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adventure

30 lessons from 30 days in a branding strategy agency

. 8 min read .

I strongly believe brand is a huge part of a successful product so I was eager to dive right in and get the most out of my time at ZZdot in Athens in September of 2016. It was an amazing experiene and this is the best of what I learned (right or wrong).

< 1 > Having entitlement of your product is very powerful. In agencies the additional complication that you have to work for a client that can often be unreasonable, with low standards or indecisive can change everything.

< 2 > Some clients and jobs you get with minimal margins just for the prestige of doing them or to build relationships in the hopes of bigger future projects.

< 3 > Geting to know the target audience aka user research would be the ideal scenario but often there is no time for that. Also often this is left to the ‘Creatives’ team or the Graphic Designers (they have the design approach in their blood) but ideally it should be done from the very beginning.

< 4 > This came as a HUGE surprise:

Corporations do have in-house marketing teams BUT those don’t do the actual creative and implementation part of the marketing! They mainly determine the needs of the company and then outsource the projects to agencies which compete for the job! This serves the dual purpose of saving $ and refreshing the creativity by picking different agencies for different campaigns.

< 5 > Jack of all trades, master of none indeed. Before I joined ZZdot I wanted to spend some time to advance my skill is Photoshop and Illustrator in order to become great at it. Be able to design logos and banners and leaflets and need nobody. The same with web design. I wanted to be self sufficient. But I am realising that I will never be able to surpass the quality of the work the ‘experts’ are able to provide. I am now reconsidering my motives behind getting broad skills. I shouldnt be doing it to replace or fill that need but to be able to understand how they work, how I can do some basic tasks or maybe edit their work. Paying for the time of an expert might actually be the best solution. Not only you get highest quality results but you get to spend that time doing other things and mainly becoming better at your craft.

< 6 > During the presentation of some logos and concepts from the graphic design team I could see how what I though were the best options were actually the least favourite of some members of the team and vice versa. It was obvious that what I think is right or aesthetic or appropriate is just my perspective. In a team there are many of those and in general there is no such thing as “the right one”. Instead there is such thing as “the right one for the client” or the “preferred ‘right’ solution of most” or a compromise leading to a combination of many ‘right opinions’.

< 7 > Managing expectations is a tricky game. When it comes to clients if you overdeliver then you set the standard high for jobs to come but at the same time you are competing with other companies for a job so that might give you an edge.

< 8 > Ideas are precious and sensitive to their creator. Be careful not to bash ideas. And if you do, it has to be done swiftly because insulting or deeming an idea not good enough is a direct hit to the person who threw it on the table and not the idea itself.

< 9 > The coolest, most innovative and most out-of-the-box ideas are not always the best choice. They are actually rarely the best. Ambitious, extraordinary & cool ideas usually come with a degree of complexity. New procedures, new partners and possibly an increased budget in the agency world. It is especially hard to push such ideas if the client or the market itself is unsuitable(conservative, risk averse etc.). For such audiences something that is unique and differentiationg is often translated as something weird and strange.

It is a tricky job to make the concept familiar and approachable but at the same time novel, fresh and innovative. Too much of the former and you will end up in boring territory. Too much of the later and you end up alienating a vast majority of people.

Assessing the market is hard and involves lots of experience. Ballsy management is needed in order for new concepts to move forward.

< 10 > Brainstorming with many people is very powerful. Their ideas can feed yours and a great idea can grow into a fantastic one or vice versa. They can also see problems you might not have seen with yours because often the first reaction is ‘what might not work with this’? (btw too much of that attitude and brainstorming becomes shit-storming). Have an idea? Just throw it on the table.

< 11 > When you get a new assignment ask all the questions you might need at the very beggining. Set the expectations and boundaries from the get go. Make sure you know what the objectives are, any deadlines or specifications on your work. And set those as well as you can. You can avoid a bunch of time of trying to do it later reactively or save yourself from conflicts or uncomfortable situations.

< 12 > Transform presentations to a story with a flow. A beginning a middle and an end. Storytelling can be super powerful and engaging.

< 13 > Pausing when talking can be very powerful in refocusing and intensifying the point you want to make. Tonality is also especially important. Monotone might be calming and reassuring and has its place but if you are trying to make a point or sell something or want to show emotion then the best way to do so is by altering the tonality of your voice.

< 14 > There is such thing as a creative deadend. The point where an idea, no matter how hard you work on it and how many changes you do, cannot progress. That’s the time when you need to pivot or scrap it without regrets.

< 15 > The power of the personal introduction. Being introduced to somebody via a personal link can make a huge difference. Even mentioning a name or having your email being forwarded can be much more powerful than an intro from scratch.

< 16 > Hiring happens first via the phone line by asking for recommendations and then online. Most roles you will never see because they are either advertised internally or never published.

< 17 > Sometimes the value of the idea comes down to how well you sell it. Most often people dont care to know how you did it but mostly what the result is and what value can it add to their lives and the company. So make sure you clearly explain not how you did it but how it works and most importantly how it can add value to the company and to that person directly.

< 18 > Be proactive. Not reactive. Think ahead. It can make a huge difference. A s a person, as a professional, as an emplyee, as a business.

< 19 >

There is a balance when briefing somebody — especially for a task that requires some creative input- between one that has everything predefined without and space to ‘add your own touch’ and one that has n0 limitations or expectations so absolute creative freedom.

The first might be a creative person’s worst nightmare because he has no input or seinse of entitlement. The second has a twofold problem. Firstly of the person being lost in possibilities and options since there are no limitations to eliminate some of them. And secondly the lack of clarity or expectations allows the person to take the project wherever he decides to take it. Be as precise as possible with your vision and direction but make sure NOT to restrict the other persons own judgement and input. You will often be pleasantly surprised.

< 20 > Feeling that you can impact the company and colleagues is extremely empowering. I found that projects that have this characteristic of being potentially impactful are the ones you want to work on all day during and after work.

< 21 > At night I personally am more emotional so the work I produce tends to change slightly. Last night I was writing a piece about an application I was doing. But I did not send it in. Instead I waited until this morning when as I am reading it I wonder what was I thinking. It it so ‘whimsicle’ with many rambunctious words. When it comes to such tasks I better sleep on the first…

< 22 > In a company the focus should be on the People and the Product. Then comes everything else. The biggest supermarket chain in Greece does n0 advertising. Not TV Spots, no Printed press, no website, no social media. Nothing. While the competition does all of that. And still. That chain has the reputation of having the cheapest prices, being a fantastic employer and an ethical company. With n0 effort on the external. But an intense focus in the internal.

A great product needs n0 marketing to take off just like a shitty product cannot be ‘saved’ with the biggest marketing campaign in the world.

That it is not to say it is not useful. Ofcourse it is. But I think it is not necessary and less importnat than people and product.

< 23 > Help and give value not in order to get it back one day but simply because it feels good. This can be linked to the above too. So many of the opportunities I have are a result of giving more than I was expected to. But that wasn’t a conscious effort from my part. But I later realised that what you get back is just an added bonus.

< 24 > Creativity is about practice, sources and experiences. If you think you are not born with creativity, you are wrong. It was just taken away from you from the establishment. Exercise it. It is a muscle.

< 25 > Emotional security in a team can vastly increase the creative capacity of the team. Feeling secure and empowered to share your ideas without any fear of judgement no matter how crazy or unfeasible it seems. This is one of the most powerful aspects of creative teams as stated by Google’s internal research.

< 26 > Make sure you present an initial prototype before you start working and make sure you have frequent check-ups onwards.

< 27 > Crazy how markets vastly differ from one another. The Greek, from the UK from the Cypriot. Well, not that crazy but the difference I keep spotting are neverending. Not one strategy works in all.

< 28 > It is not wise to assume everybody thinks like you. Be empathetic and knowledgable when it comes to that. It is also not wise to take the assumption that people are smarter, faster and more knowledgable than they are. Personally I do this a lot and it causes me to assume they know what I am talking about right away instead of elaborating and giving them depth. Better give more info than less.

< 29 > Respect is not gained in a day. It is also not something that can be demanded but only won over with consistency. Exactly the same way trust is built. Can crumble into pieces in a split second but rebuild only with time.

< 30 > When you are trying to explain something and you see that the other person gets the point, stop right there. No need to affirm yourself by saying all the smart things you thought about to explain it further or how and why.


A big thank you to all the team at Proximity-ZZdot. They proved to me once again that the most valuable lessons, come from being around and working with great people with ‘meraki’ ❤