Scaling a Brand Competitors Can’t Copy With Awesome Design (and Without Breaking the Bank) With Russ Perry From Design Pickle [AMP 190]

Good content with bad design equals bad content. Good design can be expensive and hard to scale, but the value of quality graphic design can’t be overstated. Today’s guest is Russ Perry from Design Pickle, a flat-rate creative services platform. What’s the catch? Never pay more than a monthly subscription. Get help with your branding and design without breaking the bank, or settling for below-average work.

Some of the highlights of the show include:
  • Scale investment by allocating design resources without cutting corners
  • Challenges: Find good talent, attract customers, take competitive advantage
  • Brand: More than just a logo; communicate through visuals and creativity
  • Mistakes and Excuses: No time, money, or understanding of good vs. bad design
  • When design needs outpace resources: Narrow niche, segment needs, and select specialists
  • Trolls: Trigger reversal by providing help and proving your value to haters
  • Create/Update: Communicate confidence to reflect niche, audience, and value
  • FreshStock: Stock asset library of templates and visuals save time and money
  • Fix, Revise, Grow: Nothing’s going to break in the world, if you just start creating
If you liked today’s show, please subscribe on iTunes to The Actionable Content Marketing Podcast! The podcast is also available on SoundCloud, Stitcher, and Google Play.

Scaling a Brand Competitors Can’t Copy With Awesome Design (and Without Breaking the Bank) With @russperry From @designpickle

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Ben: Hey, Russ. Thanks for coming on the show. Russ: Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here. I think we might be clients soon, that's kind of cool too. Ben: Yeah, yeah. Very cool, very cool. Always loving the opportunity to talk to CoSchedule customers or soon to be customers. Can I get some insights from your areas of expertise and things that you're working on that you can share with our audience? With that in mind, would you mind just introducing yourself briefly and explaining what you do at Design Pickle? Russ: Right. I'm the CEO of Design Pickle. We are a flatrate creative services platform. That sounds fancy but really, what we do is we help businesses, marketers, actually a lot of other creatives find the dedicated help when they need to design. We do graphic design, we do custom illustrations. The cool part about our model is you just pay one price every month like a gym membership and you use it as much as you need. You never have to pay anything more than that subscription fee. Ben: I think the marketers in general have a pretty good understanding of why design is important and why investing in design and creative is important. In your own words since you're online, how would you summarize the value of investing in quality design. Not just design but in investing in design that is high quality. Russ: I think it really comes down to a bigger concept which we probably don't have enough time to go so deep on, and that is around your brand. The thing about branding, it's a big term. It's a mysterious term. Some people think oh, we'll. My logo. Other people understand that it's more than that. Ultimately, regardless of the definition of brand, it's your unique competitive advantage. Pretty much anything anyone's doing can be done and copied. It has been done before in some form of fashion. The brand is really your secret sauce. When you talk about visuals and creativity, that's how most people communicate their brand. Atleast, initially. It's what you see first. It's what you experience in an ad. It's the website. It's those emotions that are invoked. If you're not paying attention to that, you're missing a huge opportunity as well as you're not being competitive if you're not actually thinking about okay, we have our whole course service of what we do. How else do we relate to the marketplace? What are we doing that is unique in that way? That to me is something that when done right, cannot be copied. Ben: To follow that up, just given how important branding is in design, creativity, and how those things point into building a strong brand that goes beyond just like my brand is my logo. Kind of how the cliche goes. What factors do you see that hold companies back from sufficiently investing in design creativity? I feel like the value is obvious. What's preventing companies from really allocating the resources they should be in this area? Russ: First, a couple things come to mind. One is they've tried before and it was a disaster. They said you know what? We're going to make this investment. We're going to hire somebody. We're going to hire an agency or a firm. We're going to hire a freelancer or uncle Joe's niece that's going to do some stuff for us. It didn't work out. They lose a lot of money. They lose a lot of time. They felt almost like they got taken. Then, they just say screw it. We don't want to make that investment. It's not that important. The other thing I see is they overcomplicate it in their mind. That can be true. They think about how am I going to find someone? How do I know if they're good or not? Buying creativity in creating content and investing in those resources, it's not a common thing. It's not like giong to buy milk. You're going to buy milk, you know what milk should cost. You know where to find milk. You know if the milk's good or bad because you can taste it. You have all of these references for milk purchases but in design and creativity, you don't. You're really venturing into the unknown sometimes, often for the first time. People think oh, it's complicated. I don't know. How do I do it? Then, that much choice and that much openness just says screw it. I'm not going to do it. The other thing that I think is just really practical time and money. They think they don't have enough time or it's too expensive to invest in it. It's a luxury. That then prevents them from it. A lot of things that go on in the mind prior to making it, that's really why I started Design Pickle. I wanted to just shatter all of those preconceived notions and just say look, it's easy. It's reliable. It's affordable. It's good. Guess what? If you don't like it, you can take it back. Just like if you open the milk and it's spoiled, you can take the milk back. It's like hey, I don't like this milk. Almond milk, not for me. I'm bringing it back, or whatever you choose. Ben: Sure, yeah. I think that makes so much sense, especially since so many things with design, with creativity, with branding—say, if someone is a marketer, they're business owner, maybe they know that they need design but they maybe don't necessarily recognize what good design looks like, they don't really know what they're buying or what they're shopping for. If I'm a marketer or if I'm a business owner or someone of that nature and I'm listening to this episode, that's kind of how I'm feeling. I understand that design's important but I don't feel like I would know the difference between the good design or bad design. I don't have time or money to waste making mistakes in this area. What would you recommend that I look for? What should I be looking for when I look for a creative partner? When I look to a higher designer and things like that? Russ: It's important to me when I'm working with clients—and I don't work with clients directly, I'm talking to clients and I'm coaching them. You do have to have some idea of the direction you're headed. The great part is it's so easy to figure that out from an emotional level without any experience. You can find them on Pinterest. You can find them on Instagram. You can just go look around your house and see the brands that are represented in your home that you're attracted to and found. You don't need to be able to dissect that. You don't need to have a three page thesis on why your Sonos speaker or your Fitbit wristband vibes with you. You just need to vibe with it. Then, what you can do is you pass that data onto your designer, your creative, and the team that you're working with to say hey, I like this. These are the things that make me feel warm and fuzzy inside. You go figure this out. That's what an expert creative will do. The creatives at Design Pickle expect people to be busy. They expect people to be moving in a lot of directions. If you just give them a cardinal direction, you just say hey, let's just go north. Here's what that looks like to me. Here's a collection of inspiration and examples. A professional designer whether it's a Design Pickle designer or not, but if they're professional, they can unpack that for you. That's where people get mixed up. You don't need a long ass brief. You don't need to have tons of details, you just give them the vibe. That's it. That's my professional advice. Give them the vibe. They'll take it from there. When the work comes back, it comes back in a relatively reasonable amount of time, you give them feedback again. Is this on track or not? You just work through it with examples, with visuals, and make it like boiling down balsamic vinegar. You get that reduction. Finally, you'll get it, and you're like yes, this is it! This is what I've been looking for. Ben: Sure, yeah. I love that way of describing it. Just figuring out what you like and just starting there. Even if you don't know anything about design, everybody knows what they like. You see something and you're like yeah, that's awesome. I like that. I like that it speaks to me in some ways. I love that advice. I think that makes so much sense. Let's say I'm not seeing marketer, business owner, marketing manager, type of person looking to either build out a design team or I'm hiring out my design. I'm making that investment and I've gotten this far. I've got to start. Maybe we're starting to put more effort in that area. We're starting to hit a ceiling where our needs for design are outphased in available resources. What tips would you have for that person who is looking to really scale their design production and really looking to maximize just trying to get as much as they can on that investment? Russ: The larger your design or creative means—this goes for any content, this could be video, this could be all sorts of stuff, the best thing is you first specialize and really put those things into buckets. When you start looking for volume plays, or the most value for growing, where you'll waste a lot of money is when you try to find a generalist who can do it all. The people who can do it all are not cheap. They're usually not very available and usually they don't work very fast because they have tons of stuff. First step is segmenting out your needs. What do you actually need? Do you need just visual graphics? Are you producing tons of blogs everyday or every week and you need these unique graphics and visuals for each blog and starting to really stack up? Are you doing podcasts just like this one? Are you doing a daily podcast now and you need graphics everyday? Whatever. Figure out the buckets in which this content goes into and then seek out specialists for that. At Design Pickle, currently, we have to work, we don't do motion graphics. We don't do video editing. We're not going to be able to help you scale those areas yet but we can do the visual graphics. We can do the illustrations and unique stuff that are 100% custom original things. We'll just stay in that lane. You can stack different services. Right now, there's a Design Pickle for anything imaginable. You can find the Design Pickle for jingles, practically. It's out there, I bet. You can find it. There are these models that really exist in our niche. They operate on a global scale using global talents. The costs are a lot different. They've been around in their experience. They'll do exactly what they say they're going to do. That's the key. Frankly, that's one of the funniest things we see. We get a lot of trolls online that really knock us and attack us. Most of them are creatives and then they realize they can get a helpful hand doing creativity in the price and the rate that we do. All of a sudden, they love us. They were like oh my gosh! I'm stressed. I'm strapped. I have too much Facebook ads to do for my clients. I just want to focus on these stuff. They end up signing up. We've got a lot of troll reversals in our time with that. Back to your question, I think the reality is get really specific, find what it is that you're trying to grow, and find an expert for that. Find an expert for that. Don't try to find a generalist. Ben: I love Russ's thoughts around design and branding being a competitive advantage that another company cannot easily copy. Good design and branding are reflections of who you are as a business. When that's done well, the message that it shares and communicates to your customers is something that no one else can truly copy, because no one else can really replicate the exact DNA of your company, your culture, your values, or just why you do what you do uniquely the way you do it. Design, when it's really good, it can communicate all of those things to potential customers in ways that are just not possible without it. If you're struggling to build a case for design within your own organization, maybe to your CMO, your CEO, just to another decision maker, or whoever it is in your company who's holding the per strings and is responsible in making decisions in this area, that just might be the best place for you to start. Now, back to Russ. Something else that you mentioned that I thought was interesting, this might be varying a little bit off topic but you mentioned that you've been able to trigger some troll reversals. You've turned some haters into believers. Do you have any advice? This is outside the scope of our initial discussion. This is something that I'm curious about. I think it's probably relevant for a lot of marketers and in a lot of spaces because everybody's got their detractors for one reason or another. How do you show your value to people who don't get it? How do you get someone who's not onboard with what you're doing and show them what your real value is? Kind of like switching that lightbulb in their heads so they go from not really getting what you're all about to actually becoming a customer that way. Russ: Here's the thing. Your value is based on your confidence and your certainty. The higher that is internally of what you do and how certain you are you’re going to help somebody, then the easier it is to find people to help. Is someone having a hard time or are they unsure they can't see the value themselves? It's going to be really challenging to convince other people to pay you money for that as well. I look at my career prior to Design Pickle. I have eight and a half years running a creative agency—branding, design. I fought tooth and nail for every client. It wasn't easy to get them. When I look back at who I was at that time, if I'm really truthful with myself, I wasn't 100% confident even in my own company. It made the sales process really challenging. It made the sales process something that I will look at and say no wonder I lost a lot of clients and we couldn't keep them. We're a revolving door. We have some good projects and some bad projects. Just because my business I wasn't certain about, today, I don't even sweat, I shamelessly sell Design Pickle. Simply because of the value, my certainty, and confidence in it. I know it. With you out there, marketing, communicating, and having a hard time connecting on that, the thing you need to realize and look up first is what is my own value that I need to get confident around? Sometimes that's doing less, narrowing, being more specific, focusing on a target audience. You might do marketing services for everyone and anyone. If you narrow the marketing services—I'm just going to go back to milk analogy—you're going to market the milk farmers or producers. Now, you're certain, all of a sudden, it goes up because you can build momentum in that industry, get referrals, and sell it to other people. Often, the confidence isn't the product or the service. It's that you're trying to be too broad, too big, too general. When you narrow in your niche and you bring that back down, that's the key. Then, it's finding those people. It's like a filter. Then, all of a sudden, you don't need to worry about trying to convince anyone because you're so narrow and specific that only the people you're going after will vibe with you. Back to the word, vibe, that's the keyword there. We don't worry about people. If you've never spent a dollar on creative services before, you spent $0, I say our price is $400 a month, you're going to be like oh my gosh! That is so much. That is crazy. I can't imagine spending $400. If you've hired someone before and you spent $3000, $4000, $5000, $6000, a month, you know the median value. We've niched in terms of our price and our products. I don't waste time trying to convince the people who don't get it. I just focus on the people who automatically get it. Ben: Are there any specific ways that you feel that strong branding and design—say you are confident in your company, in your service offerings, your products, are there any specific ways that really good branding and design can help you not only feel that confidence but communicate that confidence so you bring in those people that do vibe with what you're about? Russ: Absolutely. Being able to just create. Create and update. Have the content that reflects the niche, that reflects the target audience, that reflects that value. That's like painting such a broad picture. It takes resources, time, and money to do all of that. When you have that complete package with your visuals, with your brand, with your content, I get an email and it looks in a certain way, then I go to your website and I see a graphic. Then, someone from the sales team messages me and their email footer’s dialed in. Then, I get a PDF review of what you do. It's all synced up together. That builds trust and confidence subconsciously. For a guy like me, consciously because I'm obviously already knowing it. If the target person you're talking to isn't versed in branding, subconsciously, you're building trust. The touchpoints and the connections aren't jolting them around. If you've ever seen an ad in a restaurant or a hotel and you're like oh my gosh. There's this restaurant in Southern California. It's in the ocean and it's cool. I saw this ad. My wife and I went out there. I walked in and it's like a carpeted floor, dim lights, a weird drink menu like pina coladas. It's like where are we? The brand and the ad didn't match up with the reality. All of the sudden, your spidey sense goes off. The same happens with online businesses, professional services, and businesses. Being able to connect all that together, that then enhances your ability to connect with those people. At the end of the day, it just acts like a magnet. Magnets are only going to attract things that can be magnetized. You put up a plumb, it's not going to connect with the magnet. Don't worry about it. You're not trying to attract plumbs. You're trying to attract metals and specific tons of metals. Just tons of analogies today. That's the part about your brand. When it's done right in the creative content and everything you're putting out there, it then becomes the magnet. You don't even need to worry about finding the right people because they will automatically be attracted with what you're doing. They'll be shared with people that are the right fit. That momentum builds and builds the more years that you focus on it. Ben: The last question I've got for you, do you have any parting advice for marketers on how they can collaborate with designers more effectively? A lot of our audience are marketers whether they're marketing managers or individual contributors, or people that are doing the work. How can those folks just have better working relationships with designers and not make themselves frustrating to deal with? Russ: All right, I'm going to definitely give a shameless plug here but not for Design Pickle. I'm going to share something else. First is just to communicate visually. That's it. It's the easiest thing I can say. Communicate visually. Find stuff visually and then send it to them that that is what you're looking for. That does take a little bit of homework. If you expect your designer to be creative to read your mind or not there yet but it can happen. You have to be able to pass it on. My shameless plug is next month, you can sign up just for the sample of it, we're launching our own stock asset library called FreshStock. Go to Right now, we're giving away free assets. Every week you get 5-10 templates, design templates—everything. Our hope is this side is going to be flatrate $5-$50 a month. You can download unlimited, whatever you need that we can give marketers using it to then find the things they want, they like, and send that to their creatives, say hey, this is what I'm thinking our brand should go. This is the direction we should need. Spend $50 a month to be able to save that much time, typing, revisions, back and forth, emotional energy. When it comes back and it's wrong, you just save that and send them visuals of what you're looking for. We're creating the tool to help. There's obviously the free stuff—Pinterest and all of that. That's all out there too. Ben: Very cool. This is a great conversation. I just want to thank you again for coming on the show. Before I let you go, I'm sure there's lots of stuff in this topic we can spend hours talking about. Is there anything in particular that's just right on the tip of your tongue that you're wanting to get out there but didn't get an opportunity to? Russ: Aside from my shameless FreshStock plug which I just did, we're good there. Actually, yes. There is one thing—just create. There's nothing that's going to break in the world if you just start creating. It's not like you are building the SpaceX rockets that we're all tracking right now. If one part breaks, that's a big deal. In your creation world, just create. If it's not perfect, it's not the end of the world. You can fix it, you can revise it. You grow. That's my words of encouragement. I hope people, whether you use a service like us or something else, you'll just be able to create more because ultimately that's when you discover the magic and you figure out the things that work better. Just a sample case study, we redesigned all our ebook covers one month and our leads quadruple. We didn't even redesign the content titles or anything. We just said this looks a little old. Let's update the look and feel of them. We got a 4x increase in downloads just because they looked nicer. Have we not just created and just said hey, let's try it, we wouldn't have discovered that. There's all of those things hidden inside people's businesses with their brand, with their content. Just get out there and create.
About the Author

Ben Sailer has over 14 years of experience in the field of marketing. He is considered an expert in inbound marketing through his incredible skills with copywriting, SEO, content strategy, and project management. Ben is currently an Inbound Marketing Director at Automattic, working to grow as the top managed hosting solution for WordPress websites. WordPress is one of the most powerful website creation tools in the industry. In this role, he looks to attract customers with content designed to attract qualified leads. Ben plays a critical role in driving the growth and success of a company by attracting and engaging customers through relevant and helpful content and interactions. Ben works closely with senior management to align the inbound marketing efforts with the overall business objectives. He continuously measures the effectiveness of marketing campaigns to improve them. He is also involved in managing budgets and mentoring the inbound marketing team.