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What is disciplined creativity?

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Designing for your customers and not for yourself, avoiding fashions and fads and creating experiences that are connected to your business is one of the greatest challenges any CMO or CEO faces. Managing design talent such that you get the most from it is the difference between winning and loosing. Here are a few anecdotes and tips to help you be sure that your project is a winner.

This week, I met a CEO with a charisma. This guy has a reputation for being a challenging character and he didn’t disappoint. He was direct, difficult and the kind of larger than life person we all find difficult to deal with. He was super smart and had a clinical focus on delivering experiences that are right for his business. I like people like this, they are not seduced by the sparkling lights of the next big fad or fashion, but are real, on the ground and focussed on what their customers want.

We talked about the latest trends, the move to digital, customer journey’s, segmentation and all the usual things we discuss at meetings like this however, when it came to a view of the future, I made the mistake of showing him some future concepts from Europe that I thought were cool. He shot me down. ‘Have you seen my customers?’ he asked... and I hadn’t... they all work in the Souq, they don’t have iPads and high tech smart phones, they deal in cash and they come into my branches with ruck sacks full of it - this will never work for them... hold that thought... and switch markets to Qatar...

There is a brand in Qatar that shall remain nameless who invested $8m in refitting their flagship retail outlet. The designs are beautiful, they are white and look like something that has landed from outer space a designers wet dream... but did they look at their customers first before launching these works of art... I fear not. In fact, customers of this brand looked at what had been produced and voted with their feet. The spaces were empty and the business was in trouble. Then someone in the company had the bright idea to ask customers why they were not going to the store - the customers simply told the business ‘we don’t feel like we belong in there, that space is for rich people and not for people like us, how much are we paying for this that we don’t want?’

Now this is not revolutionary, but it is the dramatic. The result, all of these spaces have been ripped up, redesigned and rebuilt at a further cost to the business.

So what can we learn from this? If you are about to embark on a branding or retail design project please consider the following:

It is critical that:

  1. you take a strategic approach - understand the needs of the business and your customers before embarking on creative work. Understand what success looks like and make this your target.

  2. you benchmark against local, regional and global best practice

  3. you are clinical in your focus and always question decisions

  4. your design team are immersed in the culture they are creating for. Better still select a design team with international experience and local talent

  5. designers and marketers are not seduced by the latest fad or fashion. Remember, you are not designing for YOU, you are designing for your business and your customers

  6. you spend time understanding the way your customers think. In developing markets, this is not the same as in developed markets. Even in a market like UAE, the cultural variables are massive. Every market is different, every location is different. Understand before you commit

  7. your designers are properly briefed on every detail of your requirement

  8. your designers are disciplined in their creative approach and do not go off on a tangent creating what they like themselves. Remember, your designers may be designing things they don’t like, but that are right for your customers

  9. you test and iterate. Do not be afraid to test and do not be afraid of change - this is the mother of invention

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