[Podcast] State of Brand 2024 with Jacob Cass & Matt Davies

[Podcast] State of Brand 2024 with Jacob Cass & Matt Davies

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Prepare to embark on an insightful exploration of the branding industry’s ever-changing landscape in State of Brand 2024, hosted by Jacob Cass and Matt Davies. This special episode promises to provide a deep dive into the core of the branding world as it stands today, based on the findings from the State of Brand Report we conducted.

Facing the influences of AI integration, post-COVID market dynamics, and current economic challenges, Jacob and Matt tackle these issues head-on, addressing the crucial questions:

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  • How are branding professionals navigating these rapid shifts?
  • What obstacles are they encountering along the way?
  • What visions do they hold for the future of the industry?

This episode goes beyond just identifying challenges; it delves into actionable strategies and effective solutions.

Our hosts will guide you through vital topics such as ground-breaking pricing strategies, overcoming industry hurdles, mastering client acquisition in the modern era, and understanding the significant role of AI in shaping the future of branding.

Jacob and Matt also illuminate the essential tools of the trade, keeping you updated with the latest trends in learning and development.

Packed with seasoned insights and pragmatic advice, this episode is a must-listen for anyone in the branding sphere. I

It’s an opportunity for both veteran professionals and newcomers to gain valuable insights into how the industry is adapting to AI, discover advanced tactics and crucial metrics driving brand success, and learn about the resources empowering today’s brand leaders.

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Tune in to “State of Brand 2024” and ride the wave of change with Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

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Show Notes

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Transcript (Auto Generated)

Hello, and welcome to JUST Branding, the only podcast dedicated to helping designers and entrepreneurs grow brands. Here are your hosts, Jacob Cass and Matt Davies.

Hello, folks, and welcome. I cannot believe it to season five of the JUST Branding Podcast. We are really, really excited that you can join us again.

We’re going to be interviewing some of the brightest and best minds from across the globe in the space of brand building. But until then, you’re going to have to make do with just me and Jacob, because this first episode, we are really going to be tucking into a really exciting report which I’ll let Jacob introduce in a minute on the state of brand. So welcome.

It’s exciting to have you with us. Thank you for joining us once again and for allowing us to do this for the fifth year running. Let’s get into it.

Jacob, over to you. Introduce this episode for us.

Awesome. Thank you, Matt. And hello, everyone.

Welcome to 2024. So we are going to go over this survey or report, if you will. It was a survey in which we turned into a report.

But what it is, it’s basically a look at the landscape of brand. And in it, we look at the key trends, the challenges and the strategies that are shaping the landscape today. And the reason why this came about was very close to the ground when it comes to the challenges that designers, branders face.

And I wanted to really hear from themselves, like, well, what challenges are they facing? What are they seeing? So we put out a survey, 267 brand professionals answered from around the world, all different levels and in-house, which we’ll get into.

And we crunched the numbers, the data, and we put it together in a really nice comprehensive report, there’s a web page, there’s also a PDF version. So you can look at the State of Brand report, you can Google that and it will come up. It’s also on justcreative.com and yeah, it’s free.

So what is it all about? There are six categories that we go through. They are the key challenges that most of us face, which is generally around pricing, client acquisition, the future, AI.

We also talk about the tools of the trade, what we use, as well as how we learn and keep up with everything, and other key challenges that we face. So that’s how the report is broken down. And we’re going to go through that today, Matt and I, pulling out some of the key insights and having a chat about how we can use this data to improve and grow as brand professionals.

So that’s the nutshell of it all. Yeah. Where do we go from here, Matt?

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This is amazing. So this is a first of its kind. Do you know of any other reports like this?

Because I’m not that familiar with anything else out there, Jacob, like this.

Yeah. So there’s quite a few different trend reports all across the different industries. So when I was researching how to conduct a survey and write questions to ask, I did quite a bit of research into different companies and different brands that hold these kind of state of kind of X reports.

So yes, there is. And they all have different data sets. So that’s what’s interesting.

The data set we’re using was about 267 professionals. And I’ll get into who they are.

It’s quite a fair amount. It’s quite a fair amount. Yeah.

Yeah. So to break that down, just so we have context of who’s actually who’s responded, there was 25 countries, 30% of them were from the US, 10% from the UK and 6% from Australia. And the rest were from all across the globe.

Those 56% were self-employed professionals, 28% were founders and 15% were in-house branders. And of these, half of them have more than 10 years experience and 26% have less than 5 years experience. And then the rest in between about 5 and 10 years.

So we’ve got a good mix of veterans as well as beginners. So we have a very well-rounded data set. The industry that we’re pulling from all across the spectrum, there’s no major one that stands out, but health and wellness was at 13% and that’s the top.

The nonprofits at 12%, food and beverage at 9%, financial and professional services around 8%. So we’ve got a very wide spectrum of data.

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So I’m looking forward to tucking in to finding out what this report kind of highlighted. But before we do, I think it’s just worth just saying, right? You know, like keep an eye out folks, because I’m pretty sure Jacob will probably be doing this again at the backend of this year, 2024.

So if you see that, please do.

It was so much work, Matt. Don’t give any promises. He’s going to do it again.

We’ve got to persuade him to do it because it’ll be great. I think I did fill this one out, but I’ll certainly be filling out the next one that comes out. Be sure to keep an eye on it, right?

And be sure to do it because what this will enable us to do over time is to really kind of keep tabs on the up and coming trends across the work that we do, you know, our industry sector. And, you know, as always, Jacob is such a generous guy. And so if you fill that in, you know, you’ll get access to that for free.

So, you know, it’s a no brainer, really. Get yourself onto that and make sure that you fill that in.


OK, well, let’s get into some of the juicy stuff, Matt.

So just as a reminder, pricing, that’s always the one people want to hear first, how brand professionals price their work. And then the second one is client acquisition, just so you know where we’re going with this, how we get clients. Let’s start with the juicy pricing strategies.

So what are the biggest takeaways?

Yeah. So there’s a few key highlights which I’ll call out here. So 80% of branders price their projects based on the time and effort it takes.

So this was like a huge, like eye opening moment. It’s like, well, that’s a lot. We’re pricing based on the time.

Yeah. And it’s like, well, how else can we price? So let’s have a chat about that, Matt.

Maybe let’s discuss your journey of like, often we do start pricing by the hour, but I know you work on retainers and value these days. So yeah, like how do you go about it?

Well, yeah, I mean, it’s something I’ve spoken about a little bit and probably worth just mentioning. So for those that don’t know, I have a background in the creative industries and the execution of design and brand identity, and that side of things, and I ran, I was a freelancer. I worked in-house, I worked agency side, I started my own agency and ran it for nearly 10 years, and then I was privileged enough to be able to sell that.

Then I went in-house for a bit, and then I’ve worked basically over the last, I think crumbs are getting old now, it’s nearly like six for nearly six years now as solely a strategy consultant. So I’ve gone completely away from execution and I mainly now help leadership teams with their brand strategy. That’s their positioning, that’s working with them to define the value that they want to offer their marketplace, the distinctive unique value.

And that’s something that I love doing and I’ve got a particular skill set in talking too much as you all know on the show. So I just mentioned that just to give you a bit of a, you understand where I’m coming from. When I first started, I was actually taught this at college in London in the UK.

And I was very keen from an early age of getting out and doing real work, like a lot of us are, right? We’re not brain surgeons. We don’t have to have, there’s not a high barrier to entry in our marketplace.

And so I was keen to understand that. So I was asking my tutors at college, like how do we actually build this stuff? How do we actually make money?

How do we quantify it? And I was literally told, get a sheet, work out at the start of a project, all the tasks in the project, give a time estimate to that, and then give yourself a time fee, right? So that obviously I’m really old, so that was like really cheap back in those days.

So I don’t even want to tell you what that was. But like, I was just like, okay, fine. So I just gave myself, I asked the tutor how much he charged.

I think he charged like 50 pounds an hour or something at the time. And so I was doing some freelancing. I was like 16 or something.

And I think I was doing some work for my aunt. And I think I charged 25 quid an hour, which was pretty good, seeing as most of my mates were getting like six pounds an hour for working in like a supermarket. And that’s kind of how I started.

And as time went on and I grew into an agency, I took the same methodology, I just increased the markup because the overheads increased and I increased the hourly rate. So that’s kind of how it went, but has huge problems, as I’m sure you’re aware, Jacob, and I’d love to hear some of your horror stories. But one thing that I found was that, well, number of issues.

First off, the client never really cared about the amount of time something took. What they looked at, their eyes went straight to the bottom of the quote sheet, if you like. They look at the final price and go, right, okay, I’m gonna get that website, or I’m gonna get that brochure, or I’m gonna get that brand identity for that price.

They don’t see that it only factors in two stages of amends, or there’s only two hours to do those amends, or whatever it might be. They don’t care about that. That’s your problem.

As far as they’re concerned, they’re paying X amount for you to deliver what they want. And that became a bit challenging, and always is challenging, because what inevitably happens, particularly if you’re in the execution stage, and you haven’t done good strategy, good research, and you haven’t got a good relationship, perhaps, built with the client, what it means is that, and I found this, was you get a lot of backwards and forth thing, if you like. We used to be set up very much to receive a brief, do the creative work, and send that back as concepts, and then get edits back.

But obviously, we’d limit this stage of amends, but we used to kind of, it just was completely unaligned. And so what that meant was, clients inevitably wanted more amends and more time than what we’d quoted. And so it was very, very hard to manage.

And if we ever sort of said, whoa, hold on a second, like, you’ve only got two stages of amends on this, they’d say, well, you didn’t give us something we liked the first time around. And so that’s kind of my background and my experience with pricing-based models. And it was very hard to actually kind of maintain.

So that’s that. The other side of things is, well, how else could you do it? And this comes around, a complete shift, and it took me a long time to figure this out.

I was taught this by one of the guests on our previous seasons. A chap called Alan Weiss was mainly, but also, who’s the guy that wrote Win Without Pitching, Jacob? What was it?

Yeah, Blair Enns talks about this. And there’s a few others out there, but Alan Weiss was probably one of the originators of this concept, the championing this. And it’s value-based pricing, which is more along the lines of, you work in the early stages of the sales process to figure out the value of the thing that you’re delivering, the problem that you’re actually solving.

And then you work on looking and framing it in the light of the potential monetary increase the client might obtain from you doing that work. And then you try and charge a small percentage, or at least you frame your fee as a kind of usually as a single fee in relation to that. So let’s say you have a company and they say, hey, we need in my world now, we need a new brand strategy to help us consolidate and our market positioning.

And you say, okay, so what’s the monetary projections of the business over the next few years? And they say, well, we’re turning over X now, and we want that to go up to Y. And you say, okay, so my work is gonna help facilitate that change to Y then.

Yes, okay, and that’s gonna bring you X amount of value. Yes, okay, so if I charged you so and so much to help you with that, would that sound quite fair to you? Because if I’m gonna put all my effort into this, it’s gonna help you get to that level, then maybe that will work.

And what you try and do is do it as a multiple of usually of 10. And what you’re doing there is you’re framing it, not against how much you, an hourly rate that you could just pluck out of the air, you’re framing it against the value that they bring. And if they challenge that, that’s something you gotta get used to handling.

And as I say, you don’t normally come out the gate with that kind of conversation. You’ve usually spent a bit of time with people trying to work out the level they’re at, the amount of value they’re gonna get from working with you. But what you do is you have to negotiate that.

So you’d say, well, look, I’m a busy person to get someone like me. I’m only interested in projects which are high value and where people can pay my high value fee. I’ve got plenty of other opportunities around.

So that’s how much I think is fair and equitable for us to agree on. I’m happy to negotiate a little bit if you need it, but generally it’s gonna be in that ballpark. What do you say?

And so that’s kind of how you approach it. It’s a very different approach. I’ve obviously whizzed over that.

There’s a lot more to it.

I’m just waffling on. Come on in, Jacob, because what are your experiences with charging by hour?

You mentioned horror stories and I was like, well, you actually even calculated things. And I remember early in the career, I just like plucked numbers out of the air. I was like, yeah, that’ll do for this project.

And then you evolve and it turns into packages and you can do X package, XYZ package, and then you have one kind of value-based package and then retainers is another way. So I’ve just been involved in my career into those kind of in that direction. But I do want to move on because we have a lot to get to.

But I think there’s a very good point that you brought up Matt about the value-based aspect because when you hear some of these other stats around pricing, it’s super alarming. So 50% of all projects are in the $500 to $5,000 range, right? So people are charging in between that.

So the other 50% are doing great. The other ones, they need to listen to your masterclass because they can bring more value to the clients and ultimately get paid more as well. So just for some other stats, 35% use value-based pricing.

So that’s an okay number, but I think there is room for improvement there. I’m going to pull out a few other ones. And just for context here, we did ask the people what projects they would work on.

And the range was 18% was on identity, 17% on logos, 14% on brand strategy, print collateral, 11%, and then the rest were around 10% to 5%. So websites, consulting, packaging.

Yeah, it’s interesting because with that lens on, it is interesting. Because I always think, really, what you want to do is be hired to be a brain and to solve a problem. And I think what we all do, at least I did in my early career, and a lot of designers do, is I think they fall into the trap of expecting almost like a brief to land on their desk without fully understanding the context.

It’s almost like clients self-diagnose and we’re okay with that. And then if you are sick of being treated as a pair of hands and compared and commoditized with other things, including AI, which we’ll no doubt touch on in a bit, I think where you have to do is move to become, as I say, a brain. You’ve got to figure out what problem do I solve?

The bigger the problem that you solve, the more money you can charge. And I feel like it’s sad because I think a lot of designers, obviously, are craftspeople. We take a lot of time and effort and we care about the detail, but we forget that a lot of other people don’t care about that detail.

We’ve got to think about the problem that we’re solving, the growth that we give in these businesses, and we’ve got to put our pricing in that context to add value. And frankly, if you’re not doing that, I can’t accuse everybody of this, but I think we can be accused of being a bit lazy. We cannot just sit there in our studios and expect clients to understand the value that we bring.

We have to get out there, get our hands dirty, challenge the clients a bit, stop this self-diagnosis, do our own diagnosis and research and consult a little bit. And I think if you have that mindset of really wanting to solve the bigger problems, you’ll move up the value chain. Anyway, that’s just a little…

I’ll get off my high horse now, Jacob.

No, I think it’s super valuable. And it’s only in hindsight that we can say this because we all went through those steps, but it’s very vital. Okay, we’ll move on from pricing and we’ll move into client acquisition.

How do we actually get clients? We just touched on that.

This one was super interesting. Yeah, so I’ll read this one out, Jacob, because I think it’s really interesting. The report says the primary methods for acquiring clients are referrals and word of mouth in brackets at a whopping 86.1%.

So just pause there for a second. What do you think about that, Jacob?

I don’t find it surprising. Often people just rely on referrals and word of mouth, which it can work, but when that dries up, that’s when, you know, it can get tricky. So I can pull out some other stats, you know, just for context here of what people use.

Coming in after referrals and word of mouth, networking, and then collaborating with other professionals, then social, and then SEO, and then events and conferences, and then a bunch more. So that’s the breakdown.

Yeah, it doesn’t surprise me either, but what I think is interesting is, is if you look at those stats, right, and this is across those, you know, nearly 300 people that you interviewed, a lot of people I meet, kind of, they wonder, they worry, like, should I be doing more like, you know, social media stuff, should I be doing paid ads? Should I, you know, what else should I be doing? No, just focus on doing an amazing job, you know, for the clients that you’ve got.

If you could create an incredible experience and people trust you, people buy people. And so, you know, that trust is invaluable. And so, my kind of thinking on that is, you know, always, if you’ve got a client, if you’re doing business, you’ve got to focus on giving them a phenomenal experience, solving their problems as we mentioned before.

And if you do that, the word of mouth will spread and I believe people buy people. So, I think if you click with somebody, like not everybody will get on with me, you know, frankly, you know, let’s be honest, I probably drive some people absolutely up the wall, crazy. But other people, they like my energy, they like my beard, they like my quirk.

And, you know, I’m for those people, and that’s okay. I’m not for everybody. Like, if you don’t like that, I get it.

And, you know, you know, good peace and love to you. But for everybody else, like I’m for you, come on, let’s go. And so that’s the thing, and I think part of the way that you handle yourself, your personality, is part of, you know, something that can become quite useful and valuable and the trust that comes from that.

So lean into that and don’t back out of it, is my sort of thoughts on that.

Yeah, client experience is number one, in my opinion, for word of mouth. If they have a terrible experience, you’re not going to get repeat business. So you should be looking after your clients and, you know, keeping them as a client, because it’s much harder to find new clients again and again.

Keep that client and keep getting repeat business. It’s just smart business.

Right, and they’re more likely to refer you, right? So that kind of touches on one of the other stats. I guess the thing we should probably mention here is like, what about if I’m just starting out, Jacob, and like, you know, I haven’t got projects like flying through the door and I need some, you know, I can’t get referrals because I haven’t done anything.

What’s your sort of recommendation to someone in that situation?

If you’re first starting out, A, you need a portfolio and you need a presence and you need to communicate your trust and expertise. So you need to establish that first before you go out and network. If you don’t have that foundation, there’s no point of networking because you haven’t got anything to back it up with.

So the referrals and the word of mouth comes after the fact, in my opinion, but you can still use your network to get your initial clients or create fake projects or fictional projects to fill out your portfolio, to show your thinking, to show the work that you can do.

Yeah, I think you’re right there. I think a good strategy and no one likes to work for free, but we have to be humble if we’re not established in the space, we have to earn that right. And I often say to young people who message me, I sound really old now, I’m patronizing, but I don’t mean it that way.

This is a bit of advice is exactly what you say, Jacob. It’s like there are plenty of third sector, charitable organizations that could do with your help, particularly starting out in that space. And it doesn’t take long to find them.

If you search around, if you look on Facebook, if you look on LinkedIn, you’ll find organizations where you can volunteer. And it’s those ones that you can get invaluable experience. I often say this to people that want to get into brand strategy.

It’s like they might be doing logo designs and stuff like that, and they want to open up a strategy arm and they’re like, Matt, how do we get into strategy? It’s like, well, just get into it. Like stop hanging about, offer it for free to start with, because you’ve got to establish that, offer it to worthy potential clients who are maybe in the charitable sector, do some good work with them, and then you can branch out and push on.

And one other thing I would say is if you are a bit more established and a bit more confident, and if you are, say, operating in a niche or you know the value and the problem that you solve, and you can speak and you’re confident, one thing that I find incredibly valuable to drum up new business is to get on a platform. And when I say a platform, I don’t mean necessarily in front of thousands and thousands of people, I just mean, go to a local business networking event and see if you can speak for 15 minutes about whatever it is that you’re doing. And you’d be surprised that even just being a bit more vulnerable and being real in that space and being at the front and being that expert, how swiftly you can kind of connect with people.

And that for me is one of the best ways to kind of create and widen a network in reality, not in another way. Anyway, just a little thought there. So what’s the next one then, Jacob?

Because I know we hinted at this actually, so I’m excited to get into this next one, hot topic.

Just on the topic of client acquisition, one of the questions was how to differentiate yourself. So one of the challenges that we face is standing out in a very saturated market. So one of the questions was how do you differentiate?

Why do clients choose you? We actually made this little cloud based on everyone’s responses. This was an open-ended question.

And some of the key things that people said were the client experience, which we spoke about, talking about ROI, the strategy and their specialization and their design style or aesthetic. Interestingly enough, aesthetic was one of the biggest things that people said and the process that people use. So that’s how people are choosing to differentiate.

I think we’re kidding ourselves.

I think we’re kidding ourselves. I’m going to call that one. Anyone who says that they’ve got a unique process, come on now.

A lot of people said this, which is interesting. Everyone’s saying it, which means that maybe they’re the ones struggling to stand out because they’re using that as their differentiation. We have this process.

I love that question, it’s so funny. So how are we all being different? Well, we’ve all got a different process, really?

Well, one thing that is interesting is going back to that original point of word of mouth and referrals, one thing that I feel like people overlook, and I’ve sort of hinted at it before, is your personality, right? I think we’re scared sometimes to be our true selves. We’re scared sometimes to challenge, and I don’t mean challenge and be aggressive or in any way deliberately disruptive, but go back to that point I mentioned at the start of self-diagnosing.

Clients come to you and they say, we need you to do this. Your next question should be why, and then they’ll start talking, right? And then you need to keep saying, why?

Why do you want to do that? Why do you want to move here? What are you trying to achieve?

What’s held you back? Why now? Why me?

Who else are you talking to? Why are you talking to them? What are you hoping to, what does success look like?

All these big questions. And then what you’ll find is you’ll get a bit of a better picture. And often, and I’m telling you now, more than 50% of the time, whatever the client thinks they’ve asked you to do to solve the problem will probably not be A, the right solution.

And all you have to do if you think more strategically is to say to the client, look, you’ve jumped on a couple of assumptions here, here and here. How about we do a bit of a discovery piece first and I’ll charge you a minimal fee or if you’re established and you can fold that into your offer. Would that be helpful to you in order for us to really establish whether the new website that you’re looking to invest thousands of pounds and dollars in is actually gonna solve the problem or and you haven’t talked to any customers or users about your assumptions.

Maybe we should just, maybe just spend a couple of thousand dollars with me or a couple of thousand pounds and I’ll go and speak to some of your customers to see whether that is actually a challenge. That may save you money later down the line and we may actually unearth the real issue here. So that’s obviously an off the cuff example, but I often find that the best thing that we can all do is not take self-diagnosis at the face value.

It takes a bit of confidence and probably a bit of age and wisdom to realize that, but trust me, later down the line, when you’ve ticked all the boxes and done everything the client wanted and it’s still not worked, they won’t blame you because you were the one that kind of questioned it at the very beginning, at the very least. So there we are, have that one.

To summarize that, how do you differentiate yourself? A lot of people mentioned the experience, their experience and that niche specialized and they have a well-defined process. So I’m curious.

I grew a beard. Everyone, that’s it, you hit it. I think the truth is, I find this really hard to myself, to be absolutely honest with you, Jacob.

How do I differentiate myself? I think it’s the stuff I talk about. I think it’s the way I talk about it.

I think it’s the positioning. I genuinely do. I think for me, it’s the way I position myself.

When you get into more consultancy and strategy, which is the space that I focus on, for me, it’s kind of like people are watching you, right? And so my kind of audience often, they’re on social media like LinkedIn, but they’re not liking and following and commenting on all my stuff. They’re lurking, right?

These are senior people don’t interact, but they’re watching. And so the number one thing that I think that I do is I’m quite open about the work that I’m doing, as in, here’s me going to London, here’s me flying to Europe or whatever, and here’s me conducting workshops. And I kind of share behind the scenes stuff, I share stuff I’m doing, and I’m always doing two things.

So here’s my two tips. I always show myself in action. So, authentically, this is actually what I’m doing.

I never schedule or fake a post or anything like that. It’s always super true. And I always try and demonstrate value.

So I’m talking about a problem or an issue that I’m overcoming alongside a client. And those things over time, consistently over time for a certain type of my target audience, that is what I’ve found to be very successful. And word of mouth as well.

So that’s how I get the work. How is that different? Well, I suppose it’s different, as I say, in the way that I go about it.

And I think that’s it. But this is the benefit you’ve got if you’re on your own. One of the hardest things, I think, if you run, say, an agency, or you’re sort of hiding behind another brand, like any kind of company brand, if you like, name, it’s very, very hard because why should I choose that company over another company when their processes look the same, their portfolios look the same?

Everything seems similar. But when you come out from behind that, and you’re real, and you’re Jacob, and you’re on a podcast, and you’re doing interviews, and I can see you speak, and I see your blog posts, and I see your social media, suddenly you’re real, you’re authentic, and I start to trust you as a person. And I think strategically, that’s often overlooked in our space.

We like to hide, and that’s a fatal error, in my humble opinion.

You lose the trust, so. All right, next question in the pricing.

Well, yeah, I’m waffling quite a bit today, aren’t I? I’m getting excited. But this is a great one.

All right, we got lots of cover. Yeah, get into this one. I’m looking forward to this one.

Well, another question was like, how else do you earn online? So we do have our main gigs, but how else can we earn some extra income on the side, a side hustle, affiliate marketing courses and so forth. So one of the questions were surveyed people, how they make money online.

And number one was consulting. The second one was, I don’t. I don’t do anything else apart from our main gig.

Digital products, selling templates, selling coaching, selling physical products, online courses, affiliate marketing, sponsorships or brand deals, ad revenue and other. So interestingly, only 16% sold digital products, 9% sold design templates, 9% did coaching, 7% did physical products and 7% did online courses. And most surprisingly for me, who I’m heavily into is affiliate marketing, only 4% of people surveyed use affiliate marketing, which is crazy and only 2% bring in ad revenue.

So there’s a lot of different ways you can earn online. There’s many underutilized ways. So I thought that was pretty interesting.

How else could you subsidize your main gigs? Cause we all know the roller coaster effect of our jobs. You’re working, you’re working, then you don’t have a job, you have to market yourself and you get a job and you’re busy again and so forth.

So I like to see these other methods as like a bridge between those ups and downs. And it can reduce the amount of stress that you have when it comes to that roller coaster effect because you have a safety net.

Yeah, and I think as designers, like we’re in a space where we can, we’re used to creating new stuff, right? And adding value and just even if you, I knew a designer that check this out. So there was a guy I used to work with many years ago in an agency in Nottingham here in the UK.

And I was quite shocked because one day he announced he was leaving the agency. We were like, well, where are you going? And he’d on the side, this is years ago, this is like 2004 or something.

On the side, he had started a t-shirt printing business where they would take fictional names of companies in films like, I can’t remember, like in Terminator, I think there’s one called Cyberdyne Systems, right? And they would print t-shirts with a fake logo for those films. And it just took off, like film buffs, like just loved it.

And they just thought it was amazing. And so, that became his main job. And I just thought, that’s so smart, you know, like he is a designer, he was doing, you know, general stuff.

He niched, he found something that worked for him and it worked really, really well. So, I mean, that’s just a basic example. I wonder if…

Side hustles can open doors and you don’t know where they’re going to be.

Yeah, for sure. Just out of interest though, does anybody, did you have in the survey, was there an option to select sort of alternate industries or other revenue streams from like that didn’t tap into your core school base? I don’t know.

Not really. I couldn’t, there’s so many different ways, like real estate or crypto or any other passive income, but I kind of kept it in the bubble within brand and design.

Okay. No, I wondered that because, you know, when you mentioned like, you know, spreading your revenue streams to alleviate stress, don’t have to go into it here, but like, yeah, that’s something that I found that’s been very, very helpful.

Real estate, yeah.

Yeah, exactly. So, you know, it’s definitely good to think about. But even within the sphere of creativity and brand, you know, I think, as you say, as your survey’s pointed out, you know, there’s lots of opportunities, digital products up 16.4% people have digital products out there.

So that’s interesting to consider. You know, if you’ve got some digital products, you can monetize, you know, go for it. You know, that’s, let’s do it.

Let’s put it on our new year’s resolution.

It was a 2% as other, so maybe 2% or other people are doing that. All right.


AI, should we go there?

Yeah, that’s the one I thought we were gonna do next. I was well excited about it. And you dropped to something different.

I was like, well, let’s just go into that.

He’s just, he gave me one list folks. And then he’s just such a rebel. Like, this is what I have to put up with.

Chop in and change in the order. Let’s talk about AI though. What about this?

This is interesting, right? It’s a hot topic in most industries, but your report pulled out that 70.4% of branding professionals believe AI will make their work easier and are open to integrating AI tools like ChatGTP, Adobe software and MidJourney into their branding process. That’s pretty big percentage, 70.4.

And I think that the final sort of thing that I thought was interesting here was that in the report it also says that some branding professionals express concerns that tools like Canva, 38.6% said that, and AI may challenge traditional design services requiring continuous innovation to stand out. I definitely think, first of all, I’m quite pleased to see that 70% of us are gonna embrace this, because I think if you don’t embrace it, you’re gonna be in trouble, is my humble opinion. But what I also find quite strange on the flip side is that 38.6% of people have these concerns that it’s gonna change things.

I would have expected that number to be a lot higher, because AI, yeah, 2023 was the year of AI. It first became mainstream, 2024 is just gonna ramp up. And so I think we’re gonna be seeing a lot more of a challenge from AI driven technology in the execution space.

And that’s why I’m kind of keen to say to folks, remember, try and get hired as a brain, not as a pair of hands, because as time goes on, the way, the tools, the way that we create and the way that we craft is changing and the robots are coming for that side of things, in my humble opinion. It won’t completely eradicate it, don’t worry. I think we always need to have a need for creativity and for out of the box thinking and empathy and all the stuff that robots can’t do.

But what the robots can do is execute. And I don’t mean that in a end of the world sort of terminator sort of scenario. I just mean in terms of creating, manual tasks and doing stuff.

And there’s some, I mean, Jacob, this is your space, man. This is, I know you experiment and play around with this stuff all the time. I’m sort of a bit of a laggard in here, but like, yeah, tell us what’s coming.

Like what have you seen in the AI space that particularly unnerves you from a design perspective?

Yeah, well, as you said, 2023 was the year of AI. This year, 2024 is gonna be AI video. That’s gonna blow up.

It’s getting crazily good and it’s improving every day. So that’s what you should be looking for this year and experimenting with it. And if you haven’t already, some of the tools that our respondents said they are using, ChatGPT is 35%, Adobe software, it was better at the time and now it’s out of beta, mid journey, Figma, Adobe Firefly, Luminaire and Dali were all the ones people are using at the moment.

There’s a few others, but most of the people are using those ones. There’s a lot to talk about with AI. We do have a whole episode on that from last season with Rob Lennon, who goes into more detail.

And we also talk about that on our best of podcasts as well. So yeah, I think we can skip over AI because we went pretty in depth on that and move into-

We can, but can I just make one small comment? Nope. And it’s this, I saw technology take a lot of market share in the web design space.

I ran an agency, we created websites and I saw the rise of WordPress, the rise of Wix, the rise of Squarespace. The technology ate the bottom half of the market out. In other words, clients that didn’t place much value on that or could get stuff crafted elsewhere, went elsewhere.

And so I do think we need to be real about this folks. Like, if a client could literally jump on a website and they probably can right now and just say, I want a logo for my gym and it’s got to be red and give me 30 options and the AI spits it out, they’re gonna be doing that. So you’ve got to think through like, well, what is different about my approach that they can’t get on the AI generators?

And that’s where that idea of being a bit more of a brain of listening, solving real problems, talking to customers might become more valuable. Anyway, that’s enough on that one.

It’s not just logos, it’s gonna be everything, websites, text to video. Yeah, you’re right about the bottom rung. So yeah, focus on the value that you can bring.

And as you said, that’s your thinking and your mind and how you can connect the dots and go where AI cannot go yet anyway.

Yeah, I’m looking forward to the day we have an AI guest on Jacob. We should certainly arrange that. I’d love to interview an AI.

Oh, funny you say that, because Rob Lennon, who I was talking about, who’s an AI whisperer, he has created an AI agent who he interviews on his podcast. So it’s all-


Yeah, so maybe, maybe in the future, we’ll get him on offer.

So, next category is the future of branding.


Do you want to walk us through this one?

Yeah, so one of the questions we focused on was what people consider important. AIs come in or is here and it’s growing. So, where do they see the future of brand, and what do they consider important?

So, one of the questions was based around, what do you consider important for the future of branding? And number one was authenticity. And that’s no surprise to me, because if you think about it, we don’t know what’s real or not real anymore.

AI generated imagery is mind boggling good, and we can’t tell the difference. It’s getting very hard to tell the difference between what is real and what is not real. So, authenticity is number one.

And number two was personalization. Number three was purpose-driven branding, then sustainability and emotional branding, and then tech integration. So like AI, VR, and so forth, and a bunch more.

But those top five, I think is where we can focus. So what’s your thoughts on authenticity and personalization being important for the future of brand?

Yeah, I’ve got to be honest, Jacob, I was a bit like, what does this even mean? Like, do you know what I mean? What’s inauthentic branding?

I guess you’ve sort of spelled it out as maybe like stuff that’s not real, but like what a disaster strategy if a brand decides to be inauthentic. Like you’re literally shooting yourself in the foot because you’re going to get found out, right? And the same, like I’m not sure whether it’s just me, but like, I don’t know if these things are different categories, because for me, like you could craft a brand that is emotional and ethical at the same time, if you see what I mean.

So, you know, I’m not sure what to make of this really, just in terms of my internal…

It’s really about what people consider out of their list to be most important based on where brand is going. So, personalization we could talk about, what does that actually mean?

Yeah, what do we mean by that, do you think?

So in my opinion, what I think about personalization is customizing the experience or product to the user, right? In an authentic way that’s relevant to them. So, for example, Nike shoes, you can customize and create your own shoe.

That’s a very personalized way of interacting with the brand. So that’s how I took it, what’s your take?

Yeah, I think these are, from my perspective, these are like executional angles of things, like in terms of like, are we putting content out there that’s authentic? Are we putting an experience out there that’s personalized to customers? Are we, I suppose sustainability is an interesting one because that’s a kind of a hot topic as well at the moment.

Obviously, there’s a major ethical drive in that direction. That isn’t just the veneer kind of executional thing. That’s something that has to run inside an organization.

That’s a strategic question if we’re gonna do it properly. And what do we mean by sustainable? And do we really mean that?

Are we actually diving into our supply chain or are we just gonna be like, buying our batteries from China, not asking where it comes from and how it’s made and the real carbon footprint of the stuff that we’re producing and shipping it halfway across the world, and we’re only gonna count it when it kind of enters the ports at our local country. And then it’s very sustainable, but it’s like, yeah, but come on guys, let’s be real about this. So greenwashing, I think, is a huge problem.

And I think there’s a lot of questions we all need to ask ourselves in relation to that from a strategic perspective. This is something that needs to be inside out. I suppose that, executional wise, sustainability can be a thing.

I know there’s particular inks and there’s packaging and there’s customer experiences that could probably be enhanced by that. So that’s interesting that it’s on there. But yeah, the rest of it, I see very much-

Purpose driven branding is another key discussion.

Interesting. Yeah, I mean, purpose driven branding is very interesting, I think, because listen, this is my take on purpose. Every brand has a purpose, whether we express it or not.

And the reality is, is every business’s purpose is to make money if you’re a business. Now, no one cares about that, apart from the leadership team and the owners of that business. But to make money, the business has to create value.

And to create value, the business needs a purpose beyond making money, right? So that’s my take on it. So every business will have a purpose.

Every brand will have a purpose. It needs to be expressed succinctly and clearly. And then, it’s a strategic question, isn’t it?

How does everything flow out from that? How does your messaging flow out from that? How does your customer experience flow out?

All of the stuff that you offer, where does that come from? So, fascinating, yeah, and not surprising that purpose is up there. What are your thoughts on it, Jacob?

As you were talking, I remembered something that I saw from BMW about… They used AI for an ad, and if you look closely at it, you could see that it was like a car driving in the snow, and there was all these deers around on the side of the road, and one of the deers had five legs. So, BMW actually used this as an ad.

So, we were talking about authenticity before, and that’s what came to mind. It’s like, well, where do we draw the line of, like, should we create something new, should we use AI, is this authentic, does it convey our values? So, there was a, you know, big up in arms about that as well.

So, I just wanted to kind of go backwards a little bit on that, on authenticity. Yeah.

Well, it links in, doesn’t it, on authenticity, and yeah, I think a lot of these things, we’ve got to be very careful about. And for me, the biggest thing on authenticity is, you know, from a strategic perspective, is that a lot of businesses say stuff, they near themselves a certain way, but then you find when you actually get in there, their leadership team, the teams underneath them, you know, they don’t really get it. They don’t really, they’re not really on board with it.

That is the worst kind of brand execution you can ever find. For me, the brand, as we know, is like, as this is how I define it, is the meaning people attach to us. And if that meaning is superficial, like you will be found out, it will be expressed.

And you will hire people that are superficial. You know, you will make this micro and macro decisions that are superficial. And it’s not gonna be the long-term play that you need to build real value and offer something unique in the market.

So, you know, if you have a good strategy, it will be authentic. If you, you know, then communicate that out and get everybody to buy into it, then it is really authentic, right? And then it will be something that happens.

So yeah, I’m on board with that from a strategic level. But anyway, it’s very interesting. I think, yeah, very interesting that 74.5 said authenticity.

There’s so many aspects and angles to that, isn’t there?

Yeah, absolutely. All right, well, let’s move on to business tools. So the challenge that people face, especially agency owners, is knowing which tools and software to trial and invest in.

And this is what people express, that there’s a lot of tools out there. A lot of the tools are dominated by Adobe, but there’s also project management, there’s a workflow, there’s communication, there’s file storage, sharing, admin, finances, social media, email marketing, website development, page builders and so on. There’s so many tools that we need to do our jobs, not just design tools.

And the questions that we asked our users were around what tools they use. So we’re just gonna dive into some of those tools now and share what people are using. So interestingly, 38% are using Canva, which is a huge increase to what I thought people would be using, but I have used it myself.

And it’s pretty handy for some tasks like social media graphics and presentations. And it’s getting to the point where clients are asking for Canva templates and things to streamline their creation process. So yeah, Canva is definitely gaining market share and 38% is pretty high.

Adobe is used by 90% in contrast. And yeah, that’s pretty crazy. And Figma, Procreate, Sketch and Corel also have some representation.

What tools do you use, Matt?

Well, I’m not in the execution sort of side of things. So, the tools I tend to use are things like Keynote, and some really boring pieces of software like that, because I’m not presenting the creative, but I do work with partners who obviously work with Canva. A lot of clients are asking for that, as you say.

I’ve been involved in a few projects like that. Adobe Creative Suite, like I’m an old designer, so I still use Adobe, you just can’t put that down. Once you know how to use it, the power of it is great.

And the new AI stuff, going back to that in Adobe Photoshop, like it just has blown my mind. But, so I don’t really tend to rely so much on software to create stuff. A lot of my stuff is like Zoom, and you mentioned Mural or Miro, Butzer as well is another one that I use.

It’s just a way of connecting with people in the digital spaces that we’re in, and communicating with them in a way and creating an experience for them, mainly around workshops. And then after the workshop, I then tend to take that stuff and put it into a report. And I can use Keynote to do that in a really kind of simple, minimal way.

And that works really well. I’ve used Pitched quite a bit. I don’t know if you’ve used that.

That’s like another presentation thing. It’s good if you’re collaborating with teams. It’s a bit like Keynote, but you can do it, collaborate with teams on it.

But yeah, so I don’t tend to rely heavily on the software. What about you? What’s your sort of go-to?

What’s your favorite tool to use, especially when you’re executing?

I’m the same Adobe I’ve been using for a good couple of decades. So it’s a Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Zoom, Dropbox. I’m just looking at my bottom bar here.

They’re my main tools. But when it comes to business tools, we also asked the survey respondents what business tools they use. So things like PayPal and QuickBooks, Wwise, Zero, monday.com, and then like CRM’s like DubSido.

There’s Notion, Harvest and so forth. Interestingly, about 30% use PayPal still, which I can’t stand personally. They just wrote you, but I personally use Wwise for business transfers, there’s less fees and so forth.


It’s quite easy to use as well. You got me into that. So I use Wwise as well for my international payments.

And then there’s a bank in the UK I use called Tide. And then for me, for accounting, I use Xero, spelled with an X. Yeah, I use that as well.

I don’t know why I took that rather than QuickBooks, but I think they do pretty much the same thing, don’t they? In voicing and such.

Yeah, very similar. QuickBooks was second on the list actually. So 9% of people use QuickBooks and Xero was about 5%.

And Monday, Monday’s a different tool, but Monday was 4%.

Yeah, monday.com is like project management, isn’t it? An organization and workflows. Basecamp’s another one in that area that I’ve had experience with and used with some of my clients, which is great.

But yeah, I don’t know. These are the tools, aren’t they? And what I find is that the tools don’t set you apart now.

Do you remember back in the day, Jacob, I don’t know if you’re this old, I’m really old.

Back in the day.

But there used to be debate. Back in the day, there was a massive, there was a program called Quark Express.

That was a monster.

When InDesign came out, it was like a competitor to Quark. And there was all these, I learned InDesign straight away because it was part of the package that came with Adobe. And so they mopped up.

But I just remember, for me, after a while, you see tools come and go, and there was a thing, an animation package called Flash. Do you remember that Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Freehand, and then Adobe swallowed them up as well. But as time goes on, you kind of like, I think you kind of just, you get good at tools, but then, you know, you know that that isn’t the be all and end all.

You’ve constantly got to update, you constantly got to explore.

Of all the web design tools I have used over the years, you know, GeoCity, HML, Dreamweaver, XD, Sketch, Webflow, Wix, Squarespace, I’ve designed on all these platforms. And they also follow similar principles. They all have the same building blocks.

So you’re just using the tools in different ways. And you know, now Figma and Frame are kind of leading the way as well. So tools come and go, as you say.

So just use the principles.

Yeah, it depends on what field you’re in and what task you’ve got. But you’ve got to constantly keep abreast of them in your space. So I think it’s great that you’ve asked this question because folks can have a look through that, see what’s on there, if there’s stuff on there that you’ve not used before, you can explore that.

So definitely do that. And it’s useful to know what other people in the industry are using.

Yeah, I asked one more question in this software tool section was around stock websites because we all want to streamline our process and often we need some imagery to illustrate our points. So we rely on stock websites and the number one website people use is Unsplash 15%, then Pexels was 12%, FreePick was 12%, Adobe Stock was about 10%, then Shutterstock 10% and then a bunch more. So that was pretty interesting just to learn where people are getting their assets from.

Yeah, awesome. Unsplash is brilliant, I love it.

Okay, there was one question in copyright and IP laws. So this was just his own miscellaneous category, just to understand how confident people feel about intellectual property and copyright laws. And we asked people to rate themselves on a scale of zero to five, and only 6% of people had a confidence level of five.

So that’s pretty crazy. 31% said three, 20% said two, and 13% said one. Our 3% said zero confidence, which is quite alarming.

So yeah, that was interesting to learn.

Yeah, but that doesn’t surprise me, Jacob. Creative with designers, are we right brain thinkers, not left brain thinkers, or the other way around? I forget now, but we just want to get out there and do our thing.

Like even me, I operate now in more consultancy spaces, and legally it’s a minefield. But the good thing is, is you can get partners that can come on and test things. I know particularly when you’re creating new names in categories, I personally don’t want to take responsibility for leading the charge on a new name in a category if that’s not legally defensible, right?

But I can’t tell the client if it’s legally defensible or not. So we have to get attorneys in to work through and give us the risk profile of any given set of names so they can choose from that. So I think you’ve got to be sensible in that area.

And I think we need to know our limits. I think if you’re not trained in that sector, then it’s well worth leaving it out to the experts, unfortunately, to give you that confidence going forwards. But I don’t know, what are your thoughts on that, Jacob?

You sort of said you were surprised that there was a low amount sort of that we’re confident.

I think it’s pretty important to understand how copyright laws work and what you are and are not covered for, especially if you’re creating work for clients and it needs to be protected in certain countries or states wherever you work in. So it is very important. So that’s why I did ask this question, is to see, to get an understanding on how people felt.

And if you aren’t up to speed with it, you can get yourself into trouble. So are you using contracts? Are you working with lawyers?

Do you understand what a TM means? Do you understand what the C means? Do you understand what the registered trademark means and so forth and how to use them properly?

Can you use AI imagery? Can you copyright it? Can you trademark it?

So those sorts of questions you need to be aware of and it’s different wherever you’re from. And there’s different laws in different States and countries. So it is a very variable question, but it’s something that’s very important if you’re working in that space.

100%, 100%.

We actually had an episode on this with Terry Goldstein on branding in a regulated world. So if you want to learn a little bit more about it, that’s a great episode to tune into.

She was great. Yeah, all right.

Cool, learning and development. That’s the next.

Yeah, let’s move into learning and development. So this was interesting. The report says that 90% of branders are seeking feedback from clients to continuously learn and enrich themselves.

I mean, I think that’s cool, 90%. And then it says, resources for skill enrichment included courses by the future, online publications, books, podcasts. And I’m going to add in here, such as JUST Branding.

That wasn’t in the report, but let’s hope that that was there. That was what was in mind. And influencers, now I’m a bit annoyed about this, influencers like Christo, who is an absolute legend, Seth Godin, who is also an absolute legend, and Jacob Cass, who is less of a legend, but is a good legend.

But then it was supposed to stop, and I was like, whoa, whoa, what about Matt Davies? Why is he in this list of esteemed ones? But no, I’m kidding, of course.

But no, no, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that we are reaching out for courses from those organizations. I think another one that’s popular in the brand strategy space is Level C. I know you’ve done Mark Ritson’s mini MBA, and I know a lot of people go through that.

It’s an investment of time and effort, but it sounds like it’s very well worth doing. I’m looking at doing that at some stage. So it’s good that we’re learning.

It’s amazing that 90% of branders are saying they’re seeking feedback from clients to continually learn. I think that adds a huge amount of humility to our industry. We are learning.

We are looking to the people that we’re serving to help us improve the value that we bring. And I think that’s very healthy. What are your thoughts?

Yeah, absolutely. And the question around how do you seek feedback? There was some other answers, not just from clients, but people also got feedback from self-reflection and analysis, as well as friends and peers and from senior coworkers.

Only 1% of people said they don’t seek feedback, which is awesome to see that.

Yeah, and self-reflection is so important. It really is. Like it’s so easy in the thick of it to just jump onto the next project, but doing post-mortems, even if you’re just working by yourself and thinking like, how could I have been better at that?

Like how could that meeting have gone more favorably? What did I miss in this project? I often think that it’s good to go into a meeting and ask yourself, where are the blank spots?

Like where is it that I know I’m weak? And sometimes it’s worth bringing that to the client’s attention, you know, like before. So if you’re giving a presentation, sometimes I’ll say, look, I’ve only had two weeks with you.

Usually I’d like to have a few months on this. Obviously we’re working at pace. So I’ve done the best I can, but frankly I haven’t spent the time I need to do a full deep dive into this, but this is where I’ve got to.

And it depends what they value. If they value the speed, they’ll appreciate that. If they want rigor, then that’s all on them.

If they’ve agreed a two week timeline where it should be two months, for example. So it’s important to know your weak spots and be humble about that. And I think a healthy dose of authenticity in that area is not bad.

But yeah, self-reflection I think is really important to think through after each project. I’m frequently doing that. Not to beat yourself up.

Also, I think you should ask yourself, where did I do well? Where did I deliver something quite well? Where did I navigate a challenge effectively?

So you’re not constantly negative talk about yourself, but you got to know how to improve ultimately. Otherwise you’ll stay in the same place or worse, slide backwards. Backwards.

We asked where people learn from, what courses, blogs, newsletters, books, mentors and podcasts people listen to, and we compiled them here. So I’m just going to share some of the top ones. So the courses, there was the Future, Brandmaster Academy, Skillshare, Coursera and Domestika.

There’s Mark Ritzen as well. Blogs and online publications, so how brands are built, brand new, Communication Arts. There was newsletters like the Future and Seth Godin, Rob Meyerson made it on there.

Books, the brand Gap was mentioned quite often by Martin Neumeyer, not surprised. Designing brand identity by Alina Wheeler. Purple Cow by Seth Godin.

This was one of my favorite and first books that I read within business many years ago. Zag by Martin Neumeyer and How Brands Grow by Brian Sharp. Those are the ones that were mentioned quite a few times.

And mentors, you mentioned before. And podcast, there was quite a few there. Let’s Talk Branding, the future online marketing made simple.

And of course, JUST Branding. So yeah, there’s some of the places that people tune in to to listen and to learn and to stay on top of their skills, skillset and evolve. So I think it’s very, very important to continue to learn as we develop.

Definitely, definitely, I think that’s really healthy. Thanks for sharing that. Definitely check out those resources guys, because I’m sure there’s gonna be some stuff in there perhaps you’ve not seen before.

Certainly some stuff I hadn’t seen. So I’m gonna be checking out some of those those other resources as well. But make sure that you always keep JUST Branding, number one of in your earbuds.

Otherwise, we’ve shot ourselves in the foot, which isn’t great. But hey, we’re open. We’re open to all sorts of it.

We’re a broad church. Okay, so next thing we wanna kind of talk about is, well, you tell me, Jacob, where are we in your jumbled lists? Cause I had a list and it’s all-

I’ve confused you. I’ve confused you. So we’ve done privacy, we’ve done clients, we’ve done AI, we’ve done the future of brand.

We did kind of skip over key challenges, but I think we’ve kind of touched on them already with finding new clients, education. Yeah, let’s go there. Yeah, I think challenges.

And then success metrics.

So what are they? So finding new clients, educating clients about branding value, pricing structure, increasing competition and the influence of AI. Now, as you say, we’ve touched on a lot of those, but I just wanted to highlight perhaps one of those challenges that came through, which is educating clients about branding’s value.

That is quite a big challenge. But my view is that it’s also a massive opportunity if we look at it like that. I think, as I say, this goes back to the point where I don’t know about you, but I get a sense that sometimes the attitude is, well, clients should know exactly what they want and they should have it all sorted and they should just come to me with a brief.

Now, if they did that, how boring and dull is life if that happened every single time is my initial gut? I think you start off like that in the rose-tinted world that we’re in and think that that should be the case. But when you ask the questions, you know, why, you’ll find that the clients don’t really know often or they’ve made assumptions.

So that’s the way that I think you educate. Like you don’t just go in there and start teaching them. You have to understand their world, understand their perspective, understand what they’re trying to achieve, understand the value that they’re putting into this project that they’re talking to you about.

And then, you can then look at it and see whether actually what you’re gonna bring to the table is of huge value. And that is an educational conversation. And I think if it isn’t huge value, then maybe you’ve positioned yourself wrong, or maybe the client doesn’t really understand what you’re bringing to the table in the first place.

So for example, imagine you’re asked to copy your competitor of the client.

That is a strategic option, and a lot of companies do it. They might not admit it, but they basically just look at who’s number one in my category, and they just copy it. Now, if somebody comes to you and says, hey, we want to look a little bit like this company in the category that’s number one.

Like that is a prime opportunity to educate the client. Because obviously, unless it’s like you want to race to the bottom and compete on price, it’s almost branding suicide to copy the competition. What you want to be doing is creating something unique, unusual.

You mentioned some books like Purple Cow and Zag by Marty Neumeyer. It’s about differentiation. It’s about positioning.

It’s owning a piece of the market that the brand’s customers can only get from that brand and allowing other parts of the marketplace to be different to you. The whole point of real strategy is about change and it’s about being different. That is your opportunity there.

If you don’t accept the self-diagnosis of the client, don’t accept the initial brief, that’s your opportunity to stand out and say, hey, Mr. Client, Mrs. Client, Mrs. Client or whatever, let’s talk about this because I don’t know whether copying the competition is actually going to help you get nearer to the goals that you’re requiring. What if we took a different approach and that’s where real brand strategy can come in and real branding can benefit you? That’s what I think.

For me, final point on this is that is the job. If you don’t want to do that, if you don’t want to educate clients, if you expect them to know everything, then you’re not going to last long, in my humble opinion. What you’ve got to do is get used to it.

Get comfortable being slightly uncomfortable. Get comfortable being curious about businesses, curious about the direction they’re on, the markets they’re in, the customers that they’re trying to attract, the products they’re trying to innovate, the value that they’re trying to bring. Get curious in that and that is where you’re going to then solve bigger problems and therefore get those fees up in a more of a palatable place.

What are your thoughts on that, Jacob?

Well, I love how this loops back to the start around pricing and structure because it’s all related. If you don’t know the key problem that you’re trying to solve and you’re just going with what the client says, you’re not really going deep. You’re just scratching the surface and you’re executing on their orders more or less.

You do have to take a step back, you have to ask the right questions. Even Marty Neumeyer stresses or shares this, that he is always educating his clients. Even today, with all his books, he still has to go through the process of education.

That’s where the value is. That’s the value we bring. We have all these years of experience.

We understand the market and the business. Then we have to learn from the client as well to learn more. We take from our pool of knowledge and background and bring that to the table.

Then you collaborate together. That’s where the magic happens.

Why would we want it any other way? Come on, folks, this is fun. This is enjoyable.

I think this is the murky world. It’s not black and white. We’ve got to get into the gray sometimes and then help bring that clarity.

So yeah, I think that’s just one of the…

The other challenges, surprising structure was a big challenge, but other challenges, it’s no surprise here, it’s like finding clients and securing new projects. 50% of people mentioned that as a key problem, and 33% mentioned getting exposure as another key problem. And we actually made a word cloud, if you’re familiar with this, where because this was an open-ended question, we got all the data and we figured out what were the most commonly used words.

And this word cloud, the biggest word there was budgets. It was the number one thing people mentioned. It’s like this word is probably like 30% bigger than every other word on there, as well as client acquisition and pricing.

Those are the three big things that were mentioned by most people. So budgets, how do you actually get the right budget from the client? How do you learn that?

How do you get the most bang for your buck? And this comes back to the value conversation that you’ve been talking about, Matt.

Yeah, it’s hard. It’s hard because I think a lot of us accept some of the market dynamics or the market norms that we have come to expect. Requests for proposals, RFPs that go out to 50 agencies, and we respond.

Why? Because we’re desperate for the work, if we’re honest. But I think that what that does is it’s the wrong approach.

We shouldn’t be going, oh, they don’t have the right budget for all the stuff that they want. We’re being compared to other agencies. Well, I think that’s because we’re being lazy, in all honesty.

We’ve got to find other routes to market, other ways to sell, other ways to share the value that we bring. We’ve got to get on platforms. We’ve got to speak to the problems.

We’ve got to niche down into particular sectors, go talk to unusual sectors, like science sectors and sectors which are not design-orientated, because in those untapped areas, that’s where we can add a lot more value. I often work in the most unsexiest of sectors that you can imagine, but I don’t mind because I know I can add the value there, being honest. It’s one of those things that I think we need to…

I’m a strategist, so I think slightly differently to the norm. If we’re finding budgets an issue, if we’re finding that we’re being compared, if we’re finding that we’re commoditized, then I would suggest that we need a new approach. The new approach is not to sit there and complain and moan about RFPs and budgets and stuff like that.

In other words, it’s everybody else’s fault but mine. What we’ve got to do is take a realm check on that, say, yep, okay, that’s the reality of that world. Why don’t we try something different?

We’re going to roll our sleeves up. We’re going to try another approach to try and solve some of those challenges. And I think if you open your mind up to that, and I know a lot of people will be groaning at this moment, going, oh, shut up, Matt.

What do you know? But trust me, I know from experience, at least from my own experience, that if you do take that mindset of, okay, I’m going to try something a bit different and not going to accept this kind of norm of doing things, you can be quite successful. So it’s just a thought there.

What are your thoughts on that, Jacob? Because I know, do you get a lot of RFPs and do you respond to them? Because I don’t get any and I don’t respond to any.

Not when they’re nameless. It’s like you can tell they’re just a copy paste and they haven’t done any research. They’re just trying to get a number for, and to get a baseline and compare against one another when there’s no investments in you as a person getting to know you or anything.

So I always try to talk to them and understand the project, not just respond to an RFP off the bat. You have to understand what they’re trying to do. And ultimately, the person that decides is the one that you have the best relationship with and feel you can trust.

So ultimately, you want to get in the room with that person and get some rapport and to build that trust up. And that doesn’t happen through a document. You need to have that face to face and to get to know one another and understand what’s going to actually get the project across the finish line.

Very wise words. You’ve got to find the decision maker, the economic buyer, the person that will say yes at the end of the day. And the way you get to them is often not accepting the RFP and that process.

This is why I say there’s other ways of doing it. If it’s gone to RFP, it’s hard in that instance to create that value-based approach that I was talking about before. You’ve almost got to start a bit more up river, if you like, upstream and try and get on the radar of people before that they would push it down perhaps into other parts of the organization and it go through a procurement process.

You want them to go, I need Jacob or I need Bob or I need Jane before thinking, they’re the only ones that I think is going to be suitable to do this project with us. I’m not going to settle for anybody else. The big question is how do you get into that sort of scenario?

And the answer is through positioning, through showing yourself in action and demonstrating your value over time for a particular type of client with a particular type of problem. And if you can understand what that is, and you can continually show up to create the value that those people want, then you will be sought out rather than compared. And that’s the difference.

Yes, I love that. All right, so just to wrap back around to key challenges, we’ve talked about exposure, getting new clients, the education and the awareness gap, pricing structure. There was also the growing concern around AI, which we touched on.

The economic downturn was another one that people mentioned. And lastly, difficulties in measuring the success of their projects. And we actually had a question around this, like how do you actually measure the success of your projects?

And interestingly enough, 13% said we don’t measure at all. The next most popular answer was around customer satisfaction scores. So a lot of people use that, about 15%.

Then brand awareness metrics is around 12% and social media interactions around 11%. Website traffic, 10%. Referrals, about 8%.

And there’s a bunch more, which we won’t go into, but that’s how people are measuring. And I thought this was pretty interesting to learn that 34% aren’t measuring at all. So I’d be curious to see the brands you work with, how do they go about measuring success when it comes to brand?

Yeah, so that’s a really tough question because, again, there’s so many different facets of this. I mean, the ultimate determination of success is always the bank balance. That’s how I measure success, at least in my business.

So that’s the ultimate determiner, because if you’re creating value, you’ll get paid for the value that you’re creating is the general concept. And that’s how we as a society reward value. So success for me is usually along those lines, which I know is pretty fickle, but that’s the truth.

How do my clients do it? That’s really interesting because a lot of the stuff that I’m involved in is like, you know, big change management pieces. There’s no easy way of determining an ROI on the money and the investments that are being spent.

There’s so many variables, right? Like, is it the marketing? Is it the brand?

Was it the copywriting? Was it the photo? Whatever.

It’s like, it’s hard.

It really is. I mean, I do think, I mean, some basic stuff that I kind of get involved in like employee surveys, customer surveys, those are the standard ones. Net promoter scores is another kind of whole area, although I know that some people will debate how useful that is.

You know, a lot of clients, if they’re entering new regions, you know, it’s more about their distributors and can they attract distributors? Can they attract new customers and partners in those areas? Yeah, stuff like that.

But a lot of the projects I work on are over time, right? So, you know, if you’re thinking of to do brand properly, it’s a long term game. It’s not like you can do something today and in next week, you’ve solved all the problems.

Like, if that’s your approach to brand, then, you know, you’re aiming too small. Brand is about like carving out market space, you know, leverage in the market, stuff that can take a while, innovation, culture, all these big things. So for me, and the work that I do, not something that I can easily measure, and I’m quite open with clients about that.

The only thing I can say is, is give me a year and we’ll look at how your profits are doing. And, you know, will you be able to directly trace that to me? Difficult.

But, you know, here’s the thing I always say, is that you don’t need a strategy to be successful, a brand strategy to be successful, but all successful brands have one. So think about that. It’s, you know, if you want to be the number one brand in the category, if you really want to, you’ve got to think strategically, you’ve got to position your brand powerfully.

And you can be successful without that. You know, as I say, you can copy the competition, and it could be a limited part of success, but you need to think strategically and deliberately if you want to scale and want to grow and you really want to dominate in a particular industry. So that’s how I approach it.

Well said. I love that. Let’s get into the key takeaways.

This is a pretty long episode, so thanks for sticking with us.

Well, it’s the first one, right? So we’re trying to add value off the bat here, guys. I hope you haven’t found us waffling on too long.

Jacob, you wrap up, because this is your report, and I know there are some amazing takeaways at the back of the report. So I’ll let you walk through some of those. And yeah, we’ll call it a day.

So go for it. What are the key takeaways? State of Brand.

So we had the six main categories, and there’s about 12 main takeaways from here that you can use as you will. So number one is to refine your pricing strategies and to diversify your income. Remember we said 80% of people price their projects on time and effort.

So a takeaway from here is like, how can you explore value-based pricing to get some more dollars into your bank account and provide more value to your clients? And how can you align your rates to that value? That’s what I want you to think about.

Refining your pricing strategies. Number two is to proactively acquire clients and foster valuable networks. So 86% of people said that they use referrals and word of mouth, which is quite high, which is awesome.

But if you thought about the opposite of that, how could you actually proactively acquire clients? How could you explore new avenues of getting clients? So don’t just rely on referrals, explore other avenues.

Number three, integrate AI, but with a human-centric approach. So 70% of people are already using AI. If you’re not, you need to get on it.

This is not a bandwagon. It is the future. It’s not going anywhere.

It’s here to stay. So explore tools like ChatGBT, AI tools like Adobe or Mid Journey, and now video is coming out. So just keep an eye on it, but maintain the human touch in those experiences.

We want clients to value our strategy and our thinking and our emotion and our personal interaction. So it’s very important to have a balance there. Number four, so embrace authenticity in future branding.

So to stay relevant, we want to consider focusing on authenticity, personalization and purpose-driven branding. So we can spin these words in many different ways. So take it as you will.

We did have a little chat about what those words could mean. But yeah, how can you embrace them for your brand building process? All right, number five, navigate industry challenges and adapt with agility.

So a lot of the challenges we’ve heard were around finding clients, educating clients about the value of brand, pricing structure, increased competition and the influence of AI. So you have to be adaptable. You have to explore these tools.

You have to invest in continuous education to navigate these challenges effectively. Number six, you need to optimize your project evaluation metrics. So 39% were using customer satisfaction scores, but there’s room for other ways of measurement.

It is tricky, but there’s more room to explore on how you can actually measure brand. So one of the underutilized metrics was email marketing, which I forgot to mention. Only about 8% of people use email marketing.

And funnily enough, those emails can be measured very easily. Open rates, click-through rates. It’s one of those tools that you can get very detailed data, kind of like performance marketing.

You can get very granular numbers. Number seven, expand your income stream strategically. So you can explore other avenues of getting income, right?

Whether it be consulting or selling digital products or courses, there are many different options for you. So consider adding some more income streams to your portfolio. Number eight, optimize your tool selection and adapt, right?

So Adobe Creative Suite is a popular choice. It’s used by 90% of respondents, but there’s other tools coming up, you know, like Canva. 38% of people are using Canva, and it is getting popular because of how easy it is to use, especially for clients and non-designers.

It’s very accessible. Number nine, strengthen your legal knowledge and awareness around copyright and IP laws. 40% of branding pros feel less confident about their legal knowledge.

40% is a high number, so this is definitely a room for improvement. Number 10, prioritize continuous learning and skill growth. Seeking feedback from clients is very important, as well as learning from other sources like courses and publications, staying on top of trends, following industry influences, and being proactive in enhancing your skill set.

Number 11, align project variety with pricing. Diversify your project types based on your expertise and your client’s needs. That obviously means how long a project goes for and how much you’re charging.

So you have to keep those variables in mind. Are you charging 20K and it’s taking you six months, or are you charging 5K and it’s taking you a week and you do four projects? There’s some variables you need to consider and your project variety needs to align with that.

This is something we didn’t touch on in this podcast, but it’s definitely something to consider. Lastly, number 12, strategically differentiate for market impact. So you can set yourself apart by enhancing your client’s experience, specializing and having a niche, innovating on your process and developing a unique style and tailoring your differentiation strategy to your strengths.

And there’s many different ways to do this. Matt shared his today. And yeah, it needs to be aligned to you and your values and your strengths.

So that’s it. That’s 12 key takeaways for today. Plus obviously all the rest.

So thanks for sharing with me.

Yeah, thanks for sticking with us through that, folks. I mean, hopefully you found that interesting. I certainly found the report interesting.

Just so that you know, in the show notes, there’ll be a link. Click on that and go and sign up to get your hands on it yourselves. As we say, thanks for listening to this episode.

Please do leave us a review. I know a lot of people often reach out to me. They DM me and say, Matt, thanks for the podcast.

I always say, please do leave us a review because it helps us get higher up the charts, helps us attract more listeners, and it just kind of grows everybody. So please do do that. The final thing is the first episode of the season, so if you’ve not linked in with me on LinkedIn or Jacob on LinkedIn, feel free to search for us.

We always like to interact and talk to people, so feel free to do that. But yeah, we look forward to it. As we say, we’ve got some amazing guests lined up, some really, really top-notch thinkers from all around the globe, all stacked up, ready to go.

Keep an eye out. We’re going to be dropping them. Usually, they kind of land every couple of weeks, so keep an eye out for that.

You’re going to find some really good stuff. So thanks for tuning in. Have a great New Year, and we look forward to having you with us through this next season.

Any final thoughts, Jacob?

No, well, actually, yes, there is. I want you to think about… Yes, yes.

I was like, should I say this or should I not? We’ve shared a lot of information today, and it’s often hard to digest it all, so my suggestion is to think about one thing you can take away from this report. What is one thing you can do today to improve and to learn or to grow?

Because there’s a lot here. Just choose one. What action can you take today to grow or improve?

That’s what I want to share.

And then let us know about it and let us know the impact of it, and that will make our day. Great stuff. Thanks so much, everybody.

Take care and see you on the next episode.

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