Copywriter or designer,
coach or consultant,
big agency or solo-entrepreneur,
you can work in two ways:
You can execute the brief that your client gives you, or you can take a step back and ask basic questions before you start.
The agency that designed my business card two years ago took the first approach. They came up with a design but never asked questions about who I was and what my business stands for.
And maybe that’s logical: shouldn’t I know who I am and what my business stands for?
I should. But it’s not how it works. We all change. We learn things, we move on, we develop in new directions and these things often lurk below the surface. We feel they are there but they are not clear to see.
The second approach
Ruth, a web designer to whom I was recently introduced, takes the second approach. She asks her clients basic questions from the start.
‘What do you do?’ is one such question. Ruth says it’s astounding how many people struggle to answer it. But it’s no criticism. It’s normal and Ruth asks the question to get a process in motion. It’s an invitation to take the time and contemplate:
What am I really all about? What is it that my clients like about me? What have I learned? Is there something about my business that I lost sight of?
The answers need a moment of dedicated time and that’s what Ruth understands. She knows that every assignment – homepage or business card – is an occasion to take that time and reassess.
It works on a larger level too
It’s the same for big companies.
A wonderful example are the ads that John Hegarty did for Audi in the 1980s. Like the agency that designed my card, he could have just taken the brief and execute it.
But he didn’t do that. He asked questions. One day, visiting an Audi factory, he spotted an old fading poster on the wall. The poster was in German. Hegarty couldn’t read what it said. And he could have moved on. But he stopped. And he asked a basic question: “What does it say?”
“Vorsprung durch Technik”, they told him. They said it was an old advertising slogan they didn’t use anymore. The slogan of course became the centerpiece of his ads. Today, it’s Audi’s tagline: it expresses the very essence of what the brand stands for.
Vorsprung durch Technik: a basic question helped Audi rediscover what the company was really all about. It was already there. It lurked beneath the surface. But it needed an outsider to bring it into the open.
It’s a great example of why we should work with people who ask basic questions.
If you have a minute you might like to watch this Guardian-interview where John Hegarty tells his Audi-story: