For many years, like most designers, my branding questionnaire was the first step with my clients once they officially booked me. But over time I began to realize that it wasn’t serving my clients or myself in the way I intended it to work. Through frustration and mis-alignment in projects that lead to multiple rounds of revisions, I realized there had to be a better way. So let’s set the scene and go back in time to understand why I left branding questionnaires behind and replaced them with intimate strategy calls.
The client books me. Yay! I did a happy dance! Then I would send them a branding questionnaire to kick off the project and get to know their business. I would cross my fingers and hope they gave me enough to work with. I read through their answers, and that’s when things start to go downhill. As much as I would try to read between the lines, sometimes I just did not feel any sense of clarity or direction. I would attempt to interpret what they gave me, and hope I could give them something back in return.
Maybe your process looks like this too? And maybe you’ve encountered some of the same pain points I have too. This process seems super common in the freelance branding world and I understand why as it’s to-the-point seemingly saves both parties time. The kicker is that you’ll usually end up spending more time going the questionnaire route because you’ll have to ask them more questions to truly understand what the client meant. You ironically might even have to get on a call to clarify some things! I started to feel extremely frustrated with this process in my client workflow and that’s what led me to seek an alternative route. Instead of sending a questionnaire, now I get on a 90 min — 2-hour strategy workshop with them. And I absolutely love it!
Client books, (I still do a happy dance!), but I don’t send them homework. Instead, I ask them (and any decision-makers or stakeholders in the company) to get on a 2-hour call with me. Then, on the call I ask them a series of intentional questions and follow up questions to make sure I get the juicy information that I actually need to make strong work that’s in-line with the client’s business and vision.
This is the main pushback I get when I share that I do these strategy calls instead of branding questionnaires. Why even do that? Doesn’t that take more time for the client? Doesn’t the client resist? Here’s the lowdown on why this call ultimately helps both me AND the client:
Your clients hired YOU because you’re supposedly the expert and they aren’t. When we send a branding questionnaire, we are asking the client to decide what is important to tell us. We are asking them to come up with the answers. This is not their area of expertise, and therefore they don’t know what we’re looking for or might even be confused on how to answer some of the questions.
Flipping the script completely, a brand strategy workshop becomes collaborative and you are seen as the expert from the very beginning, a useful tool to carry with you throughout the remainder of the project. Instead of just “sending a questionnaire” that will elicit incomplete thoughts, now you are guiding this part of the process. You are gaining a seat at the table. Your client will begin to trust you so much more because they are being involved in a more collaborative process.
The true power of the workshop comes in when you have the ability to ask follow up questions and dig in to the true reason behind why they are answering things the way they are. A questionnaire offers nothing more than the few words they write on the document. But in a strategy workshop, you’re the leader of the session and you can push and pull where need be. You have the authority and power to ask them to expand on sections that you, as the branding expert, know will help you do an amazing job for them.
Long gone are the days of combing through the questionnaire trying to read between the lines. If the excuse for not doing strategy workshops is time, just imagine how much of it you waste attempting to understand what they actually meant in the short answers they offer to your questions.
After doing these strategy workshops for a solid two years now, I can tell you that the information I get out of these calls is way more insightful than any questionnaire I ever received when I used them. Not only is it beneficial for me, but I’ve left many calls where my clients rave about how insightful the session was for them and how they gained a better perspective on their brand and where they want to go in the future.
But the thing is, it wasn’t my client’s fault at all — it was actually mine. And that’s because I wasn’t setting the right expectations from the start. All I did was send off that simple questionnaire and hoped that they would understand the questions and offer profound, well-thought out answers. Neither of those usually happen.
The thing is, we normally aren’t willing to get vulnerable and supply deep answers without someone pushing us, or at least nudging us along. It usually takes being asked WHY 5 times before you can get to the REAL root or underlying reason. In fact, I have a whole video masterclass on it you can watch here.
Asking WHY is pretty powerful and something we might look over. It’s the same technique both children and interrogators use. Just keep asking WHY and every time you uncover a different layer that wouldn’t have been uncovered otherwise. But I promise, just because interrogators use this technique it’s not scary. You probably used the same technique when you were child and while it might sound elementary it also works extremely well on adults when probing them to go deeper on a subject.
That’s why the strategy workshop is so crucial because you, the designer and leader of the call, have the power to move along the conversation in the direction you so desire and guide them. You as the expert know exactly what you need from them. With a questionnaire the client is filling it out with whatever comes to them in the moment, and they don’t know what we need from them! Regain control on this part of your process and I guarantee you’ll see a difference in how your designs are received when you back them with deeper insights from these strategy sessions.
Did this blog make you feel a certain way? Are you stuck in this cycle or sending branding questionnaires and silently hoping that the client just gets it and fills it out the right way so you can make something from it? Are you tired of having to clarify multiple components of your projects and just struggle to feel aligned with your clients in general?
If you’re ready to leave that all behind and would like to learn more about brand strategy, watch my free video training, “Brand Strategy for Designer: How to Master the 3 Essential Steps”. I’m excited to see you add this into your processes and your clients will enjoy it too!