Marketing Principles Every Creative Needs to Know

Make yourself invaluable to your clients with these key insights

Marketing is an unavoidable part of life — we sometimes love it (when we love the products being marketed), and many times we hate it (all those annoying emails! unsubscribe!). But knowing and applying marketing principles can transform a creative career.

Clients and creatives don’t naturally see eye to eye. But when we make the effort to understand our clients (and customers), we’re able to make every project meaningful for both parties.

Marketing is about adding value to one’s customer. And ironically, when you think less about yourself and, make it more about your client and their audience, it becomes a win-win.

1. What your client values is the most important thing

Knowing what your client needs the most or values the most from the project is the most important thing. Whether it’s to maximize the budget, or simply to get a poster printed on time — that is the thing they’d do anything for. That’s what they are happy to pay for.

When you know what’s at stake for them, and what they need to be successful, you’ll be able to prioritize tasks with more wisdom and make better decisions throughout the project.

I had a client last year who needed a brochure for an event that was happening in 2 weeks. (Don’t ask me how I got into such a sticky situation).

So the client needed the brochure designed and ready for print in about a week and a half. Because it was for an event, the deadline date was non-negotiable. That was the most important thing in this situation.

She produced the content immediately and wanted the cover professionally shot. Eventually she had to sacrifice that because the photoshoot was not feasible, time-wise. In the same spirit, in honour of the deadline, I made sacrifices as well. As soon as she emailed me with revisions, I worked on them right away. (Even though 1–2 days are the normal turnaround time).

And after final artwork was done, and I was out, travelling, she called me from the printer asking me to change something, I did the revisions right away, in a moving car. Because I knew what was the most important thing, I could decide what was worth the sacrifice. The result: an ecstatic client who made sure I was fully paid within days after project completion.

As a side note, you might be thinking (and rightly so) that it’s a toxic project to get into — yes, I normally may not have said yes to such a rollercoaster project, but in contrast to other projects that drag on forever, an occassional sprint is actually quite refreshing. And being able to help someone with a task that most people would say no to — there was some kind of thrill in that too.

2. Audience insights are key to communication that works

Market research is everything. Marketing revolves around the target market — their needs, where they are, how to reach them. The 4 Ps of Marketing, “product, price, place, promotion,” are all in service of the market who will be attracted to the product, pay for it, and use it.

The more you know your target audience, the more on-point your communication will be.

And it doesn’t have to be major research work. Short interviews and conversations with the audience are even better when the right questions are being asked.

With market research familiarity, you will be able to review a strategy as to whether it’s sound. How many times have creatives been misdirected and creative brilliance wasted because of a wrong understanding of the audience? What’s worse is that the business suffers and ends up wasting resources.

Resources are often wasted by working based on assumptions. If you are knowledgeable in marketing processes, you’ll be able to see which statements are assumptions, and ask for verification. By being able to confirm that data is verified, you’ll be able to work confidently, and make your work — and the entire team’s and client’s work — worthwhile.

3. The metrics that matter to the client should matter to you too

Marketers spend a lot of time measuring and analyzing data. But before that, they decide what are the metrics that matter.

What matters is what is going meet the marketing objectives.

Marketing objectives are different from communication objectives. Marketing objectives are directly related to sales targets. Being aware of targets gives you the big picture of what’s at stake in a campaign. You’ll be able to work well with the marketing team on aligning the communications strategy with the marketing strategy. You also get to see exactly where the creative work sits in the campaign and that will give you a better understanding of what you need to do.

Knowing the potential ROI and success metrics of the items you are working on will help you prioritize. We creatives make the mistake of spending time on which parts of the project are fun and can showcase our brilliance. But prioritizing what is most important to the marketing objectives are in the best interest of the client.

Being involved in various stages of the marketing campaign gives you a taste of how relevant your communication is.

Creatives are normally spared from having to worry about ROI, audience engagement statistics, all those numbers, but that is not necessarily a good thing. Creatives (graphic designers, copywriters) are rigorously trained in communication strategy and execution. Adding marketing to that equation adds tremendous value in terms of collaborating with the client, seeing eye-to-eye on their concerns, understanding them better, and being able to formulate solutions that work from both a communication and business standpoint.

4. At the end of the day, your job is really to help your clients sell

The more you can help your clients sell, the more value you are bringing to their business, a wise coach once advised me.

Focus on increasing the value of your client.

The more you can help your clients sell, the more value you are bringing to their business.

“A copywriter is a salesman, not an artist,” says Robert Bly in The Copywriter’s Handbook

Content marketing has taught me essential principles of communicating to sell, not to impress. Studying the art and science of content marketing, the logic behind keywords, and being able to track everything, really hones your skills as a communicator. Because of the instant feedback you get on your posts’ performance, you can easily assess and tweak, make improvements as you successfully contribute to the growth of your client’s audience. And knowing content marketing principles will teach you to effectively direct creative teams in executing on-strategy.

Same thing for designers — a lot of what designers do has a marketing function — selling an idea, attracting eyeballs, telling a story, which all can lead to a sale.

Creatives value things like aesthetics, taste. We see subtleties that others don’t. We have a sense of pride over the colors we choose, the typefaces we use. The beauty of our work. That’s our turf. But pride that should not get in the way, or in front of, doing effective communication work.

5. Relationships trump everything else

At the end of the day, marketing is just a job. People are more important than profit. But strangely, when you’re all about people, that’s when projects come. That’s what makes people want to work with you.

Compare a marketing person’s CV with a design person’s portfolio — a marketing person’s pride and joy are the brands they helped transform — the results.

A designer’s portfolio (most of the time) highlights visuals. Cool graphics. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous, envy-inducing work. But we can learn from marketers on how to see and tell the full story.

Make it more about the client, their story, the amazing results you helped achieve for them. That will increase the value of your services.

Make sure that clients see your work as an investment, not an expense.

When you’ve succeeded at adding value to your client — increasing their potential to sell. — then you have added value to your own work and to yourself as a creative as well.

Writer • Communication Designer • Type Explorer |

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