The last two weeks have been very good to Stokefire. A flurry of contract signings and interest. I’ve been talking with the staff about it and felt it was worth a short post to explain what appears to have led to the bump.
We’ve gradually adjusted our approach over the last year to be more reflective of how we really operate and why people invest in us. We’ve got exactly the same development process that we had before, but we’ve started to disclose the fact that we’re not a traditional naming firm (if such a thing exists), because a naming firm is expected to deliver a batch of names and then push you out the door (perhaps after droppin’ a logo on you, too.) After about two years serving the non-profit marketplace I had the belated insight that I should ask our clients why we’re doing so well there. In almost every instance we were hired for the stuff we don’t advertise.
That’s not really a good sign, is it? Especially for someone who is supposed to be on top of this kind of thing. (Okay, so that’s a little disingenuous. I’m pretty sure we’re not going to advertise all our best aspects – but we probably should’ve disclosed more than we did.)
We’re hired for naming – not just because we’re good at naming – but because we’re good at all of the things that surround naming. Before we even start the naming process we develop the full brand strategy and roadmap. We’ve gotten some great projects on the strength of that alone. And on the other side – after we develop the name we help the organization and other creative partners to make the brand come alive. We build that compelling and useful user’s manual, assist in the development of a visual brand that builds on all the stuff we’ve already delivered, and… well… we provide a bit of secret sauce that quite frankly you’re going to have to invest in our services to see.
Ultimately we’re being hired because we build a cohesive and compelling story that ensures every action our clients undertake is driving them towards their vetted goals. Oh yeah… I forgot. We check out the client goals to ensure they’re realistic and desirable before we work on them. That was another thing we heard was a motivating factor.
Final proof of our unadvertised strengths being what was driving business has come in the last two weeks. We landed a series of projects that – for the first time – have nothing to do with name development. A few months ago our prospective clients realized that while our core offering was great, it was also something that they didn’t need and started slyly negotiating with us so that we’re essentially delivering a donut. Our core offering has been neatly extracted from our service and we’re given a name at the start (one with some existing issues that we’ll have to live with) and told to develop a brand strategy, roadmap, and marketing campaign to make it work. In some cases the name has been around for decades, in others it’s only been around for a few months – but in all cases clients are realizing that the traditional appraoch they were trying to use (marketing and advertising blasts, mostly) wasn’t working because there was no real strategy in place.
There are a lot of firms that would turn down an a la carte approach to branding because they couldn’t control the outcome. Not us. We’re finding that it’s a true test of our abilities – and it is much like what happens when a client selects a naming concept that scores near the bottom of our list (as has occassionally happened.) A great branding firm can build a story around just about any name and create an identity that succeeds in spite of the handicap. Sure, we’d love a crack at fixing the name, but that’s not always going to happen.
If there’s a lesson in this it is perhaps to make sure when your prospects start asking questions you do more than just answer them. In some cases (as with us) neither party will know exactly what is really being asked. Clients were calling us and asking if we did membership campaigns (which we don’t actively sell) and we were answering that it was one of the features of our full naming process.
The client was looking for a solution and we had it hidden inside of something they didn’t need. We should’ve listened and said yes and adjusted on the fly. Instead it took a series of similar conversations (“can you do x?” “Well… yes if you also want y and z”) to determine that not only can we do what they were asking for, we can do it better – or at least differently – than anyone else.
I’m pretty sure we lost a handful of opportunities early in 2007 when I personally didn’t see how the concept could be developed. Apologies to my team and to the customers who we couldn’t help for that misstep.
Shame on me. Here’s to hoping other creative professionals can learn from my mistake and my too-slow realization.