As you plan for the future of your marketing department, design expertise is always near the top of your list. But design expertise comes at a cost, and your organization’s budget is always under pressure. What is the best way to decide how to resource the right talent for the marketing efforts in your plan?
Ultimately, the answer comes down to your organization’s needs—and the most effective choice for addressing them.
Your organization will always have design needs. When deciding how to meet them you have the following options:
In terms of providing dedicated expertise, hiring a new full-time designer has a number of clear advantages. An in-house designer will be primarily focused on what you assign them, and you have the most control over how their work is prioritized.
Hiring a new team member is the best option when you’re facing a consistent volume of marketing projects that will justify this role and its expenses. A dedicated full-time designer offers the additional advantage of bringing on an individual who will grow to fully understand the needs of your organization and how it functions.
Hiring a full-time designer may be a fixed expense but isn’t cheap. Along with accounting for salary, benefits, equipment, and ongoing training and education, you also need to factor in the inherent challenges of the job market for designers.
Top-tier design talent typically gravitates to design agencies that offer a wide variety of clients and projects, plus a team of other creatives to learn from and collaborate with. Because of this, designers will often take a lower salary to work in an agency environment rather than an in-house position at an association. As a result, if you want to hire a skilled designer, they won’t come cheap.
Another challenge of in-house talent is that they rarely get the opportunity to develop deep skillsets. In-house designers often get bogged down with endless small to mid-sized tasks and lose the capacity for bigger projects. Without a creative director to push a designer’s creativity, their work can easily plateau. An in-house designer must be very self-motivated to push themselves to perform at a high level consistently.
As an in-house designer grows immersed in your organization’s internal politics and motivations, they gain deep knowledge about your organization but can lose the perspective to think big. You need to ensure the talent that supports your marketing is in a position to consistently deliver standout creative solutions that will keep your organization moving forward.
Bringing on an individual freelance designer constitutes the middle ground of your three options. A freelancer avoids the additional overhead of bringing on a full-time employee, and it allows your organization to temporarily add valuable skillsets.
A freelancer is ideal when your marketing team has multiple projects in the works but not enough consistent design work to justify a full-time employee. They can be a quick, flexible, cost-effective option.
The freelance market is full of experienced designers who can take on your organization’s next project. However, you get what you pay for in terms of skill level, availability, and responsiveness. The most talented designers are not only expensive but are also in demand and often hard to reach.
A less-experienced designer may be cheaper, but they may lack the skill set your organization needs. Freelancers don’t have project managers or other support staff so you’re often at the mercy of their schedule, workflow, and other priorities.
A freelancer offers you the flexibility to complete your marketing projects, but that flexibility goes both ways. If you need a project delivered by a specific date, a freelancer may be tied up with a full-time job or other clients when you need them most.
Even if your in-house design team can support your organization’s day-to-day marketing priorities, some projects require additional expertise. Higher stakes and time-intensive projects such as big events or transformative initiatives such as branding and website redesigns strain any organization’s resources and push the limits of their skill sets. That’s where an outside agency offers crucial advantages.
Agencies offer an outside perspective that no in-house designer is equipped to deliver. They don’t have pre-existing relationships with stakeholders, and they aren’t tied to internal politics, history, or biases that inhibit new ideas. They have decades of experience helping clients like you. With access to multi-disciplinary teams, they can create and manage everything your project needs and deliver these items on time.
When you hire a specialist agency they have solved your problem many times, in many different ways. They have built a creative team full of individuals who bring different talents and experiences to the table. You didn’t have to hire them, train them, or manage these unconventional employees. You get to hire them to drop in and solve your problem.
Agencies are nimble and scalable. They have access to a broad rolodex of talent to serve your needs, including designers, strategists, writers, and developers. But all that expertise and reliability costs money.
One-off smaller design jobs aren’t cost-effective for an agency to produce and are often beyond the scope of the services they provide. If your organization has a limited budget, you should work with an agency for only your biggest, most important projects.
It can also be challenging to identify the right agency to work with. Especially if you’ve had a bad relationship in the past. When selecting an agency we suggest a QBS process over the older RFP model.
Combining an in-house designer with an outside agency offers the best of both worlds. When you use a staff designer, these individuals can handle the day-to-day demands of your marketing department. Then, for larger projects, you can turn to an agency to provide the outside perspective combined with the advanced skills and experience you need.
An outside agency offers a boost of creative horsepower. To stay competitive, they have to remain informed of the latest design trends and technologies. Plus, they offer a critical perspective that will challenge “the way we’ve always done it” and find real solutions to your marketing needs.If this sounds like a relationship that will benefit your member-driven organization, we should talk. We’ll make sure your next project has the right talent on hand to create the results you need.
When your organization needs to connect with new and prospective members, your brand is the most powerful resource at your disposal. A strong and cohesive brand provides more than a useful framework to streamline the development of your organization’s marketing and its collateral. It codifies the details of your organization’s story and the value it provides to a critical audience — your current and future members.
Though you need a highly flexible and specific visual language to develop a strong brand, one of its most important components is also its fastest communicator: Color.
The colors associated with your organization are much more than aesthetic preferences. They’re a strategic decision that impacts how current and future members perceive your organization. As you work to ensure your brand delivers the clearest picture of who you are, you need to consider the impact of the colors you choose and what they say to your audience.
The core building blocks of your brand are derived from a long list of visual and messaging components that extend well beyond a logo and a tagline. One of these building blocks is your color palette, which can greatly influence how your members perceive your organization.
According to one recent study, color influences up to 90% of our initial impressions of the environment while impacting our behavior, mood, and stress. For example, red evokes passion, aggression, and urgency. Blue inspires feelings of reliability and tranquility.
In marketing and advertising, brands tap into these unconscious responses to demonstrate who they are. For example, healthcare and security brands frequently use blue to communicate stability and trust. Or, the food industry often uses yellow to stimulate appetite and create positive associations with the brand.
For your organization, the right color choices draw a deeper connection with members and demonstrate your organization’s personality. Is your brand associated with innovation? Approachable and collegial? Or more professional and academic? The colors you choose underscore those values and add to your brand narrative
Plus, a unique and memorable color palette sets you apart from competitors, which adds to your presence in the marketplace. When implemented strategically, your organization’s color choices improve brand recognition while nurturing a close connection with your members. Consistently using select colors can be a strong cue for invoking loyalty and pride in your organization. If I say red, white, and blue, what do you immediately associate with that color combination? Next, think of sports fans. You’ll never see them wearing the wrong colors on game day. Color is a very powerful tool in building loyalty and defining your identity.
Color choices carry great power but they also require great responsibility. A department may be tempted to adopt new colors to energize a special project, add flair to a landing page, or provide a fresh look to an upcoming event. But you have to ensure every color you choose is consistent with your brand or risk diluting your impact and undermining the brand equity you’ve built up.
Your brand should work with a variety of colors, but your visual presentation has to remain cohesive. A consistent use of color provides another way to build trust and loyalty among your membership. With these attributes in place, your organization gains improved member retention.
Your organization may have a long history with its current color palette, but you have to ensure those choices work effectively across your digital channels. For example, colors on your website can be used to establish a visual hierarchy. A bold, contrasting color draws attention to call-to-action buttons, guiding your website users to the right next steps. A well-considered color palette enhances usability by incorporating specific colors to highlight navigation menus and other links to get around your website.
However, not every user will view your website’s color choices the same way. When used together, some colors lack contrast and violate ADA Guidelines, which can expose your organization to legal risk. When you’re working with the right agency partner, you can ensure your website offers an inclusive experience for all users.
Your brand is too important to rely on personal tastes to inform its color choices. By collaborating with a design partner, your organization gains a robust set of options through the following steps:
If your organization hasn’t considered the impact of its color choices, we should talk. We’ll ensure your brand has the right palette in place to serve your members and their needs.
For member-driven organizations, a brand is among the most complex yet valuable initiatives you can undertake. When navigated successfully, your organization enriches its bond with current members while establishing new connections with the next generation.
However, without the proper support, even the most well-executed branding efforts will fall flat. Your CEO or Executive Director (we’ll use CEO in this article) plays a pivotal role in ensuring a brand rollout is effective and embraced by your members and organization. But what is the right level of involvement from your CEO?
The answer sounds a little like Goldilocks: Not too much, and definitely not too little. Ultimately, you need your leadership engaged with a branding project at specific times for its success and the long-term stability of your organization.
Even the most recognizable brands in the world shift with the times and their audience’s expectations. Your organization is no different. By 2025, Millennials will make up 75% of the workforce. While your new audience still needs the resources your organization provides, they engage with your brand in distinctively different ways.
Millennials are digital natives who prioritize strong design as a means of evaluating the services they use. Strategic branding ensures you tell the full story of your organization in a way that clearly communicates all you have to offer.
Plus, good branding doesn’t just build a stronger connection with prospective members. It inspires and revitalizes your organization and the membership it serves.
Securing just the right level of involvement of your CEO is key to a successful and smooth branding initiative. When you work with a skilled agency partner, a branding project progresses through the following stages:
For the best results, you need your CEO to be fully engaged during the discovery phase of the project and then advocate for the branding after the work is complete. Apart from weighing in at key checkpoints, your CEO needs to allow you and your team to do what they do best.
If your branding process doesn’t strike the right balance with your leadership, it can impact your project in the following ways:
If your CEO isn’t involved in key points of a branding project, they won’t be invested in its results. Rather than enabling the branding to act as a transformative undertaking that benefits the whole organization, a disengaged CEO will see it as just a marketing project.
As your communications reflect your new branding, members grow confused as your leadership fails to deliver consistent messaging. Soon, your organization is back where it started.
CEOs are busy and consistently pressed for time. If they insist on remaining involved with every step of the project, your schedule will slip as meetings are delayed to accommodate your CEO’s crowded schedule. Plus, CEOs are not branding experts and lack the expertise to micromanage each stage of the project.
A strong brand acts as a guide for how your organization verbally and visually expresses its identity. With these four tips, you can ensure your CEO remains aligned with your branding project at key steps.
Gaining buy-in from your leadership for a branding project encompasses more than budget approval. Underscore that the issues with your brand are an organizational problem — not a marketing issue. Your CEO should understand that a robust brand platform provides the solution by communicating the full story of your organization and its value.
Ultimately, you’re coming to an agency like ours because we solve problems with your brand. We’re not decorators. We’re rebuilding your brand from the ground up so it serves your unique challenges.
During the Discovery stage, you need to maintain involvement from your CEO, leadership team, and board. These people have passion, history, and vision for your organization that your creative team will translate to the building blocks of an engaging brand platform.
Your CEO needs to feel heard in a way that allows them to feel invested and trust the branding project is in good hands. It is critical that they sign off on all strategy documents, as they will be used as the foundation throughout the process.
As the project progresses, bring your CEO back to review messaging and concept presentations from your design agency. Make sure you provide the correct context for feedback, buy reviewing the strategy documents from the discovery stage. Incorporating feedback from your leadership is crucial to ensuring the work reflects your organization. Plus, these meetings enable your CEO to remain invested in a focused way throughout the branding process.
As marketing director, you’re responsible for much of the hard work that goes into a successful branding project. To reflect that involvement, your CEO may want you to present the project’s results to your organization. Instead, your CEO should act as the face of the rollout. Enabling your organization’s brand to come from the CEO positions the project as an organization-wide initiative—not a marketing campaign.
Leadership sets the tone for how your internal teams view the results of a branding project. During the rollout of the rebranded Associated General Contractors of California (AGC-CA), the CEO had a vision for breathing new life into the brand to celebrate its centennial. By offering his full support of the project which included presenting the new brand to the organization, AGC maximized the impact of its rebranding effort.
During the rollout of our branding project for Visit Sacramento, the organization’s leadership engaged us to present the new brand to their staff, board, and partners. To emphasize the importance of the initiative, the CEO introduced it as crucial for everyone in the organization to embrace. With that kind of support, the new brand was in the right position to reach its full potential.
Your CEO acts as a manifestation of the brand and the organization they are steering. Engaging your leadership throughout a branding project gives you a critical advantage in ensuring its success.
But conversations dictating the right role for your boss can be challenging. As you begin pursuing a branding project, you don’t have to navigate these potentially rough waters alone. When you’re working with the right design agency, you gain an expert third-party opinion on how involved your boss should be to secure a successful project. If this sounds like the kind of work that would benefit your organization and its future, we should talk.
Your members and sponsors have an array of options for how they invest their time and money when it comes to events. They want to be part of an event that attracts high quality attendees and delivers can’t-miss experiences. Long before your event, you meet with your team, tour the venue, and evaluate how it will function to suit your needs. To take your event from good to great, you need your next site visit to maximize the potential of your event.
To draw the richest insights from a site visit, you need the perspective of a creative team on-hand. By viewing the venue through their perspective, they can unlock new opportunities, beyond what you could imagine, for your event.
A site visit is a crucial early step in planning your event experience. Once planning begins, you meet with your event planner, facility manager, and the AV specialists at the venue site. You’ll likely also have many of your stakeholders in attendance, such as executives, volunteer leaders, and vendors. All of these individuals offer a different perspective that contributes to a successful event.
These tactical conversations are vital to managing the details that make up any event. However, your site visit also presents a key opportunity to incorporate the viewpoint of a creative team. One who will consider all aspects of your event branding and in-person activations through two critical perspectives:
Your organization depends on its events to deeply engage members, and form relational bonds, and underscore the value of your membership. A creative agency like ours will view your event’s venue as a blank canvas rich with opportunities and ensure your event delivers an elevated, branded experience. It’s time to incorporate a creative perspective to reimagine your event experience.
User experience (UX) design, similar to event design, revolves around tailoring an experience to meet the requirements of its users and ensuring its seamless functionality. It is essentially a problem-solving approach that places the needs of your attendees—the members—at the forefront. Moreover, just like an external design partner would approach your event, UX design principles can be applied effectively to enhance your event experience.
In both virtual and physical spaces, UX designers define the audience and empathize with what they need to do. Then they identify problems and eliminate any barriers standing in your audience’s way. The UX process challenges pre-existing assumptions about your event to open the door for new ideas to solve those problems.
You need to apply the same well-honed approach of UX design to your event location. Considering every moment from your attendees arrival through the entire event experience, your external design partner should stand in your members’ shoes and recognize potential challenges. The right creative partner will see details about your event during a site visit that would go unnoticed by merely viewing a venue’s website or photo gallery.
A positive user experience at your event allows your members to stay focused on your organization’s message without distractions or negative impressions. These three important details are just the start of what your design partner will consider when touring your event site.
To make the most of your site visit, your team should tour the space at the same general time that your event will take place. Does the venue stand on its own from a visual standpoint, or does it need additional elements so your members immediately recognize they’ve come to the right place? Is the décor highly ornate in a way that will clash with your on-site branding? Adding branded graphics or redirecting attention from elements that don’t align with your brand will create an environment that’s cohesive and consistent with the goals of your event.
In the same way website users shouldn’t question what they need to do when they arrive on a page, your attendees should always understand where they should go next. Whether your event begins once they arrive at the hotel or convention center, the addition of impactful branding gives your members the confidence they’re on the right path.
Your event planner will resolve any issues of wayfinding. But your design partner builds upon those guiding details in a branded, elevated way that’s impactful and creates a sense of place.
Your event needs a meaningful moment to underscore that your members have arrived. This is your chance to surprise and energize your most valuable audience with an experience that’s unmistakably representative of your organization — and your brand.
Whether you’re trying to create a sense of place or generate excitement upon your guest’s arrival, first impressions are everything.
Bringing a creative team to your site visit does more than ensure your organization seizes every opportunity to create an innovative experience. It also results in events that generate the kind of buzz that improves attendance and boosts sponsorship rates for the following year.
Your members should view your organization’s event with a sense of FOMO — the fear of missing out. Creative details will establish that your organization has placed its distinct stamp on the event venue. Branded giveaways that connect your brand to the event experience offer another means of creating a positive buzz.
FOMO isn’t easy to generate, but when every aspect of your event experience combines to deliver that special feeling, your event becomes much more attractive for members. Plus, your sponsors take notice when attendance and the surrounding experience becomes more elevated, which leads to greater financial opportunities.
Bringing your creative team on a site visit constitutes an additional investment. But in the context of engaged, excited members and a more profitable event for subsequent years, it’s an investment in a brighter future for your organization.