The flying fish: positioning through expertise

Are you just another generalist design firm swimming in the sea of many?

Clients are struggling to differentiate between design firms outside of price which is fast becoming a growing profit margin concern for the industry. What’s more, talented designers remain on the lookout for design firms that they aspire to be part of, and many can only differentiate their next job prospect by salary and surface level perks like pajama days which wane in desirability for the ambitious creative professional looking to grow and contribute real value.

To stand out in an industry that is growing at a rapid rate, opportunity is rife, but so is competition. So how does your design firm stand out from the crowd? How does your design firm become sought after by clients, outside of price? And how does your design firm attract the sought after talent that is struggling to meet demand. Why would either go out of their way to choose YOUR design firm?

One word: expertise.

Expertise means:

1. Attracting good business and talented designers:

Take a look at the design firms in the market and find what makes you unique. Do you specialize in a niche area of design like Service Design, or do you do all types of design? Do you specialize in a certain industry like design within the management consultancy space? Etc. When you are able to own or be one of the strong stand out businesses in a niche area in the market, when clients or designers are in that niche space, they will naturally turn to your business over other generalist firms.

2. Perception of your business shifts from vendor to expert:

Niche positioning fosters associations assumed by experts not vendors. When viewed by your clients as a vendor, your relationship is tilted towards transactions, client needs x and you as the vendor are required to deliver on their demand. When seen as an expert, your business is seen as an advisor who has expertise on a particular domain. When this happens, you will see your business conversations change, you advise more, you steer your clients needs, and the relationship is no longer transactions but one of value exchange through your ability to deliver deep expertise on how to solve their problem. You will find you listen differently to clients, and you become more insightful in how you respond.

3. Moving into premium pricing and better profit margins:

Your product and service offerings are specialist, refined and focussed in this area of expertise which means they are naturally more advanced. Remember the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”? Deep expertise is reflected in your offering to market. Think about it this way, when you need heart surgery, are you comfortable with this being done by a GP or a heart surgeon? We say the heart surgeon because we see value in their expertise and also because it is so important he/she gets the operation right (life and death situation here!) that we are even willing to pay a substantial premium for it. Adopting this approach allows your business to move into high margin pricing. You are no longer selling a commodity.

Positioning through expertise impacts your product and service offering as well as design roles which now become less blended and more specialist. This expertise should be reflected in your design businesses point of view and remains fundamental to your content and growth hacking strategies.

Finding your expertise groove makes the business of design exciting again, chasing the exchange of heightened value with fewer squeezed profit margins and enjoyable work for the specialist designer. The shift from generalist to specialist can be a daunting thought but without risk comes no reward.

Advisory for creatives: “Solving niche challenges design businesses face”.