You don’t need new clients, you need happy tenants.

I attended a real estate education seminar this morning and it got me thinking – why do we, as designers, chase the job instead of the client? Why do we chase a one-night-stay over a monthly tenant? I’d like to suggest thinking of your customers not as clients, but as tenants. Create a comfortable figurative space where they love to stay and have their needs met.

A renter has a place they can call their home. This tenant finds comfort, entertainment and their structural needs are taken care of by a (hopefully responsible) landlord. Marketing, design and communication needs are ideally, themselves, ongoing efforts and relationships like this – not one-off projects. A client who spreads their communication needs to various vendors runs the risk of creating a scattered brand image (an exception might include large enterprise with an effective branding guide – but sometimes even large enterprise does not have this in place (double parenthesis for a shameless plug – WMC can help your business develop a brand guide)).

It’s like sleeping in a new place every night – you’re a drifter! You lay your head on a different pillow or rock every night and wonder why you don’t have a place to call your home! Drifters have a hard time gaining friends and neighbors for this reason. Likewise, your business, when drifting through the marketing and advertising world, will have a hard time developing friends and neighbors – or, customers.

As designers, we’re responsible for being good landlords – maintaining a high standard of service for our clients’ needs.

I think that as designers and communicators, we need to start thinking of clients not as a source for “as-needed work” but as tenants in a high-speed, high-stress, high-stakes game of attention day-trading. They need a guide, because they’re focused on their business processes. Our job as designers, communicators and marketers should be to help these businesses navigate the daily, weekly, monthly and annual communication goals they need to meet in order to create more business year-over-year.

So, I would say to businesses who try to direct tens or hundreds of creative, marketing or advertising projects across many different firms: come home. Stop drifting. Partner with a firm and pay them monthly to consolidate, strengthen and give consistency to your messaging, design and image. WMC can do this, and lots of other design companies can do this. A design/ad/marketing agency’s job is to figure out what works for your prospective customers, shift their methods FOR you, and then measure again – incrementally creating inbound customers.

If they’re not doing their job, you can partner with a new firm. But if you spread your work out amongst several creative agencies, how can you expect to measure the effectiveness of your comprehensive efforts?

Like your home, you’ll pay for what you get.

Here’s my suggestion: Set a modest growth goal. 3% net revenue growth year over year? Perfect. See if your current creative firm understands how to create this type of return for you. Pay them 10% of that 3% growth projection and judge the effectiveness of their efforts against that goal. A firm that knows what it’s doing for your business will shepherd all your communication, creative, marketing and design efforts (comprehensively called: a brand) into a consistent and effective brand presence that draws new customers to your doors. No longer will you be drifting, you’ll be building a business house. A brand is your roof and your welcoming front doors. It paints a picture of what customers can expect from your business. If your brand is scattered – so, too will be your business success.

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