Tag: "strategy"

Cows! And Also the Secret to RFP Success.

I’ve been hearing from my peers in the branding and advertising industries that they’re getting invited to participate in many more RFPs, and that this is a sign that the economy is recovering. But I’m also hearing from them weeks later that they aren’t winning when they submit responses. Some firms are pushing three to five proposals per week out the door and only getting a nibble once or twice a month. Many respected and competent firms complain that the RFP process is flawed, and quite a few refuse to respond to requests for proposals entirely since most decisions seem to be made purely on price or back room handshakes.

I spent about a decade working for other people before opening up my own shop, and remember the constant pressure to get responses out the door. The bosses played the numbers, knowing that we’d land 8 to 12 percent of the opportunities, focusing our efforts on increasing the number of fish in the pond rather than becoming better fishermen. We used databases of canned responses and lightly customized them for fit. I recall numerous times where the final proof-reader, so tired from reading the same damn material on every single proposal, glossed over an instance where the wrong client name or industry example ended up being sent along. It upset leadership, but they still invariably valued increased RFP response volume over increased customization, believing that if we could just get into the final group we’d take the time to get it right. And when we did get into the pitch group most of my bosses did a good job closing the deal. We may have only landed about 10 percent of the RFPs overall, but when invited to pitch our success rate went up to about 40% – and that’s where the leaders focused.

As Stokefire approaches our ninth year in business I look back at a client list that includes Google, Motorola, Heinz, Charles Schwab, The US Department of Defense and hundreds of other worthy organizations, and realize that if I’d followed the tactics I’d been exposed to earlier I’d probably have landed about 10 percent of what we’ve gotten. And that’s where I was headed until something momentous happened.

About five years ago (prior to landing our first globally recognized client) a huge prospective client took me aside and said something like, “Look, man. You’re good. Very, very good. The fact that your four person firm has made it to the final four out of 128 agencies we considered should indicate that you’ve got something special. You brought up all sorts of insights and issues about the deliverables we asked for that proved you understood what we needed more deeply than anyone else. And then you lost your courage, and checked off every box on your RFP response and committed to delivering exactly what we asked for anyhow. And that’s the problem here. You have to admit, no matter how insightful you are, you can’t possibly deliver exactly what we’re asking for better than a nationally known firm a thousand times your size. And even if you could, the board members of a public company aren’t going to take a risk on an unknown like you . The only way I would ever get their approval to hire you is if you’d stuck by your guns and refused to give us what we asked for, and instead insisted on giving us what we need.”

There’s some serious paraphrasing going on there, but I believe I’m being faithful to his theme. It was a two hour conversation with a leader of a multi-billion dollar organization. And he so wanted to hire us that he not only took the time to tell us why he couldn’t, but to teach me how I could earn his business the next time he was in need as well. The last thing he said was that he was looking forward to working with us down the road.

No, he still hasn’t called us back (which would make this a much better story, I know) but we took his lesson to heart.

Today we respond to only a small fraction of the RFPs we receive. It’s not that we don’t believe in the process. In fact, it’s the opposite. We use the RFP process as a screening process to ensure that we’re actually a good fit for the client and opportunity. Our job as a branding and advertising consultancy isn’t to answer the questions and accede to the demands made in RFPs, it’s to figure out what’s behind the questions and demands, and ensure that the stuff in the RFP actually has the potential to get the results the client really wants, if they want anything at all. The RFPs we tend to respond to are the ones where we can prove there’s disconnect between what’s being asked for and the results they’re likely to get from the investment.

When a client knows exactly what they need and how best to get it, then my firm is like just another lowing cow lost among the herd, hoping that today it’ll be our milk in the pail the farmer brings to his own family. All the respondents are checking all the boxes provided. It’s like cows jostling and mooing – “You want milk? Well, I make milk. Let’s do this!” and “Me toooooo! Look how milky my milk is. It’s the very definition of what you’ve asked for! Why go anywhere else?”

How the Hell is the farmer supposed to choose when every cow can provide the requested services at the required levels?

When a prospective client requests a proposal they provide a structure for response so that each can be evaluated in parallel. The farmer says he wants milk, so he ensures that he only considers solutions that get him what he says he wants. Cows, goats, sheep, are the likely candidates. If he gets really creative he might consider almond, soy or rice milk – and feel all the more insightful for it. But what isn’t up for discussion – and is rarely even mentioned in an RFP process – is why the desired product or service is needed, and why the solutions outlined in the RFP are the best way to meet the need.

Stokefire doesn’t make milk. Real nor imagined. We figure out why the farmer says he needs it for his family, then determine if milk is the best product for the job. If it is? We go on our way – there are plenty of lowing cows ready to compete for his attention and give him what he asks for. If we find that the farmer’s real need is better served by something other than the proverbial milk? That’s when we invest the considerable time and effort crafting a response to an RFP – one that cannot be compared to anything else under consideration because it addresses the needed results rather than the ‘required’ methods and steps that have little chance of getting the farmer what he wants, and an even lesser chance of landing us the job.

The key to successful RFP responses isn’t getting the answers right. It’s having the courage and insight to modify the assumptions, questions, and rules so that the original request becomes irrelevant. Sure, the farmer said he wanted to bring milk back to his family, and there are millions of cows able to give him that milk. But what if you learned that the entire family was lactose intolerant, or that he was using it to fill his swimming pool at the rate of one bucket per day, or to clean the mirrors in his house? In each case, the best response wouldn’t be to fill the stated request and follow the process, it’d be to find a product better suited to the requirements.

Those uses may seem obviously wrong, but put in the context of what we see on branding RFPs are actually pretty reasonable. We’ve seen RFPs requesting logos that increase customer loyalty, demanding reuse of previously used campaigns for increased results without creative expense, and asking for a rebrand intended make a highly visible company scandal go away. These and many other RFPs got dozens of responses that checked every box. We didn’t check a single box for any of them. We couldn’t deliver what they asked for so we responded to the RFP we believed they should’ve written.

And we won.

Does it work every time? Absolutely not. About 10% of the time it doesn’t work and we fail to change the prospect’s perspective. About 5% of the time it doesn’t just fail, it fails spectacularly. If it was that farmer’s RFP, he’d grab his shotgun and unload both barrels into our chest. Then he’d tell us we didn’t get the job.

As bad as it sounds, I know from experience that being screamed at by prospective clients for having the nerve to challenge their assumptions is survivable. And it’s led to some wonderful client relationships months or years later, when the prospect has tried it their way and we have the, “You know, funny thing about that pitch you made…” conversation. It helps to keep that result in mind when resisting the urge to wipe their spittle from your eyebrows during the pitch.

If you’re not willing to take the risks needed to achieve results, but still blame the system itself rather than your ability to use it to your advantage? I’ve got no problem with that. In fact, I’ll even help. There’s a word you can repeat in your mind as a mantra that will ensure you always deliver fully compliant responses to RFPs. It’s easy to remember, and oddly comforting, too.

Say it with me…


The Painful Truth about Working With Stokefire, And How To Fail While Doing It.

Posted by Tate Linden

Arthritis Campaign by The Classic Partnership Advertising

Arthritis Campaign by The Classic Partnership Advertising

The truth about working with Stokefire? It often sucks.

I mean it.

Working with Stokefire is frequently extremely painful. Intentionally so. There’s a core belief at this firm that we can’t ensure a brand’s greatness until we have proven that it can withstand immense pressure. As our regular readers might recall, the philosophy supporting our work is structured around a quote from Gandhi, and though he may never have directly said as much, I personally believe that if Gandhi hadn’t gone through the painful challenges that he did he wouldn’t have made such an impact on the world. His philosophies would never have been tested and found to be powerful and effective. While we’re not known for putting our clients under the sorts of extreme pressures over which Gandhi triumphed, we are pretty damn good at making clients uncomfortable and even angry when it’s called for. And, for what it’s worth, it’s almost always called for.

A brand built by staying in your happy place may be fun, but it won’t help get you through the challenges that real organizations face during a crisis. My firm has had great success earning accounts that a little shop like ours “had no right to even pitch” (as one of our competitors put it) by going after that pain, and warning our prospective clients in advance that we’re here to cause harm but that the end result will be a battle tested brand that will get them where they want to go. We’ve had clients Google, Motorola, Charles Schwab, Heinz, the US Department of Defense, and the entirety of the US concrete industry. C’mon people; you must admit that our little shop in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia doesn’t seem like it should be able to even get business cards from the people that work at the agencies that land clients like those. (And candidly, we tend not to get those business cards. The people who work in the big agencies are not my biggest fans, from what I can tell.)

We don’t surprise clients with the bad stuff after they sign. No. We tell ’em the first time we see them. Pretty much open the door and say, “You know, working with us is pretty much going to suck for you, right?” And then we tell them all the stuff they’re going to hate about working with us.

Among the things we cover are all the decisions and actions that they’ll want to make or take that we tell them in advance are off the table if they want to have a chance at a successful project. That list is about a dozen items long – and every one of the items has at some point caused more than one of our projects to end up less effective than it should have been. Clients are still able to go against the advice, but must acknowledge that in so doing our team is entitled to make changes to timeline, budget, and/or scope, or goals to compensate.

For the first time – that I can remember, anyhow – I’m sharing about half of this this list with the world, reworded in such a way that it might be Internet-ably digestible.


Method 1: Avoid Risk, (Because Not Doing So Is So Gosh Darn Risky.)

Without risk you won’t get noticed. Without notice you can’t engage. Without engagement you can’t achieve any meaningful organizational goals, except perhaps downsizing, which you really don’t need our help with.

The most common way to avoid risk is to look at the industry and figure out what everyone else is saying and doing, and then find a designer who can mash it all together into something resembling a brand image. No need to hire a strategist because the work is already done! Go to the website of any competitor, then just cut, paste, and BAM! You just saved all sorts of time, effort, and money. Go ask for a raise.

Method 2: Insist on Consensus for the Wrong Things.

It’s critical to come to consensus about the goals for the organization and the brand, but when it comes to whether or not people like the resulting work we actually find positive consensus to be an indicator that the work isn’t as powerful as it needs to be. One thing that every great brand has in common? Someone out there absolutely hates it. We’re actually pretty pleased that most of the time there’s someone out there that truly despises our work, though often as not it’s the competition that screams the loudest.

Method 3: Keep the Decision Makers Out of the Process.

Keeping the decision makers out of the creative and strategic process is like making a baker’s favorite cake without access to the baker, and without access to the baker’s closet of ingredients or recipes. No matter what you come up with there’s little chance that that the baker will approve it because the result won’t match the recipe to which you never had access in the first place. If a decision maker is too busy or important to participate then they should delegate authority to someone who has the time and interest required to get it right.

Method 4: Demand that the Purpose of the Organization or Brand Include the Word, “AND.”

“And” is the bane of singularly effective brands and strategies. The moment you require a proverbial bullet to hit both the primary target and a second (or third, or twelfth) one you’ve made what should’ve been a relatively straight-forward shot into one that is effectively impossible. This is not to say you can’t hit all the targets, but the chances are better that you’ll end up winging them rather than nailing the center of any.

Method 5: Change Requirements or Assumptions Upon Which Work Was Based But Leave The Resulting Work Unchanged.

It’s like telling that aforementioned cook to prepare a meal for a meat-lover, then upon delivery of the delectable meat-infused foods being told that they made a typo and meant to say that the eater was vegan. There is no option except to restart from the step right before the assumption was made. The moment the assumptions in place are changed the work that resulted from the old ones either must be thrown out, or used for some other purpose. No matter how delicious that TurDuckEn may be, the first instinct should never be, “Well, maybe we can still use it if we just add more vegetables.”

Method 6: Keep the Project Hidden from Staff, Clients, and Stakeholders Until It’s Done.

Done right, the result of a strategic rebranding process should seem like you’ve scraped off a battered (or poorly chosen) coat of paint to reveal the beautifully crafted bones of the original structure that had been hidden before. That’s very hard to do if you don’t have any first-hand knowledge of the people who helped to build it in the first place, and those that live there now. Imagine coming home and finding someone you don’t know has repainted and repositioned everything in your home without asking for your permission or input, and then stuck you with the bill. Oh. And they appear to reeeeealy like pink. It’s likely you’ll find that the work covered up everything you loved about your home. That’s what happens when an employee comes in one day with new logos and mottos spread all over the office. It’s seen as “just another marketing thing” instead of what should be a powerful tool for helping the organization get where it needs to go.

No matter how risky you might think trying to engage existing staff or clients in the process might be, that’s nothing compared to the backlash that can occur when you try to sneak one over on them, or aren’t completely transparent with the reason for a change.

You may notice that almost all of these methods that lead to failure involve some sort of attempt to overtly or covertly avoid risk. Having leadership stay out of the process means that they’re not to be blamed for the direction the project has taken, requiring consensus spreads blame so that individuals can duck risk, having multiple goals means there’s no risk of alienating anyone, allowing assumptions to change without consequence means no one will have to risk their employment by asking for more funding, and keeping stakeholders in the dark means that we don’t risk blowing the project schedule by letting in rabble that could turn the whole thing to a muddled mess.

We’re not unique when it comes to recognizing that risk is a critical ingredient in a successful brand. Most agencies acknowledge this now – but I think the extent to which we’ve codified the ways risk avoidance can creep back into a supposedly risky position is less common. If you’ve got stories to share on risk avoidance or acceptance gone wrong I’d love to hear about ’em.

When it comes to branding and strategy choices, I’m finding that almost every time the right choice for the client is the one that makes them the most nervous. Not in an “anyone who would do this is an idiot” way, but in a “can we really do that? Because no one in our industry would ever in a million years try something like it” sense. Which is kind of the point. Any retrenching towards what’s comfortable and familiar results in an avalanche of undone decisions that turn brand positioning and strategy into a mishmash of platitudes that no one finds objectionable and never gets mentioned outside of annual executive strategy sessions.


That’s it…I’m out of practice on this whole blogging thing, but I’ve got some more stuff I’d like to share in the coming days and weeks, so here’s to hoping I can continue to bring it back to life.  Thanks to my Twitter followers who helped nudge me back on the hamster wheel. You can find me being my own bad self at @Thingnamer or tune into to the business-esque chatterings of the team (and me) at @Stokefire.


The Difference Between Good Designers and Great Designers

Posted by Tate Linden


Are you a good designer or a great designer?

No… Wait. Don’t answer that until you get to the end.

There seems to be a common belief that any designer can become great if they just work hard enough on their technique. Most of our design schools are built on this very premise. And of course there’s Tippy the Turtle who remains infamous (long after most have forgotten what art program he represented) because many bought into it.

I don’t believe it.

I find that in most of the interviews I’ve had with design school grads and even journeyman art directors, their big moment seems to be when they show me their mad skillz when it comes to using Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Or maybe it’s their charcoal technique. They’re usually truly excellent at one of these, mind you, so they’re justified in bragging a bit.

But none that went this route got a job offer, because in our world that’s not what commercial design is about.

Of course a designer must ensure that their design is strong technically before it goes into production. That’s a given. But isn’t it more important that the design is strong conceptually before advancing beyond sketch stage? A designer who doesn’t understand how to read a creative brief and develop a concept that not only fits within it, but can expand or enhance the effectiveness of the entire campaign or brand identity? Well.. that’s a designer that doesn’t work here.

And a designer that can’t stand up for what matters (at least once) with a client, creative director, or professor? You’re probably not seen as a designer, you’re seen as a tool. Most likely a paintbrush, but if you have other definitions that fit, maybe try ’em on for size.

Pay attention to how your peers, bosses, and clients discuss your work… I’m betting that what’s true here at Stokefire may be true elsewhere:

Good designers are praised for their technique, great designers for their impact.

So, which are you? And how do you know?

EVENT: “Branding? Meet Gandhi.” with Tate Linden


Be a part of Tate’s first-ever public discussion on the topic of kickass Gandhian brands. One day you might even tell your grand-kids you were there. (Note: said telling is far more likely to occur if you already have grand-kids, and if they just so happen to be visiting around October 4th.)


Topic: Gandhi’s Secrets to a Successful Brand
Presenter: Tate Linden, President & Chief Creative of Stokefire Branding and Advertising
Sponsors: The DC chapter of ASTD and the Chesapeake Bay Organization Development Network.
Cost: Free! (Thanks sponsors!)
Date: October 4, 2011, 7 to 9 PM
Location: Bethesda Regional Library – 7400 Arlington Rd. Bethesda, MD 20814.


Only about ten seats remaining.
Call Peggy Linden, Coaching SIG Leader at 301-424-0860 or send her an email.

About The Session:

Organizational brands large and small struggle and fail every day. Many chalk this up to bad luck or poor timing, but that’s a cop-out. In most cases the situations leading to failure can be recognized and turned around before it’s too late. In this session you’ll learn to recognize and decode the warning signs, and to understand the steps needed to fix the problems. Tate Linden may be conveying the information, but it’s Gandhi’s words on alignment and perception that are the foundation of the session.

By the end of his 1 hour interactive session you will:

  1. Understand what a brand identity is and why it matters to the success of every organization, be it a sole proprietorship or industry titan.
  2. Easily recognize the three signs of brand misalignment and three indicators of weak brand elements – and the negative consequences of each.
  3. Learn why a critical ingredient in brand success is provided by the audience, not the branded organization.
  4. Know where and how to effectively focus your efforts to build a solid foundation for your own brand’s success.
Tate’s discussion starts after brief introductions from the attendees, and following his discussion there will be Q&A and networking.

About the Presenter:

Tate has over 15 years experience advising, managing and developing brands for the likes of Discovery Communications, Heinz, Charles Schwab, ADP, and the US Department of Defense. He’s also an in-demand speaker for audiences from 10 to 1500, with recent appearances for the US Congress, HOW Design Conference, ASAE Great Ideas, and the ACCE annual conference. He’s in the midst of writing a book and developing workshops that show in detail how and why to incorporate Gandhian philosophies into organizational identities.

About Time You Pull Over And Ask For Directions:

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Defining Brand Strategy – with Gandhi?

Posted by:
Tate Linden

This post follows on my post from last week in which I introduced a basic brand philosophy, but neglected to define all the terms. Thanks to those of you who asked that I back up and give a bit more context before moving forward.

I use two of Gandhi’s famous quotes as the basis for Stokefire’s system of understanding how and why organizations or causes succeed or fail, and what can be done to fix them. I began working more seriously with his ideas (with the very capable help of my team) as I was preparing to speak to members of Congress about why Republicans consistently represented not only their own brand, but also defined the Democrats, while the Dems could neither represent themselves nor define their opponents.

A Definition of Terms

  1. Gandhi’s Trinity or Gandhi’s Pyramid: The three distinct elements that together result in the happiness mentioned in Gandhi’s quote, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
  2. Do: Whatever it is that your organization gets paid to deliver, whether it’s a product, service, or cause, is your ‘do’. Within an organization you likely have a larger ‘do’ that encompasses what is offered to external clients, and smaller ‘do’s for internal departments such as HR, Payroll, and the like that are tasked with ensuring that the organization can survive to provide the intended service. My focus will most often be on the larger externally oriented definition, but lessons can usually be applied to either.
  3. Say: The sum total of externally viewable organizational communications. This includes almost any sort of communication that can be perceived by the senses. Verbal and visual are obvious, so you’ve got marketing, advertising, design, logo, and PR covered. But we can communicate using scent, non-verbal sound, touch, and taste as well. If the purpose of the experience is to communicate with the audience outside of the use of the product or service then chances are good that you’re dealing with ‘say’. Most importantly, any internal ‘confidential’ communication is also part of ‘say’. As you will see shortly, what we say is a window into what we think – so if we’re keeping secrets they’re going to be seen as more representative and believable than what we intentionally distribute to the world.
  4. Think: Perhaps a better word for this is ‘intent’. This is the true motivation or cause behind an organization. For those outside of the organization’s leadership circle, ‘think’ is typically only deduced by analyzing what is said and done and computing the probable cause. It takes a truthful and well communicated motivation to succeed for the long term. But it is only under extreme pressure that the true motivation can be proven. Intense positive or negative pressure reveals what is most important because in those periods we tend to embrace what we hold most dear.
  5. Perception of Intent: Somewhat related to Gandhi’s Pyramid, a second quote from Gandhi helps to explain this idea: “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted.”
    Since our true intent (or our ‘think’) is usually not provable it becomes critically important in competitive situations to understand how our motivations are perceived by our audience. Perception of Intent is almost completely unrelated to truth or genuine motivation. It is affected by the biases of the originators, deliverers, and receivers of the intended message, and can be easily manipulated (to the detriment of the originator) when the elements of Gandhi’s Pyramid aren’t in harmony.

Those are the key aspects within the developing philosophy.

But why define these terms at all?

Because I believe that all successes and failures can be attributed to either a lack of alignment between, or insufficient strength within, items two through four (‘think’, ‘say’, or ‘do’). It is this weakness that, in competitive situations, enables competitors or the media to manipulate Perception of Intent (item 5) and impact the likelihood of success.

Anything I’ve missed? Let me know.

Can Your Strategy Be Proof That You Don’t Have One?

Posted by:
Tate Linden

When it comes to design? The answer is YES.

I came across a blog post today from a respected business strategist that made me seethe – just a little – but still a definite seethe or two was on display for a moment at Stokefire HQ. And all it took to cause this was a single word, “strategy“.  Out of respect for the strategist who was trying to share some genuine business wisdom I’ll not be sharing the link to the post where I found this.

In that unshared post (about using proper strategy to develop client trust more quickly) the following image was used:

At first glance it’s just your run-of-the-mill clipart special. But then you look closer. The word is presented directly facing you, the viewer. It’s got a soothing purple-to-grey-to-white vertical gradient combined with a rakish italic. Sort of like saying “let’s take it easy baby and go break down that wall!” As incongruous as that may be, at least it doesn’t violate the laws of physics or geometry. Which, if you couldn’t tell, is where we go after I rant a little bit more.

Perhaps you notice the cool dimensionality of the image? Good, because it’s pretty clear someone wanted to make sure you knew that multiple dimensions were involved. You’ve got the letters on a flat plane, the shadows on the letters, the shadows behind the letters, and the reflection beneath the letters.

There shall be no mistaking the fact that this is not just some plain old black text on a white background shiznit here. This took some serious CS-2 Photoshop-effecting skillz.

And yet the brilliance of the piece hasn’t even been touched upon. Check it – There is no combination of two effects that actually works together in the same physical universe. Seriously. Here’s the list I came up with:

  1. The light casting a shadow behind the letters is 45 degrees up and slightly behind your left shoulder as you view the text. So we’re starting off well enough here… But…
  2. The lighting on the letters is also above the text but apparently further to the left, as evidenced by the shadows on portions of letters that are casting shadows themselves in item 1.
  3. The lighting in the reflection is similar to that of the letters, but lets you see the hot spots that would only be visible if you were viewing the image from above, which you can’t do in a reflection beneath the image.
  4. The reflection itself has somehow shifted slightly to the right of where the letters themselves exist in space, without needing to do anything practical, like, say, tilting the mirror to one side or the other. The reflection just up and moved because it was, perhaps, strategically prudent to do so.
  5. The reflection compresses the font vertically, suggesting that we’re viewing the original text from above or that the mirrored surface is significantly slanted, but…
  6. The perspective given by the shadows cast behind the letters shows that the reflective surface is even.

But perhaps best of all…

7. The nifty descenders on the g and y descend below the (now selectively 100% transparent and non-reflective!) mirrored surface, forcing the inverted reflected letters to end abruptly before converting one pixel later to a matte surface onto which the shadows fall (on a different plane than the reflection.) Got that? Physics ain’t got nothing on this design.

No seriously. It ain’t. Or… uh… Doesn’t.

I’m sure some of you want to say, “Dude – why get so hung up on something as minuscule as some clip art used in a blog post? It’s just something used to fill space and sum up the fact that this is about strategy.”

My response (thanks for asking) is that this is exactly the sort of thing that led me to say  Design is an opportunity to continue telling the story, not just sum everything up.

Instead of using a throwaway piece of clipart that adds nothing, makes no sense, and looks amateurish (if you can prove that it’s you and that you’re nationally known award winning designer I’ll buy you lunch for a week) you could’ve found something that actually communicated the point of the blog post in a different way.

There is no part of your identity on which you get a free pass. Everything counts. If it is associated with things you think, do or say? That’s you. So when you choose to use clipart – or stuff that looks bad enough to be clipart – it says a ton about you and your business. And unless you’re a discount store it is probably saying stuff you don’t want to say.

Clipart-like design conveys stuff like:

  • We think you’re not paying attention – nor worth paying attention to
  • We’re cheap
  • We’re not creative
  • We don’t care about the customer experience
  • We don’t value aesthetics
  • We’re like everyone else
  •  And if you find what we do for less than we do it? You should jump on it, because price is our only differentiator.

The person who took the time to build the impossibly bad clipart that started this whole rant doesn’t deserve this wrath. I think it’s more directed at a culture that thinks that just having the tools to do something makes us expert practitioners

So… uh… if someone can give me the number of the person in charge of that I’ll go yell at them for a while and leave the poor soul (who will otherwise likely be waiting for me in a dark alley with a”strategy” tattoo on their forearm and a shiv in their hand) alone.





The Value Value Pricing Model: Pay LESS for the Best?

Posted by:
Tate Linden

There are all sorts of books on pricing out there. If you’re a consultant, a designer, a strategist or other consultative service provider – there’s a tome filled with pricing models that factor in cost of goods sold, value to customer, return on investment, profit margins, industry trends, and countless other stuff that’s quite obviously important to consider. But the one thing I haven’t seen?

A pricing model that gives the client an incentive to select the direction advised by the hired expert.

After many years of consulting, I’m beginning to notice that clients are extremely hesitant to take whatever the most promising path forward (as seen by the consultant, and often agreed to by the client) may be. For some reason , selecting the best advice (or if you’re coy and try to bury the strong option in a list, “Option 3”) is something that clients resist.

While hourly consulting agreements can factor in the additional work necessary to create strategic plans and execute less powerful options, they tend to be difficult to position because many clients want fixed costs. So…what if it was baked in up-front? What if we had contracts that said we’ll research an array of options, and if the *advised* option was selected a discount was guaranteed?

I’m uncertain if this is a viable model, but it’s intriguing to me. I’m sure it could be gamed by consultants who just want to sell work they’ve already done for another firm that didn’t choose to use it.  Or it could be that the consultant would just put a crappy option as their first choice (though that’s got some major risks if someone actually chose it.)

Namers? Designers? Strategists?

Would you be willing to give a 10% discount (or some other number) in return for the knowledge that your best work is more likely to see the light of day than a Frankenstein’s Monsterish amalgam of three different ideas that would just take up space in your portfolio?

There are a handful of times where an absolutely stunning concept couldn’t move forward. But if I’d said I’d take less to get that idea implemented *after* having developed and delivered the creative it would’ve sounded desperate.

If you’ve tried it, how did it go?

And any clients – or potential clients – reading the blog… Is this something you’d consider?

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