Tag Archives: design

The True Value of Relationships

Young Women Travel Together Concept


My parents always taught me to value my relationships, to treat others as I would like to be treated, and to never burn my bridges – that great big world is actually pretty small when you get working in it for awhile.

I’ve been blessed by the results of that sound advice with close bonds with my kids and parents, incredible friendships and truly great clients – some of whom have remained with Ink Tank for more than 25 years – and many who, over a short or long time, have become friends as well. My parents’ advice is both a lesson for life and a lesson for business. It applies to both the clients and suppliers I choose to work with, and also to the advice I give my clients to help them think differently about their businesses and understand how to authentically present their brands.

In our approaches to our friends and family we are (hopefully) transparent, genuine and have their best interests at heart. Our good intentions and integrity are obvious, and they respond in kind. It seems to me to be simple logic that we treat our clients and staff in the same way to achieve similar outcomes.

Yet sadly it’s often not the case. We’re approached by clients because they’re feeling ‘stuck’. They may be losing market share, not growing as they think they should, or not getting the responses they expect. They blame it on the market, on the digital age, on rising competition, on fickle customers, on staff not doing their jobs, or on design that’s bad, ineffective or not ‘creative’ enough. As a result, they might wish to throw their entire ‘brand’ out the window and start over. Many designers, marketers and so-called branding experts will jump all over this as an opportunity for large billings and a chance to put their own stamp on the client. It’s usually a bad idea – more focused on the supplier’s than the client’s best interests.

All of this tells me that they don’t really understand what branding is to begin with. They don’t understand their own brand and certainly don’t understand the relationship their brand has with the marketplace. They’ve thrown the basic tenets of a good relationship out the window – not necessarily deliberately – but by trying to be someone they’re not, talking versus listening, and often in the wrong relationships to begin with.

Everyone wants to feel valued. They want to know that you care about what they care about, and care about them – genuinely. That communication is a two-way street. That you’re confident in who you are and don’t try to be something you’re not. That you listen as well as talk. No one wants to be around people (or businesses) that are all about themselves or that do things to appear caring, but in fact are not. They want the real deal.

While this seems simple, many companies are too close to what they do to see it and themselves clearly. For well-established firms, they’re often stuck in old ways of seeing themselves. In the case of start-ups, they may be carried away by their great idea, or be too money-conscious to get the proper help. In both cases they tend to completely misunderstand what branding is. They underestimate the need for, time involved and cost of researching, defining and positioning their company, product or service, building their brand and creating the right communications strategy. Same goes for developing the name and corporate identity that has available domains, avoids language faux pas and is unique enough to meet the requirements of a trademark. And finally, to effectively target their marketing so they can attract the right relationships in the first place, then sell them and maintain them in the second.

There’s an old adage that often comes up in some form or another: “If you build it, they will come.” The fact is, the notion is only true in this competitive, highly communicative economy if that truly applies to your relationships, not just to what you’re selling.

Ink Tank® is a full service boutique agency located in Toronto. We offer a wide range of business building communication services from strategy to concept to execution to production to evaluation, senior level only participation and highly competitive rates. We work in all on and off line media, and pride ourselves on being able to hit the ground running, and getting it right the first time.

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

one new shoe and one worn out shoe

One day, not long ago, I was having coffee with a friend. He is an account manager of sorts and deals with a lot of larger companies, many of whom are serviced by big ad agencies, design and marketing firms. He had worked at pretty much every level of the marketing, advertising and production business and had accumulated a wide variety of skills and insight.

We talked about a lot of things, as we usually do, and at a certain point the conversation got around to the differences between large agencies and small agencies in today’s business world. His observations had pretty much convinced him that the future of marketing, with the exception of companines in the top 10% in terms of size, reach and value as a client, was trending towards smaller ’boutique’ style firms.

Having all come from the big agency business ourselves once upon a time, I was really quite interested in what he had to say. And how, of course, that would affect things here at Ink Tank.

Life in the Twenty-First Century – Marketing Wise

His opinion is that large agencies and creative firms will continue to exist and the best ones will thrive, however with the global business landscape becoming increasingly more entrepreneurial, the prospects for those large agencies with hefty fees, heavy skews toward strategic development, slow turnaround times and large markups for outsourced services will, or in fact, have already narrowed considerably. Conversely, the opportunities for small, affordable, nimble and highly experienced smaller firms will broaden significantly.

The simple reason for this, according to my friend, is all about value. An entrepreneurial client values his or her relationships to a much greater extent than a big corporation does. They like the accountability and transparency that relationships with smaller firms engender. And they know that smaller firms, especially those who have been around for awhile, tend to be made up of individuals with a) much higher levels of experience, b) the ability to strategize, conceptualize and execute in a much more fluid fasion, c) a proven outsource supplier base with the same kind of DNA as they have, and d) the willingness to embrace client opinions much more openly, as opposed to the ‘us v. them’ mentality that still exists in many large creative and marketing firms.

The conversation with my friend resonated with what I’ve felt was true for quite some time. The world is a much different place than it was even a decade ago. The Internet has created a mixed bag of new media, some of which have yet to be fully proven and not all of which are right for all businesses. It has also created a number of new challenges for clients and business planners alike, all revolving around basic strategic and creative issues.

Many large agencies, studios and marketing firms today are filled to the brim with people who have grown up with a distinct bias towards digital media – a natural tendency as digital has been the bulk of their life and business experience. And like all biases, they tend to see only their own value and ignore or de-value other ways of doing things. Sadly, these big firm creative and marketing people are disadvantaged to a great extent because they have had very little in the way of mentoring: the people who could have mentored them, by and large, didn’t stay around to do that. They went off with their knowledge and experience and grew along with the digital age.

Old School and New School

This is pretty much our story here at Ink Tank. We all held senior positions in the advertising and design business. But instead of hanging around and passing ourselves off as gurus of one kind or another, we decided to keep working – our way – and adding new skills and experience. Because that was where the joy for us is derived.

Having worked in the communications business both pre and post-digital age has equipped us with a level of insight into both how these things have changed and how they’ve stayed the same. And at the end of the day, the strategic insight and experience, the creative development process and the need for high calibre execution remain constant.

What’s changed are really only the tools. And of course, our own levels of knowledge, experience and expertise, which are constantly deepening and expanding.

Small is the New Big

smallisgood
There was a time when giant advertising agencies, marketing and design firms roamed the earth consuming everything in their path. Pumping out campaign after campaign, turning unknown brands into household words, providing extra income to actors and athletes whom they chose as spokespersons, spending millions on commercials and ads and millions more on media to plaster their clients’ messages everywhere.

It was a time of plenty, with big budgets, consumers and clients who spent lavishly and agency personnel who were breaking new ground every day. Those were the days indeed, when a big part of a client’s status was measured by the size of firm they could afford to give their business to.

But alas, all good things must come to an end. And while a few big companies still feel the need of big agency status, and can actually pay enough to get senior talent on their accounts, those agencies are going out kicking and screaming–the age of the behemoth ad agency/studio/marketing firm is slowly showing signs of shrinkage.

Self-Inflicted Wounds

Back in the late 1980s and early 90s, big changes took place in the big agency world. Many people who had made these companies rich and famous were being jettisoned for younger, less costly staff. The jettisoned creative people didn’t really mind because their training didn’t just equip them for independence, it also gave them the confidence that they could pull it off.

But the one mistake that many of them vowed never to repeat was that of growing so large they lost the ability to be hands-on on their clients’ businesses. Or the ability to cut through the bureaucracy and really make a difference. Because the clients themselves were changing too–becoming more entrepreneurial and bottom line conscious and appreciative of the ability to get bigger results from a smaller firm for less money.

At our small firm, we all started in the independent sector on our own terms and this is very much the environment in which we were formed. I suppose you could call us a boutique strategic design and communications firm, but we are decidedly much more than that. The combination of strategic, creative and production skills that each of our principals possesses means that we can offer anything those big firms can–but in a smaller, more efficient, more experienced and most importantly, more value-added, results-oriented package.

Our other advantages are that we’ve been around for 29 years and we’re all under one roof. That’s a plus because in this economy, many firms are justifiably skeptical of individuals or loose groups–a direction many of those jettisoned creative and marketing types have taken. Clients never know if the team players will be around for the whole campaign, or the next one. These days, stability and continuity are as important as talent and experience.

Small Can Be a Big Advantage

Regardless of what service industry you’re in, big firms will always have their place. However most businesses today, particularly SMEs, are better served by an agile firm who can and do:
a) Develop smart strategies and put their plans into action;
b) Provide sound, senior-only advice and real conversations without being constantly on the clock;
c) Deliver powerful ideas and world class execution;
d) Recognize that relationships matter.

Ink Tank clients tend to think a lot like us. The could be small startup businesses, or bigger businesses wishing to rebrand themselves or get a new initiative off the ground without mortgaging their future to do so. Or they could be big companies who need well thought out strategies and outstanding execution of their initiatives and communication tools at greater speeds and more cost effectively than bigger firms can deliver. And maybe with just a little more creativity.

Our client base includes many start up, big and really big firms like these, as well as business and management consultants who trust us to build on and faithfully execute the plans they have devised for their clients.

Regardless of how big your firm is, getting to know a small firm like ours could end up being the key to people getting to know you and your clients.

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Ink Tank® is a ‘boutique’ design and communications firm without extravagance, politics or ego, but there is nothing ‘small’ about our talent levels, discipline and experience. We offer senior- level only participation, deep experience and proven successes across an extremely wide range of b2b, b2c, government and not-for-profit categories. Ink Tank is the ideal partner to launch a new product or service, brand or re-focus an existing brand, or get communications tools, advertising, packaging, promotions, displays and other marketing efforts working the way they should.