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Entrepreneurship, Startup
Demographics, a cornerstone of marketing, is quickly being replaced by Customer Personas. Marketing theory has traditionally said that customers all fit within prescribed demographics; age, gender, socio-economic status, education, profession, hobbies and more. While the traditional way of segmenting customers might have worked in the past, the theories can only serve to act as a lesson on what not to do.
 
These profiles sound nice, but they’re nearly worthless and provide next to no valuable insights into a market. Empty descriptions that might describe one customer, but completely fails to recognize all the secondary and tertiary opportunities that exist. This failure to connect can leave vulnerable startups missing out on early adoption and a greater understanding of their product-market fit.
 
The reason so many company’s marketing fails to connect is because teams never leave this flawed approach—they think they know what their customer should be, but they really have no clue who their customer is.
 
Stale approaches like, “Do you want to increase your productivity?”, “How would you like to try out product X?” or, “Want to lose weight, click here!”
 
This 👏 Doesn’t 👏 Work 👏
 
Marketing Fails Because it Isn’t Speaking to The Customer
 
Forget the tired demographic stats.
 
Customers are not age ranges, job titles or salaries. They’re living, breathing, active people. And they can see through marketing BS instantly. Just like you, they have a fine-tuned sense of marketing BS and are not going to fall for a weak message.
 
Countless marketing and advertising executives trip all over themselves to make messages easy to understand and in the process dumb down marketing for the lowest common denominator. This completely overlooks that they’re selling a complex product to a discerning market who want to be treated like an intelligent adult.
 
Customers are people, speak to them in the way you would want to be spoken to and magically a conversation can start. The brands winning on social media didn’t learn this, they intuitively knew it before they even started.
 
To really connect with your customers, ditch the latest shiny thing, drop the marketing speak and start to focus on them, as a person. This requires more research and digging to fully understand the ‘why’ embedded in everyone’s thinking. Instead of knowing that they are 24-55 years old, urban, completed post-secondary education and make between $75k and $90k, ask yourself, why do they do things, what do they feel, what would they think about this?
 
Why do they do live in the city?
John works for a big bank downtown and hates the thought of losing three hours of his day commuting.
 
What do they feel about it?
Living in the city isn’t who he is, a small town is more his speed.
 
What do they think about it?
Living in the city is short-term pain for long term gain. He hopes to open a financial advisor business in a small town.
 
By asking questions of your customers you can start to learn what makes them tick. Drop the pretense and assumptions, they’re most likely wrong anyway. Start asking questions, listen and understand what your customers say. By understanding who your customer is, the easier it will be to build a customer persona. Then set you up in a stronger position to start the marketing conversation. Knowing their motivations is a far more successful sales approach than grandiose promises or bait techniques.
 
The best way to understand your customers is to build out a customer personas for each segment. A customer persona is a snapshot of who your market is—a fictional character with a name and face who embodies all the traits of your typical customer. This allows you to visualize who you’re speaking with and connect in a direct way to them.
 
Personas help everyone in your company; marketing, sales, product, customer success and service can all lean on a well-crafted persona to see if their work is aligning. It is someone you can lean on and relate to as a real person. Having a deep connection to your customer personas is a major part of creating the right content for them, developing the right features or services for your product, devising sales strategies and follow-ups, really anything that involves outbound communication and sales. Instead of asking, “will this work?”, you team can now ask, “what would (customer persona) John think of this?” Having the right personas can take out some guesswork of marketing, just look at these stats to show the positive shifts it produces (source):
 
  • Companies who exceed lead and revenue goals are over twice as likely to create personas than companies who miss these goals.
  • 71% of companies who exceed revenue and lead goals have documented personas.
  • 47% of companies who exceeded sales and revenue goals consistently maintain their personas.
  • 37% of companies who simply meet revenue and lead goals have documented personas.
 
With a clear understanding of who your customer is as a person, and not a demographic representation, you and your team are ready to adjust your marketing messages so they can now connect directly with them. In turn, you can now expect to see your marketing picking up steam and starting to work for you.
 
So, who are your customers?
 
 
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.
 
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Entrepreneurship, Startup
Every founder is an investor because founders are the first to place a bet on their company. These investments come in a few forms; seed capital, sweat equity, partnership or in-kind contributions. Regardless of the structure, one truth remains – if you want to grow your business from a side hustle into a scalable, full-time operation, you need capital. You’ve put in the sweat equity to-date, and moved your idea from notes on paper to a business plan or working prototype. Now is time to show investors you’re serious by putting your money where your mouth is. 
 
Why smart founders invest in their startup
You need to put money into your startup if you want to build your product, land critical sales and grow into a sustainable business. After the initial idea-inertia, founders tend to run right out to fundraise, assuming that with their shiny deck they are ready to chase investment. However, few are equipped to present investors with more than just an idea. If you’re standing up there, tossing out a business without fully costing it out, or even ensuring there’s a product-market fit, just wastes the investors time. Usually, It ends worse the founder. If you’re pitching without something concrete to present, like a prototype, your chance of landing an investment is basically shot.
 
As talk with investors, they’ll want to know how much cash you put in. Making the commitment of putting your money on the line shows investors that you’re serious about this idea and you are willing to take the risk as well. When you put your own cash in, you’re demonstrating that you expect to see a return and you have faith that other people will invest. Bottom line; if you plan on asking others for money, you have a far better chance when investors know that you invested in your startup first.
 
When I was actively fundraising for my businesses – meeting with private equity investors and doing the well-rehearsed dog and pony show – without fail one of the earliest questions was, “what’s your investment?” Proving that you have skin in the game, that you’re not only working off the sweat equity, is a critical component to securing investment. That’s not to say that you can’t pitch sweat equity alone, simply that you should be prepared for a tougher raise and to see a higher equity requests from investors who are taking the larger risk. 
 
Should you find yourself in a sweat equity position, it might be in your best interest to carve off a larger employee option pool and have it written into your term sheets that the founders get first shot at the options (up to X amount) to help top up their shares should the company reach its initial stages of success and is proceeding towards a Series A or B. This route allows you to give up more at the start, but saves the opportunity to gain back some equity once the agreed upon metrics of success have been proven. 
 
If you are ready and capable of making an investment then you’ve already planned out the initial growth and know how much you should be putting in to give yourself enough runway to reach either initial sales, MVP, government grants or fundraising. When investing one big cheque into your new bank account remember the business plan, and make sure you have build a strong set of financials so you know exactly where every dollar is going, and when. As long as spending doesn’t get out of control and threaten cash flow, the business should grow along.
 
It would be wonderful if every founder was already independently wealthy and could self-finance their startup but short of that, there are other ways to get your proverbial skin in the game. 
 
Credit Cards/Line of Credit
Google’s founders, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin, famously maxed out their Amex cards racking up over $15,000 in credit card debt. Just like you at the start of your company, they didn’t know they’d be building Google, they simply had a vision and used what limited resources they had to bring it to life. This is not to advocate racking up unsustainable debt or putting yourself or your family in a precarious position. If you are in a stable enough position to start drawing upon credit – with a plan to pay it back – then credit might be a solution for you.
 
Friends & Family
Imagine having a network of friends with deep enough pockets that they can drop five digits (or more) into your startup to get you up and running? Not so far fetched as most serial entrepreneurs run in circles with other serial entrepreneurs who would want to invest in the next big thing. Even if you’re not rolling with an exited friend or two, it’s always worth practicing your pitch on friends and family and asking for a small sum to help get up and running. If you can match to make it a ‘friends & family & founder’ round, you’ll look more committed to potential investors down the line. If you’re not willing to take the risk with your friends and family’s money, why should an investor take the risk?
 
Crowdfunding
Everyone’s favourite counter culture party game, Cards Against Humanity, launched via an incredible  Kickstarter campaign that showed how bang-on the creators knew their product-market fit, along with a complete understanding of their end users. With crowdfunding platforms the name of the game is marketing. If you or your co-founders have a marketing background, especially advertising, this is where you can let it shine. Crowdfunding is great for smaller scale prototypes and favors more physical product-based startups.
 
In-Kind Contributions 
Your startup is focused around what you know, and how to do it better. Chances are, you have some equipment or other types of contribution from your previous career or hobby that you can give to the company. Whether its computers, machinery, lab space/time, vehicles, etc… these can all count as an investment. Your accountant will need to know about this, so they can track depreciation and factor that into your financials. Vice’s three founders made their initial investment in thirds. Co-founder Suroosh Alvi spoke on NPR’s How I Built This. “I borrowed five grand from my parents, Gavin borrowed five grand from his parents, and Shane got $5,000 worth of computers from his dad. His dad worked in IT or something. And so it was with the ten thousand dollars Canadian that we started Vice.”




At the end of the day, you’ll need to keep track of your investment to show for tax purposes initially, but to also use as a point of reference as you go forward. This is where your accountant comes in. Don’t have one? Now would be the time to find someone trustworthy and affordable. If that really isn’t an option, using software like Wave Accounting or QuickBooks is a bandaid alternative. Your accountant will structure your business using the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) to ensure that you’re not only set up with the Canada Revenue Agency (or your national tax collector) but that you are following standard business practices that can be showcased when fundraising. When it comes to taxes, your accountant will thank you for keeping track of where the money is going so that it can be correctly reported to maximize your returns (and save you hours on your accounting bill). Additionally, with funding allocates in streams, you might be able to claim additional tax breaks, or apply for government grants, loans, and incentives. When approaching investors, having the ability to show them where the cash went and a full accounting from day one will be a requirement from you and absolutely part of their due diligence. 
 
When you’ve reached the point that you’ve brought on other investors, it is good to have a plan on what to do with your investment as the company grows. Most founders will roll their money into their existing equity stake to grow their ownership back up to stem the tide of dilution. Others offer the cash as a loan and treat it to similar loan conditions. A note of caution with the loan route – this is something you’ll want your lawyer involved in. They can make sure you have the proper terms regarding repayments and consequences of a default. These term sheets will need to be included with your investors due diligence package so there is a clear understanding that their investment dollars could be used to pay you back. Expect this to come up during negotiations! Either way, if the business does not succeed you will not get a return at all and either have to write off the loan or write off the investment. Make sure your accountant has a plan for either scenario when tax time comes around.
 
How much to put in depends on your personal situation and your tolerance for risk. Some companies have gone on to incredible success, launching will as little as $10,000.

Startups are risky. If you don’t want to bet your own (or your friends and family’s) cash, your prospective investors might not want to either. The bottom line is, if you want your startup to be successful, you should invest in it. However, like any investment, don’t just roll the dice and hope for the best. Know what you’re trying to do, understand the market and the chances of success. This is an investment into yourself, so plan diligently and make a smart investment.



Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.

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Design, Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Startup
Think of all the great creative work we see on a daily basis. How the right image paired with the right words evoked reactions. How a new interface felt like a friendly piece of software that you were able to use with ease. Or a new product that came in such precise packaging that you wonder if you should keep the box as well. 
 
All of these pieces, products, and designs came to life from a creative brief. A creative brief is the foundation of any design project, UX product, marketing campaign and really anything produced by a creative team. In essence, a brief is a roadmap outlining the journey that the creative team is about to embark upon. The brief shows the team where to start driving to discover ideas but also how to evolve those ideas into fully formed concepts that complete the journey. 
 
One of the biggest challenges multidisciplinary teams face is getting, and keeping everyone on the same page. The creative brief is the proverbial shepherd herding all the stakeholders together. It provides a central point of reference to clarify the project goals, details, mandatory elements, timelines and budgets for creatives and clients to reference throughout a project. It also has the added bonus of acting as a cover for scope creep for creatives and a deliverable list for clients. A creative brief also provides a way to navigate the messier parts of collaboration on big, complex projects with multiple moving parts and people.
 
In the blog, 5 Ways to Keep Revision Costs Down, one of the key elements for cost control is a detailed creative brief. By capturing all the project elements in one place, both client and agency teams can be held accountable allowing for a more accurate quote and fewer revisions in the final stages.
 
A 2017 survey of over 1,200 international advertising executives by Ad Age asked them to rank clients on topics including integration, procurement, compensation, and consolidation.
 
Specifically, regarding creative briefs, their response was, “Agency assignment briefs were a major problem area, highlighting the old ‘garbage in, garbage out’ mentality. Most agencies reported some level of frustration regarding the quality of assignment briefings: 53% found briefs complete but lacking in focus; 27% found them incomplete and inconsistent; 20% found them complete and focused most of the time, and zero respondents found them complete and focused all the time.”
 
Now, more than ever, teams need to orchestrate and distribute brand campaigns that include multiple media options, timed deliverables, and collaboration efforts with creatives located all over the globe.
 
At the start of a creative project, it is important to answer some essential questions from the key stakeholders.  
 
      • What problem needs to be solved?
      • Who is the target audience?
      • What product, service or solution will solve the core problem?
 
Clarity around these aspects is at the heart of any project success. These questions work for any project type and help get everyone on the project aligned with the main objectives.
 
At its purest, a creative brief is like building a house; a strong foundation will ensure everything else stays together. So, how do you want to build your house? Here are some tips.
 
1. What Are Your Goals?
Before diving into the details of the project, try focusing on a few details. This will allow you to keep the project manageable and your brief focused. However your project is structured, it is important to lay out individual goals that will comprise the steps required to complete the project. 
 
Having a clear vision of who you are is critical when communicating your goals to the team, so they can amplify your amazing qualities. If you have a brand guide, you’ll need to attach it to the creative brief to reinforce who you are and give the creative team a reference they can look to when questions arise. If you do not have a brand guide, now is the time to get one (warning: self-promo ahead) from Method Creative Studios; user experiences driven by simplicity. 
 
2. Who Are The Key Stakeholders?
Ownership drives accountability, on both the client and agency side. Having someone, or team, listed as the decision makers for the client and main point of contact for the creative team allows each group to identify the project leaders. The brief should clearly outline who’s driving the car and who is the senior leadership that can provide guidance if problems arise.
 
Selecting stakeholders who will play an active role in the process will leave the teams with a clear understanding of who they need to turn too when questions arise. However, be sure to not overload already busy staff who might overlook important details. Realistically, this isn’t always possible, but it’s nice to dream, right?
 
3. Who Are We Talking To?
This should be self-explanatory. If you don’t know who you’re talking to this project is far too embryonic for a creative brief. At this point, you should know who your audience is and what their customer person looks like. This needs to be clearly communicated to the creative team. If you have research and detailed persona outlines, put this in an appendix. The agency teams love having a detailed understanding of who they’re talking to.
 
4. What’s The Deal With Your Competition?
Who’s the competition? What are they doing? Where are they finding success? When are the right market conditions? Tell us your ‘why’ statement. This information will help inform the direction that your product, service or brand will go to stand out and help focus both client and creative teams towards a clearer picture of the destination on the roadmap that is our creative brief.
 
5. What Is Our Key Message?
This is the biggie of the project, everything created is in service of this message. To help point the creative team in the right direction try to position the tone and style around the brand’s voice, mission and/or values. 
 
Thinking about the overall goal, try to distill it down to one sentence, or even a few words if possible. If this is presenting itself as a challenge, try using the Golden Circle approach to simplify your message to its core elements. From there, both teams will be able to focus on the best way to communicate it with your audience. 
 
6. How Are We Communicating Your Message?
Let’s get into the specifics now. What channels are you using to push your message? On a screen in a conference hall is a far different screen than your phone playing on Instagram. By narrowing down where your message will be placed, the creative team can design it to cater directly to your audience.
 
7. What Are The Deliverable Details?
Now it’s time to dive into the details. This is where you document exactly what needs to be developed, what mandatory elements are needed, what size the final product needs to be, how it will be produced, who’s responsible for completing a phase and who is it being passed onto. 
 
Let’s get a laundry list of what MUST appear on your piece. Things like logos, selling lines, legal copy, phone numbers, web address, etc. You can also help us out by identifying any possible legal pitfalls or regulatory issues. Do you have a branding guide? What are your corporate colours and fonts? Does it need to be bilingual?
 
This is also your chance to have some fun and join us in the creative process. Please share with us the idea you have in the back of your head, let’s call it a ‘bad ad’ or a ‘jumping off’ point. We know you have an idea of how you see things ending up, it’s time to share. Pull out the crayons and get started. If you have samples of images, brands, ads, apps, websites, or anything else that inspires, this is the time to share it. By knowing what styles, UX’s, tones, etc. that you like, the creative team and focus in on delivering your vision.
 
Don’t be afraid to get really into it here, the more details on the final deliverables, the more focused the creative team can be thus saving you revision costs in the long run.
 
8. How Is Success Measured?
Before the creative team goes nuts building the next great app, do we have tangible metrics to track that will determine growth and success? Do the current analytics account for multiple campaigns and outbound sales activities so this project can be isolated and measured on its own? 
 
Establishing metrics in advance for reporting data helps facilitate stronger client-agency relationships in the long run. It builds trust upon everyone delivering their tasks, and allows for insight into problem areas as they arise. Just make sure there are agreed-upon metrics so everyone knows whether goals have been reached.
 
9. What Are The Timelines?
Let’s face it, some projects are far simpler than others and some are multi-agency, multi-disciplinary complex projects that require a lot of detailed specs. Understanding where this project falls within the marketing mix, content calendar or marketing strategy can help outline the appropriate timeline for completion. 
 
Timelines are the backbone of your project and should be laid out plainly in the creative brief. Try to focus on time windows and then narrow them down to specific days after working with your creative team to fit your project into the production schedule if possible. Ultimately, each deliverable needs to have a due date, as well as a sign-off date. These timelines let the teams know what needs to be done to hit the deadline and how things may be delayed if something is not completed for the next phase.
 
Remember, if every job is a priority, then none of them are a priority. 
 
10. What Is The Budget?
Let’s talk money. What is your budget? We can tailor the job to your budget? Does your budget include hosting, media buys, delivery, and/or printing and production costs? Have you factored in translation costs, audio production, stock image/video purchases, transportation, location fees, licensing, permits, etc.?
 
In most cases, you’re working with a set budget based on the complexity of the project – a 15 second motion graphic ad for Facebook has a smaller budget than a live action 30 second on-location spot that includes digital and print ads to accompany it – this needs to be included in the brief and part of the discussion with the agency team. They will want to know where the flex points are to see if new ideas or techniques could be applied. 
 
If the agency’s quote is above your budget, talk it over with them. Quite often we’re willing to tailor a job based upon budget and needs. Through this dialogue, we can figure out realistic expectations and deliverables before jumping into the project and discovering that the budget has been burned two-thirds of the way through. 
 
Final Thought
Taking the time at the start of the project to think through these 10 tips, and reviewing the brief your agency sent, you’ll be able to build a creative brief that is not only thorough but effective and focused. Now armed with your creative brief, you and your agency team can build the right project for your business. 
 
If you would like a sample of our thorough creative brief here is a copy of Method’s that you can use as a starting point (here is our additional website brief to compliment the main brief). Now go out there and create something beautiful.
 
 
 
Want to learn more about how your company can benefit from an experienced creative professional? Click below to set up your 30-minute consultation. We’ll sit down and work through your branding, marketing, or creative materials to find where you need some work, and offer our suggestions.
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