The dominant narrative in the marketing world right now is that of the “new normal” and technology’s role in easing the journey towards post-COVID prosperity. However, there are encouraging signs too of a renewed investment in the kind of creativity and design principles that are fundamental to brand success.
Among them is the launch of the creative offering, Ensemble Studio by the communications agency FleishmanHillard Fishburn. To understand more about the new studio and its role in delivering results for brands at a testing time, The Drum spoke to Steve Hickson, its creative director.
In a lively interview with Gordon Young, editor-in-chief of The Drum, Hickson explains why FleishmanHillard Fishburn chose to re-launch their design studio during lockdown, the impact of design on client sales and profits, and how President Joe Biden used the power of good design to help him to win the recent US presidential election.
Hickson says that Ensemble was launched, in part, to motivate and provide a vision to the agency’s people as part of a wider long-term investment in talent, technology, and marketing: “Investing in these troubled times in our people, our new business approach, our brand and our route to market makes complete sense because one day, fingers crossed, COVID will be tamed.”
This view is supported by evidence that similar types of investment in times of crisis yield strong results. For instance, organisations that focused on innovation through the 2009 financial turmoil outperformed the market average by more than 30 per cent, and continued to deliver accelerated growth for up to five years.
From a client perspective, though, how can good design help to deliver growth? On one level, Hickson argues, this comes down to meeting basic and necessary standards: “Consumers and audiences are now so used to seeing slick design that bad design sticks out like a sore thumb. If it’s ill-conceived or badly-executed audiences won’t believe in what you have to say and, more importantly, they just won’t trust you.”
However, he believes that design can go further in helping brands to flourish: “Ultimately, it builds credibility and brand recognition. Creating a consistent visual language also provides that important visual shorthand, an instant connection to your service and offerings.”
To support this view Hickson references The Design Council’s The Value of Design report, which highlights that for every £100 a business spends on design, turnover increases by £225. And, on average, design aware businesses increase their market share by 6.3% through design, says the research.
Bringing this to life, Hickson cites the recent example of President Joe Biden beating Donald Trump with communications defined by the simplicity and clarity of their design. This was evidence, he says, that “simple messages delivered through effective design do indeed make things happen.”
On a more negative note, he mentions the retailer Gap as an instance of where a big brand failed through design. In 2010, Gap ditched its new logo after just a week following a massive online backlash from consumers unwilling to embrace such a radical shift. The cost to the business of the botched design launch was reportedly around $100 million, emphasising the importance of listening to expert design advice and of following best practice principles in understanding the consumer.
The launch of Ensemble Studio will bring these good principles of design to its clients and they are also embedded in its own identity. Hickson says: “Our brand proposition is ‘one clear voice’ and it has a lovely duality to it. It gives our people a voice, and a direction and vision to believe in, and it also says to our clients that we’re here to cut through the noise and pierce the clamour with one clear voice, providing clarity around their communications.”
Given Hickson’s positivity and strong sense that the design community will get through the pandemic by sticking together, the launch of Ensemble Studio, with its name conjuring associations of creativity delivered through collective performance, is that rare thing right now: something to celebrate.