Creating Strong Relationships

How to Disarm 10 Difficult Client Observations/Requests
by Eric Karjaluoto

Unveiling a solution is arguably the most harrowing aspect of the creative process. Here are some of the best responses we have to questions that can often derail an otherwise effective solution.

My neighbours don't like it.

I can appreciate you looking to friends for support on this project; however, it's often difficult for others to understand the needs of the project at this stage. If you really believe these parties' opinions to be valuable, we should involve them in the full process. Let's schedule a sit-down with any new stakeholders next week, so that we can review the brief, strategy and challenges with them, and see if they still hold the same perspectives.

We really liked your portfolio; can you make our project look more like what you did for Client X?

It's funny you ask that because we try to do the opposite. In our minds, we have to look at each client's needs individually, and deliver a solution that's uniquely theirs. It's funny that you mention Client X, as they were initially very unsure of the approach we took, and it has ultimately served them very well.

Let's not worry about what others are doing. I want the approach we deliver to be distinctly yours. Think of it as a new suit that you wouldn't have thought of trying on. We're pretty objective, and as such will help you find something that meets your needs. In time to come, you'll find that it fits you quite nicely.

Someone in accounting mocked-up a really neat idea for this.

We're happy to take a look at other ideas but sometimes doing so increases the overall time requirement, as we would need to answer more questions and increase the number of meetings. If you would like to do this, I can draft an addendum to the estimate to make a provision for this. Alternately, if budget is a key concern, I'd ask you to sit down with this individual and find out if there's a specific problem they are working to solve. This may save some billable time, and help crystallize the concerns in a fashion that will help us respond best.

It's a great start, but we need to add this, and this, and this...

I can understand your desire to not leave anything out, and it's a not an uncommon sentiment. At the beginning of the project, however, you noted that you really wanted to build something around your customers' needs. In my experience, the organizations that do this best focus on a few key items, and work to deliver them in the best way possible. Adding can confuse customers and sometimes even scare them away. Just look at the most successful brands in the marketplace and you'll see that they are highly selective in their messaging.

I love beige; can we get more beige in this?

Personal preferences are powerful motivators; personally, I love hot pink, but it doesn't work in all settings. I'd like to step back to the creative brief for a moment. You note that your company really wants to connect with adolescent males who love hardcore sports. Do you think beige will connect with them?

I don't really know what I think about this approach.

That's fair; this is a big change from what you've done in the past, and in my mind, it's a bold new direction for you. As a result it may take a while for you to absorb this one fully. So, let's start with more strategic concerns. I've made a copy of our original assessment document, and have flipped to the project and messaging directives section. Let's look over that, and see if we're not meeting any of the requirements we set out with.

I just don't know; it's just so different.

That's great; different is good! A key aspect to positioning your firm is to find an approach that others aren't employing. It makes sense that you're not sure about it though; new things often make people feel that way. I remember hating espresso when I tried it for the first time! Thank goodness I gave it a chance, as I feel quite differently now. Let's look at the creative brief, and see if we're meeting your predetermined criteria for the project. If we are, it could indicate that we just need take a little time to get used to this new direction.

Can we make the text bigger?

Yes. Could you perhaps show me a couple of other websites that employ a text-size that feels right to you? We can then compare the two to see how much larger we should make it. (Note: This often leads to us finding that the proposed text is actually larger than what the client had believed.)

I'll know what I like when I see it.

A lot of people feel that way when it comes to visual treatments, but it's hard for us to respond with such vague direction. Can you imagine ordering food like that? "Bring me something that's good, and I'll eat it if I like it. Otherwise, you'll just have to make different dishes until I'm satisfied."

Let's me ask some questions that might help us identify what you are looking for. Is this approach too conservative or non-traditional? Does it feel overly light or dark? Are the images too passive or overly active? (Note: These questions can go on for some time; the focus is to keep them polarizing, in order to extrapolate some kind of hard response to aesthetic leanings.)

I was at this sandwich shop the other day, and they have an amazing website. Can we make ours look like theirs?

I don't believe that doing so would result in a solution that meets your needs. Creative strategies are generally tailored to meet the particular requirements of a specific effort. That being said, it sounds like their site really resonated with you. Let's take a look at their site, and try to extrapolate what points felt good to you. Maybe it will help us better learn what sensations you'd like to elicit on behalf of your audience.

I'll end with two other little suggestions that you may find helpful. First of all, don't just toss the design comps in front of the client. Start meetings with a review of the problems you've solved and the steps you went through to do so. This sets the stage for you to unveil the work and orients the clients in your process.

Additionally, don't screw-up. Make sure you've addressed all of the necessary design challenges thoroughly and accurately. If there's a hole in one part of your solution, it can raise questions about the entire approach. Even a small chink in the armor can erode your client's trust.

This article has been reprinted with permission from Eric Karjaluoto; It originally appeared on the blog: Eric is a designer, business-person, and author of numerous articles on design. He is a founding partner at smashLAB, a strategic interactive agency located in Vancouver, Canada.

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