The Cobbler’s Child Conundrum for Creatives

If I had a dollar for every time I heard a creative use “the cobbler’s children” excuse for why their own websites aren’t working, I’d have a closet full of Louis Vuitton Manhattan Richelieu’s.

It’s true that carving out time to work on your own branding is a challenge. That overhead time carries a real cost. Choosing between paid work, or working for ourselves, on our own dime—paid work will always win out.

It’s Not Just The Problem Finding Time

But not having time isn’t the only barrier to branding. Creatives suffer from being too close to their own work to see their branding objectively. When you work with your clients, part of the value you bring is an objective outsider’s perspective. You can easily see how insider language ends up cluttering a client’s messaging. You see how internal appreciation or differentiators are simply assumed in messaging rather than clearly expressed.

One of my favorite consultants to creative entrepreneurs is David C. Baker. He uses a perfect milk jug analogy. It’s hard to see your own label when you’re inside the milk jug. So on top of the basic struggle of finding time, even when you have the time, the end result of working on your own brand falls victim to the same problems you see your clients making.

PinPoint Positioning Forces You Outside the Jug

That’s why our 12 Month Comprehensive Marketing Program begins with an in-depth PinPoint Positioning workshop. We help you get outside your container to see what the rest of the world sees when they make those fast but essential assessments of your brand.

Our PinPoint Positioning workshops rewrite your brand messaging and positioning answering the three positioning questions of “what you do,” “who you do it for,” and “how it benefits them” in concrete and focused ways. This work is much harder than it sounds, and the effectiveness of anything and everything you may do in marketing is contingent on this crucial work.

Four Common Branding Mistakes Creative Make

Because PinPoint Positioning is so custom to each creative, I’m not going to offer abstract advice on how to craft a statement (last week’s article might help with that though). Instead, here are four common mistakes creatives make in expressing their brands when they don’t have a clearly expressed PinPoint Position.

Creative Branding Mistake #1: Wide Net Positioning

The first mistake creatives make is casting too wide a net stating what they do and who they do it for. Creatives think that if they list every capability they can conceivably offer, as well as a long list of every industry they’ve ever worked in, that this will give them wide appeal. They don’t realize that this tendency actually has the opposite effect. I’ve gone into some detail on this mistake in another article, “Are you undermining your credibility through your service offerings?

Creative Branding Mistake #2: Focus on Creativity

Another common mistake is making your own passion for creativity the emphasis of your brand. Instead of identifying concrete and measurable benefits your services provide, you simply elevate the importance of creativity in general, and then declare your commitment to the creative process.

There are two main problems with this emphasis. One is that a prospect is going to assume that you’re creative, or else you would be immediately disqualified from consideration. Which of your competitors don’t check that box? You might consider yourself more talented, or more creative than others, but unless you’re from Lake Wobegon, not all of you are above average. Besides, creativity is a relative measure, and your prospects are not the best judge of it in the first place, or else they probably wouldn’t need you.

The second problem with focusing on a passion for creativity is that at the end of the day a prospect doesn’t really care about your passion—only that you deliver a solution that solves their problem. If you’re the client, which do you choose? The creative that delivers a perfect solution, but went about it with the attitude of Marvin the Paranoid Android? Or a subpar solution, but one that really made the designer excited about creativity while they produced it?

Creative Branding Mistake #3: Differentiating on Price

Another mistake creatives make, especially freelancers, is to position themselves on price. They tout the fact that they have low overhead and no middlemen in their process and therefore can offer services at a bargain price. This kind of positioning is self-defeating and will cripple any hopes of growth you might have. Another of my articles details how this practice can pull you down to defeat, “Is freelance overhead eating all your profits?

Keep in mind that how you gain a client is also how you must keep a client. If you attract bargain hunters, don’t expect them to magically become luxury consumers later. And if you, like most creatives, build your new business around referrals, bargain hunters beget bargain hunters, and soon you’ll have tied yourself to a sinking ship.

Creative Branding Mistake #4: Differentiating on Process

Creatives often boast about their processes. Unfortunately, in almost every case it’s the same as everyone else’s: Discovery (or strategy, or research), followed by design, followed by iteration (perhaps with some testing thrown in), then production and delivery. Now it may well be true that you are better at those steps than a competitor, but from a client’s perspective, that’s not something they can judge.

Besides, what’s the alternative to that kind of process? Design first, then do research and strategy? Produce first then do design? The typical process touted on most creative websites is simply stating the obvious, and thus offers no real differentiation.

If Not These Factors, What Then?

If you’re making these mistakes you might feel like your legs are getting kicked out from under you. If you eliminate all these facets of branding, what’s left? The opposite approach to branding a creative practice begins with PinPoint Positioning, where right out of the gate you replace wide net categories for narrower, more specific, more intensive options. When you get concrete and specific in how you describe “what you do,” “who you do it for,” and “why it benefits them,” it makes all the difference.

When you get that right, you’ll finally be able to get some decent shoes on those kids’ feet.

If you’d like help reading your own milk jug’s label, and rewriting your brand messaging, consider our 12 Month Program Comprehensive Marketing Program for Creative Entrepreneurs.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?