We do a lot of branding and web projects at Ambient.
Some clients hire us to brand a new venture or have an existing brand but would like it refreshed. Some want a new website. Others want their digital presence completely replaced. Sometimes, all of the above.
Some clients reach out to us knowing exactly what we do and hire us with an understanding of the process and accurate expectations of what the project will look like from start to finish. These clients are what we call “unicorns” because they don’t exist.
Most of our clients, even those with some understanding of digital agency work, hire us because they assume WE know what we’re doing. We want their assumption to be correct because nothing is worse than a disappointed client. Or a disheartened agency who can’t make a client happy.
So how do we avoid swimming in a murky pool of disappointment 45, 90, 120 days after project kickoff? Or more accurately, if we actually aspire to end projects on time, on budget and with lollipop-rainbows of client relationship satisfaction – how do we get started on the right foot? Discovery.
At Ambient, we’ve been refining our discovery process. Frankly, our projects were taking too long to complete. And although most of our clients have been relatively happy, we decided we don’t want “relatively happy” clients. We want HELL YES HAPPY clients. So we had to fix a problem, which was this: the process from project kickoff to client approval entered too frequently into the digital agency version of the spinning beachball of death. Stalled. Slow. Frustrating.
There’s a bad voodoo magic that happens when a project takes too long: people fall out of love. Designers lose the zeal they had when initially starting their work. Developers get tired of constant revisions that could’ve been handled in a few rounds. Project Managers get annoyed with the frequent adjustment to scheduled dates and times. Account managers get exhausted repeatedly delivering “meh” news. And worst of all: clients start to question whether hiring your company was the right decision. And POOF! what began as an exciting project on the horizon soon embodies a let’s just get this over with mentality. Which totally sucks. And lackluster, passion-less work is NOT why we get out of bed every morning.
After reviewing our processes, we decided to aggressively tackle expectation breakdowns, starting with our discovery process. We made a fast-paced transition from our previous internal-only This is What We Heard the Client Say, Right?system, to holding thorough discovery workshops with our clients. On every project.
So, what is a “Discovery” “Workshop” (insert exaggerated finger quotes)? A Discovery Workshop is a meeting with the client team and relevant agency people, where the correct expectation for the direction of a project is sussed out via specific and relevant questions, and a launch point is established for design and creative work based on the client’s needs and wants.
In a nutshell: Discovery Workshop = elimination of the blank slate. Because there’s no such thing as a blank slate. When clients use the phrase “you have a blank slate”, they actually mean, “I have some very specific ideas on where I want this go, but I’m not a micromanager who is going to send you 3,000 Pinterest ideas – go ahead and exercise creativity within the very clear boundaries I don’t realize I have.”
So, what do we ask our clients during our discovery workshops? Questions. Lots of questions. From a lengthy list we’ve curated, that we select and edit based on the client and scope of the project. The questions are “homework” we send in advance to our clients to get their abstract thoughts and ideas into tangible concepts.
The homework questions have proven successful for us at Ambient, because they not only get our clients thinking about what exactly their ideas and expectations are, but it also allows the members of the client’s team to become aware of any inconsistencies or differing expectations they have internally amongst themselves. It gets them on the same page.
It’s crazy important when working with a client “team” (vs. one individual) to establish clearly that all members must agree on what is expected. And get sign-offs at every stage. In writing. This avoids the frustrating scenario where one member of the client’s team has given approval, more work has been done, then another member expresses he was never really satisfied, and blah blah blah, the train is suddenly moving backward instead of forward. Stalled. Spinning beachball of death. Unhappiness creep. Scope creep. All of the relevant creeps.
Hence, part of a successful discovery process is making clients aware from the get-go of what it is THEY actually want and in equal dose of importance: what they DON’T want. Then recording those wants, clearly and concisely in a Creative Brief. And getting signatures. Bam.
Below is a sample of our Discovery Workshop Questionnaire for branding clients. We edit them in some form or other depending on the project before sending to a client. The list was created from numerous sources: digital media expert blogs, other well-established agencies, Google searches, and the highly nuanced Hey Can You Think of Anything Else? method. It’s not perfect but nothing is perfect and this transition has helped us a ton. Maybe it will help you too. If you have better questions, send them to us. We love improving.