With around 20 years of experience in design and advertising, Corey Dodd knows a thing or two about creative branding. In the course of his career, he’s developed robust skills that include coding in addition to design and strategy. He is also passionate about coaching those in the design community on topics revolving around pricing and processes (as will become clear in this interview!)
Corey has worked with all kinds of clients, from boutique design studios, to national advertising agencies, to large companies like Nova Radio. At present, he runs Elk Creative, a design agency that offers branding and digital solutions to Australian SMEs. On this installment of Agency Gurus, he shares his expertise on how designers can develop brand vision and strategy, how agencies can use price anchoring, and what he thinks of WordPress developers.
Cloudways: Great to have you with us Corey! Can you start by telling us about how you started Elk Creative?
Corey: Thanks, I’ve been working as a designer for over 20 years and that whole time I had always been freelancing. I’d worked for a handful of other agencies all over Australia and after a while, the requests for projects outside of hours became something that was consistent. So a few years back I just decided it was time to put my energy into building something of my own. I’ve taken all the best knowledge I had collected along the way and put it into my own business.
Cloudways: You’re a designer and a brand strategist. How can designers translate their skills and experience to developing an overarching brand vision and strategy, like you have?
Corey: Yeah, great question. For designers who are new, just honing your craft is the first thing to do – get great at design. A part of that should be learning how to talk about design, and explaining to non-creatives how and why your design meets a brief. Learning to articulate what you do is an essential design skill.
But after that, if you are a designer interested in strategy, you need to look at how design positively impacts and creates change for a business. While there are a ton of books and resources on this, you’ll learn and take more from your own personal experience. Once you have a clear idea of what solution leads to what outcome you can start to talk to businesses strategically and begin offering strategy workshops.
Cloudways: What’s the process you follow for developing and implementing an effective branding strategy for a client? What would you say agencies have the most trouble with when tasked with?
Corey: I’ve developed my own framework which we use for brand strategy. There are a few amazing frameworks around, CORE by the Futur and Donald Millers Story Brand. I’ve pooled from my own experience and the other frameworks I’ve learned to make something that captures the most of what I need. Really most strategic frameworks have a similar trajectory of finding out: Who are you? > What do you do? Why do you do it? > Who do you do it for?
Then: Where are you now? > Where do you want to be? > What resources can we use to get you there?
Once you know someone’s objectives, the strategy becomes about what tactics someone should use to achieve their result. Of course, the deeper you dig and the better your questions, the greater your result.
This approach is the basis of almost any strategic business conversation, the difference with brand strategy is that the focus is on what’s at the core of the business such as its personality, it’s reason for being, how it’s perceived and how it’s positioned in the market.
Where I think most other agencies struggle with this, is in understanding how businesses work or the other big mistake I see is agencies doing strategy and magically selling the customer on services they offer. If you are helping a business strategically, you need to be able to look past your own services and find the things that really will help shift the needle.
Cloudways: Elk Creative focuses on branding for land developers and those in the corporate construction industries. How did you come to specialize in this niche? What advice do you have for agency owners looking to select a specialization?
Corey: This niche happened very organically. I had worked on these types of projects while working for others, but when I started Elk it was very broad and it’s still presented like it is. I hadn’t intended to work with a niche but when I landed the first property development branding project for a new suburb, it just clicked. The project went smoothly, it fits well with our service offering, I was able to bring my insight to the table and it was just a great project. So I put a little bit of energy into that market to see how it would go. Once we landed a few more of these projects it started to become our focus. Now it accounts for maybe 70% of what we do.
As far as advice, I see a lot of people searching for what they call a “good” niche. But I fully believe that every niche can be a great one.
If you are going to try finding a niche my advice is to either NOT force it or to start with what you know first rather than trying to find a magic industry or offering that hasn’t been exploited.
Cloudways: You’ve talked about pricing on a few podcasts, and mentioned price anchoring in particular as a strategy that prevents customers from switching to competitors. What are some ways you suggest agencies use anchoring to boost conversions and retention? In general, what factors should agencies consider when they’re developing their pricing?
Corey: Price anchoring is a great tactic for leading people to a higher price point/budget than they might have initially thought. At its simplest it’s about using extreme examples to help reframe someone’s perception of your intended price, making it more palatable. It’s a simple association, if you mention a price, this becomes the anchor and everything else is judged from that point.
So even saying something like “Pepsi spent 1million on their branding” gives someone that place holder so that when you tell them $20k, it seems like a great deal.
One thing I have talked about a lot to prevent their clients from looking at competitors is to offer price options in your proposal. If you offer 3 solutions with 3 different prices you almost become the same as them having 3 separate quotes from other providers. You can also use this as price anchoring to lead people to the price you think suits someone best by having an extremely high priced option for example.
Price anchoring is great, I recommend anyone to look into it more.
Cloudways: Elk Creative’s mission statement highlights its dedication to a sustainable and ethical approach to design. What does this entail? How would you suggest digital agencies become more sustainable in their outlook and processes?
Corey: This comes from my personal beliefs, it’s how I live my day to day life. For me, it’s about being mindful of the things we do and the impact this has, not just on the world but on ourselves. While there are small things you can do, like being paperless, it often comes down to who we work with and who we partner with. While we can’t avoid things like printing, we can make sure it’s done sustainably and responsibly. The downside of course is that sustainable options cost more, this is why I talk about this as it’s important to attract customers who have a similar mindset.
Cloudways: You’ve had years of experience as a WordPress web designer. What do you make of the widespread perception that WordPress users are somehow “not real” developers or designers?
Corey: I’ve never seen WordPress as not real developers or designers, I think WordPress has always attracted some of the smartest and creative people. As a designer, I’ve never felt any limitations with WordPress.
I love that WordPress has made it easier for people to learn and get started with building websites and for us, the less time we spend on building websites the more time we spend on the strategy behind it. I remember what it was like hand-coding websites in tables and I don’t want to go back. That being said, there’s still a fair bit of work in making a great site.
Cloudways: Your Facebook community Beyond Freelance is meant to support designers and developers looking to “create collaborative, drama-free design experiences”. What are you hoping group members bring to and take away from the community? Would you recommend agency owners develop social media communities to establish themselves as authority figures?
Corey: Really it’s just a general support group, design can be hard and frustrating at times so it’s really a place where people can talk through ideas or struggles they have. I try to create content that helps people specifically around pricing and processes and there are a few people in the group who are smarter than me offering great advice and input.
In terms of creating a group to establish yourself as an authority, it certainly won’t hurt, but the best groups are the ones focused on the community itself and if someone is wanting to become an authority quickly, my suggestion would be podcasts, YouTube and LinkedIn are the best places. In Facebook groups, it helps to be part of the voice, not the only one.
Cloudways: What would you say is the winning approach to client management for agencies? What’s your process for successfully handing off a website to your client?
Corey: With what we do, communication is the biggest thing. It really is the key, it’s simple and free. There is no excuse for not having great clear communication and yet it’s one of the biggest areas that people drop the ball. It’s great to have processes as this streamlines the work, but it also makes your service a safer choice. Businesses by our process because our process is what leads to our end result.
You asked about website handoff, but my goal is to never truly handoff a website to a client. Sure at the end of a project, we provide video training and a handbook, but it’s never the intention that this is the end of the relationship.
More often than not, we are working with people where it makes more sense for us to help them with their website and they focus on their business. This goes back to working with the right type of clients.
Cloudways: And finally, who would you suggest we interview next for this series?
Corey: James Rose would be a great person to interview. He’s gone from running an agency to having a great software solution for those with an agency (content snare). He’s one smart dude.
Thank you for the great interview, Corey!
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Arsalan, a Digital Marketer by profession, works as a Startups and Digital Agencies Community Manager at Cloudways. He loves all things entrepreneurial and wakes up every day with the desire to enable the dreams of aspiring entrepreneurs through his work!