If you have ever worked with someone who was renowned for his or her technical abilities, but who failed to listen to and understand your needs, you realize that they missed the mark on the importance of relationship marketing. Whether you’re seeking the services of a cardiologist, a contractor, or a graphic designer, the ability to relate to that other party is crucial. Without it, the most competent person in the world will struggle to understand your needs or your vision for the project. It is important that your client trusts you and wants to work with you. This is particularly important in artistic fields such as graphic design, in which a client’s needs are often less quantifiable and more abstract.
That said, how do we define relationship marketing, and how can your company pursue it when choosing a designer? Let’s start with a definition.
"Relationship marketing is a strategy designed to foster customer loyalty, interaction and long-term engagement. It is designed to develop strong connections with customers by providing them with information directly suited to their needs and interests and by promoting open communication."
Relationship marketing begins with a marketer’s or designer’s ability to foster communication so that they can reach a shared vision. This then allows the designer to deliver a product that meets the company’s needs. The result, at the brand level, is a set of graphic design solutions that enables customers to understand the company’s product and how it will meet their needs.
In summary, relationship marketing is a trickle-down process of effective communication that begins with the relationship between the designer and the company and ends with the company’s customers. Therefore, when choosing a graphic designer, it is incredibly important to consider not only a designer’s portfolio, but also her ability to understand your vision for the company’s brand.
Pursuing Relationship Marketing
Given its importance, how can you pursue this type of relationship with a graphic designer?
1. Review the designer’s portfolio.We’ll start with the obvious: a designer must be able to provide the brand-related products that your company needs. When you review her portfolio, do they demonstrate a range of capabilities, particularly the ones that you need at this point in time, but also with future, potential needs in mind?
For example, on my personal website (kimberlydilloncommunications.com), I have displayed my past work including event invitations and brochures, brand logos, trade show banners, company fact sheets, holiday cards, magazine advertisements and more. Unless you have only a very specific, one-time graphic design need, look for both quality and breadth in a designer’s portfolio.
2. Meet the designer.When a designer’s portfolio appeals to you and your company’s needs, it’s time to schedule a call or in-person meeting. At this point, focus on the following things:
a. Quality communication: when you talk with the designer, consider whether or not the communication feels easy and enjoyable. Over time, having that ease of communication will be more effective and much more enjoyable.
I have learned the importance of this in practice. Before starting my own business, I worked with a set of clients whom I will never forget. Like most clients, they were hardworking and dedicated to their business, but we were also able to build a bond that made working together both easier and also a wonderful experience.
b. Shared vision: lay out your vision for your brand and what you need. And then listen. What you need to determine is whether the designer really understands who you are as a company and how you want your customers to perceive your brand. Ask questions until to have a better sense for whether that shared vision exists.
c. Referrals:consider the designer’s former clients. Did they have positive relationships with these companies and were they able to deliver what they needed? Of course, if you were referred to the designer, you already know something about them.
I am not the type of person who enjoys cold calling. I believe that pressure should be unnecessary if my design ability and personality are the best fit for a company and my clients speak highly of my work ethic and skillsets. Therefore, when I started my company in February of this year, I was incredibly blessed with my first client: a former coworker with whom I had worked closely on large scale projects. We already had a successful working relationship and, since we were able to communicate well and understand one another, our interaction was consistently and mutually beneficial. In effect, he acted as his own referral in hiring me as an independent contractor.
Since then, I have been incredibly grateful for the fact that all of my clients have come through referrals. I believe that this is a testament to my ability to understand and help each of these clients build their businesses. And beyond that, a long-standing relationship between myself and my clients builds mutual understanding and numerous efficiencies.
d. Loyalty:a referral indicates the loyalty between a designer and their clients. But so does a designer’s long-standing vendor relationships. Though you may not have considered it, a designer who has worked with certain vendors for many years comes with two distinct advantages.
First, these established relationships are a form of efficiency in that they do not need to spend time and money acquiring them after you hire them. They already know what each vendors’ distinct capabilities are and what to expect from them.
Second, these relationships, like company referrals, indicate that the designer is able to form and maintain effective working relationships. The kind of relationship that you would like to have with them.
This has been particularly relevant in my own career. I love engaging others - not just clients, or tradeshow attendees, but also vendors. Over the years, I have had some amazing vendors and have been able to bring these vendor relationships with me as I have grown in my career.
What any company needs from a graphic designer is an effective relationship: one in which the designer will share your vision and who will, in turn, communicate to your customers the best representation of your company in a way that meets their needs. That is the essence of relationship marketing.
I believe that the key to success in business, especially in a service industry like graphic design, is not just about having a certain skillset, but also that my clients have found in me a shared vision. After all, they aren’t just buying my abilities. They are buying my personality and a relationship with me.