Marketing your studio to clients.

Some weeks, if we’re lucky, we learn something new. Might be from talking, or doing, or watching. Better still, it might be something that you’ve discovered. Perhaps a new way of solving a problem. Something that makes you stop and think yep, I’ve got this.

That’s brilliant, but then it gets better. You hear a gem that takes that idea from good, to brilliant. That’s when you think ‘boom!’ I’ve so got this. This deserves sharing.

Last week we ran the first (of our second) Business of Design breakfast in Melbourne. A mix of (newish) studio owners, mature studio owners, studio managers and employed designers breakfasted together on a beautiful Melbourne summer morning. We met, we shared and we discussed the vagaries of making a living being a ‘creative’.

One of the major challenges is attracting new, and keeping current, clients.

And it’s not just a problem for us, it’s a problem for clients. It’s difficult for clients to see how one studio differs to another. How do they choose the right supplier? (I know we can all look the same – remember this post?)

Identifying differences may sound like a difficult discussion to have in a group of designers that have only just met, but it’s not. In reality, we all offer something slightly different. The trick is to identify the difference, how to market it, and to whom.

Greg and I have devised a process to identify a studio’s (or designer’s) difference. We think we cracked a great idea. It involves a personal journey map to capture and package experiences. Extract the key message and you are on your way to identifying your onlyness.

Using this activity, it didn’t take long to realise how many different offers we had in this one group. Many complimentary. Few competitive.

Next month we’re talking about how we’ll use the identifiers in a design value proposition … but I digress.

Later the same week, we were invited to a one-day branding essentials workshop presented by Mark Ritson, Adjunct Professor of Marketing at Melbourne Business School and Marketing Week columnist. It was presented by the Australian Government and titled Brand Essentials for SMEs. It was brilliant. The content was insightful, it was practical and the presentation irreverent. My take away moment came when Mark was discussing differentiation versus distinctiveness.

We all need differentiation. That’s exactly what we’d been talking about at breakfast.

The majority of design studios work in similar market segments. Working in the same market means we’re inviting clients to compare and contrast our offer. That’s why we seek differentiation.

The good studios research their competitors and analyse their differences.
The great studios devise a blue ocean strategy – they find a new market space and create new demand.

Both good strategies, but as Ritson explained, distinctiveness is better that differentiation.
He was talking brands, but it works just as well replacing the word brand with studio:

Great studios look, and act distinctively.
They stand out from the pack.
They demand attention.
They own their space.
They do, act, and are, different to the others.
They are distinctive.

How do you identify what will make you distinctive to a prospective client?
You do a personal journey map.
‘Boom tish’. I got this.


Carol Mackay

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Carol is a designer and co-founder (with Greg Branson) of the Design Business Council, an organisation advocating design and its role in a successful and sustainable business; and the Design Business School, Australia’s the only business school for designers. Together they are working towards the 2019 Business of Design Week. 

In 2018 she partnered with another two Melbourne professionals to launch the Clear Communication Awards. 

Carol’s design career focused on helping the financial, legal, insurance, superannuation and service sectors use design to add clarity to their often complex message. She now uses the same skills to help business understand design, and designers understand business. Contact Carol for more information.

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