Designing a Path for Clients
A conversation with Christopher Butler of Newfangled
Newfangled is a digital marketing firm that defines methods and strategies for their clients. Christopher Butler, their Chief Design Officer, talks a bit about the thinking behind their process.
How do you define design? Why should organizations care about it?
Wow, that is a very big question, and it’s one I know I’d answer differently depending upon the context. Generally speaking, I’ve heard lots of definitions that ring true to me—that design is the act of forming with intent, for example, or, as I put it in a podcast episode, that design is art with rules—but when I’m working with clients, design takes on a slightly more narrow meaning. On the one hand, there’s the making work that most people tend to have in mind when they say “design,” but on the other, there’s simply the act of prioritization. Information design—ordering information by priority and making that clear to those who interact with it—is really the foundation of any other form of design that is active in my work, whether it’s referred to as user experience design, interaction design, web design, or anything else.
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What is the biggest mind shift you need to instigate in your clients for them to get the best marketing results?
That’s an easier question to answer: it’s that less is more. As in, you will reach a wider audience if you focus on fewer people. As in, you will be better at what you do if you try to do fewer things. As in, your prospects will do exactly what you hope they’ll do if you give them fewer options. Each of these ideas plays a major role in shaping how a firm presents itself in the marketplace and how effectively it can win new business and deliver on its promises.
Do you take your own medicine? Does Newfangled market itself with the same strategies it sets for its clients?
Yes, without exception.
How often are you translating high level findings into tactical products? What are the biggest challenges there?
I’d say pretty often. In our industry, there’s a pretty stark value divide between “strategy” and "tactics," meaning that everyone wants to be seen as strategic—presumably because that connotes intelligence and commands higher fees—and that tactical work is a commodity. I don’t believe that for a second. While strategy is, of course, valuable, and should be the sort of work we all want to do, strategies remain ideas without the tactical work that brings them into reality. Here’s a simple example: no matter how smart and well-stated your positioning, no matter how prolific and compelling your content, no matter how beautiful and useful your website, none of it is worth anything if you don’t have the right technology in place to manage prospect engagement. Something as “tactical” as forms and fields and buttons on a website can completely determine the success of your strategy. Knowing how to measure user behavior, knowing how to lay out a page to make engagement points clear and actionable, knowing how to manage incoming data, knowing how to communicate with an audience according to innumerable demographic details, knowing how to write the most compelling outbound messages, how and when to send them, and how to segment based upon responses—the list goes on and on and on. All of that is the long, tactical tail of any marketing strategy.
Do you find that your strategies work well across business types? Or is there a particular company profile that benefits the most from these strategies?
Within the broad category of those who sell expertise, yes. But companies that sell tangible products generally need a completely different approach to marketing, and that's not our area of expertise.
How much of your marketing approach is part of a set system, and how much of it is customized to a particular client?
The basic roadmap/plan we recommend to our clients is pretty consistent. But once that’s understood by them, customization begins. Every business is different, which means that each one will adopt, for example, the structural recommendations I make for their website very differently as they apply their own sensibilities and visual languages to them. That’s when I have to shift back and forth between thinking about marketing and thinking about design. Similarly, every business’s capacity to manage and create content is different, so the kind of team, media profile, editorial calendar, and coaching we’ll put together for them will be quite different.
Is there some magic in producing 3,000 words of content per month? (vs. more or less). Why does this work so well?
Not really. It’s all just hard work. And that number is likely to grow as search engine algorithms are weighing longer-form content more valuably than pages with fewer words. For years, urging clients to produce 3,000 words per month over a series of articles was controversial—most would panic over how they’ll manage to do that consistently, month over month, year over year. There are ways to help with that, of course— ways to generate indexable words that don’t necessarily start with a text editor, like interviews, podcasts, and the like. But still, Google prefers written content, and prefers very long articles. These days, SEO experts are recommending 3,000+ wordcounts for individual articles!
Do you see an inverse relationship between the search engines’ hunger for ever-longer articles, and the perception that the number of people who actually read all this material is pretty small? In the future, will the only ones reading our long-form articles be the bots?
I’m actually not sure yet. I think that both observations are true, but I’m not yet convinced that they're in direct opposition. I do think that people want information and have an expectation for how easily accessible and digestible it will be, but I have also observed that they want accuracy and, ideally, to not have to assemble their understanding on a given question/subject through multiple sources, but would prefer one “to rule them all.” With that in mind, Google’s preference for content depth may be aligned with reader/visitor preferences as well. That being said, I think I’m going to need a bit more time to observe how these relatively new recommendations for content length play out.
Do you weigh in on the quality of thought leadership content produced by a client? What happens if it doesn't meet standards for projecting expertise and engaging new viewers?
Yes, all the time. They’ve hired us for our point of view, the rigor and accountability of our systems, and the humanity of our coaching. And so that includes honesty. Just recently, I personally gave a client’s case study a pretty severe critique and I didn't mince words. I did this because I knew them well enough to know they value direct and honest feedback, as well as because I knew they are capable of better. They thanked me for being willing to give them some “tough love.” For our team, not meeting the standards—which, I should say, are set by us and our clients—is not acceptable. Especially with our content team, pushing clients toward excellence and the most true representation of who they are is what their coaching is all about.
To learn more about Newfangled, visit: newfangled.com