower mark if you can just design it “how you want it”. Then, as you get deeper into the course, you might find yourself designing to the tastes of your instructor, so you can finally get those higher marks. This isn’t the right idea either, but it’s actually a step closer to the mindset you need to have.
Once you graduate and have a few years of work experience under your belt, you start to build a sensitivity to what good graphic design really is: effective visual communication. You need to have empathy for the person engaging with your design, in order to properly convey your message. And now more than ever, we need to apply this audience-first mindset to all marketing touchpoints and brand experiences.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love to make cool shit, but there’s a lot more strategy that needs to go into it to make it effective. Think about the effect your marketing has on your audience and the subsequent experience they have from it. Could it be better? What about the website you are sending your audience to—is it outdated and full of friction points? In many organizations, marketing budgets need to be fully used by the end of the fiscal year, and in this environment things like website improvements typically aren’t considered a priority. This is especially true in organizations where red tape prevents anyone from making positive improvements in the areas that need attention the most.
Don’t try to make people want something. Make something people want.
Marketers push products and services to people, with the hope that they will one day become loyal customers. “We made this new thing. This is why you need it and here is where you can buy it.” It’s a product-centric mindset instead of a customer-centric mindset. All the effort is put into the product, and little attention is paid to the overall experience. This approach, of course, can still work for a time in a world of wants—but only for gimmicky products that have little to no long-term value. It’s not the way to build a loyal brand following. We know that many people today value experiences over possessions, and many brands are ahead of the curve in this regard (e.g., Spotify, Netflix, Air BnB). So how can we ensure that we convert not just more customers, but more returning customers?
The weakest link will eventually break...everything.
For every carefully considered and expensive ad, there is a connection to an experience. If the touchpoints in that experience aren't carefully considered and crafted, then your brand will lose credibility, and possibly a customer in the process. Not to mention, your marketing budget is ultimately wasted. This can happen instantly, or over the course of compounding bad experiences. Worst case scenario, these customers could be gone forever, and might influence others to stay away, as well.
The best brands in the world know the value of great experiences, and their customers are loyal because of it. Remember that your customers know and appreciate these leading brands, too, and their expectations rise with every experience they have with them. Once your competitor delivers a better customer experience with a comparable product or service to yours, you are at risk of losing them... fast. Making something of value is the first step, but then having that thing make people’s lives easier and even more enjoyable is where the actual progress is made.
So consider what the experience looks like for your customers at every touchpoint. Because, in the eyes of your audience, your brand is only as strong as the weakest link in your customer experience. It’s not going to be cheap or easy, but investing in the entire experience will carry your business into the future. And when you do, your customers are sure to follow.