Marketing Materials: Ensure That Any Creative Spend is Good Value for You


This post is intended for small to medium business owners, individuals running not-for-profit organisations, and also marketing managers. To give ideas on how a creative approach - design, illustration or a combination of the two - can enhance your output and help engage with your audience. And, crucially, for any spend to be of good value for you.

Design and illustration can be used in many ways, but I am particularly referring to how design and illustration can:

  1. Help explain what you do and the services you offer
  2. Help potential customers understand your product
  3. Enhance your brand
  4. Make your whole offering and marketing output more visually appealing

The subject of value cropped up in a recent conversation with a charity client of mine. It was important for them to feel like they were getting good value for money, and that any spend was justified. I can certainly understand this. I’m not a charity (obviously!), but as a small business, I know that every penny counts - it’s important to know that anything you do, is worth doing. We’re looking for returns, right?

On the subject of The Value of Design: The Design Council worked with the Arts & Humanities Research Council to measure the value that design thinking brings to small businesses. They created this short animation to explain their findings...

This essentially relates to a business as a whole, from the ground up, where design is integral to the product or process, rather than specifically about marketing materials, but I think it’s still relevant and a really good mindset to have.


How do you determine what will be good value, and the BEST value for you?

I would suggest firstly looking at where you are now.

Assessing your existing brand, presence and marketing output can really help define your needs - What has worked in the past and what hasn’t? Improved customer engagement is the aim, and whether creative input can help with this.

As you will know, a brand is so much more than than just your logo, it’s everything that relates to your organisation and how you communicate. But, if you can get the basics of your brand right (starting with your logo and the various related elements) everything else can stem from there. You build from a strong foundation and can roll things out over time, when your budget allows.

Also important, is how you can get the most out of whatever creative you commission. A flexible approach which allows elements to be used in different ways can prove to be cost effective, and if done well keep things interesting and fresh.


Points to consider:

  1. Is your current brand identity strong? Does it feel right at this point in time, and evoke the right kind of feelings in your customers/clients? If not, I would suggest it makes sense to address this first, to ensure that any future work is not put to waste should you decide to rebrand later.

  2. If your brand does needs attention - could a ‘refresh’ suffice, rather than a complete overhaul? This is certainly worth considering and would likely be a cheaper alternative, but I would definitely recommend you take advice on this from professional designer/s.

  3. Look at all the ways you communicate as an organisation - your website, emails, social media, marketing materials, information documents…etc. Make sure all your communications are consistent or connected in some way. This doesn’t mean everything has to look the same, in fact it’s good if there is some variation or evolution to keep things feeling fresh, but a recognisable style/approach will become synonymous with you and help strengthen your brand.

  4. Create a set of brand assets which relate to your business - icons, quirky illustrations, characterful embellishments for example, that can be used to punctuate marketing materials and keep things interesting. These could potentially provide a ‘kit of parts’ for you to use as required, and set a style which can be added to over time.
  5. Is your product or offering particularly difficult to understand or do people just ‘get it’? Perhaps it would be useful to have a graphic or illustration (or more than one) that explains your processes, what you do, how you can help, and/or show the benefits?

  6. Start to think about who might be best able to supply this work for you, and who could present the best value for your needs. Have you worked with designers in the past who already know your brand and your message, or could you use some fresh input, a new take? You may want to consider an independent designer or small design company rather than a larger agency - Smaller, more agile set-ups may be able to offer more affordable creative solutions, as they don’t necessarily have the same overheads. ( A previous post may be of particular interest here: ‘8 Steps to Choosing the Right Designer or Design Agency for You’. )

  7. When commissioning any kind of creative, think about how the end result might be used. If there are multiple uses (ideally there will be if you are trying to gain maximum value from your assets), this may affect how the image is created and at what size/resolution. Also, if you are working with a professional illustrator, their costs are often closely linked to usage - it’s best to be open about this so that the illustrator can understand your needs and quote accordingly. This way you can be clear of absolute costs, rather than any additional fees for unforeseen usage further down the line. For more about illustration costs, read my previous blog post here .

  8. If you have a particular budget, try to be open about this with any designer you speak to. Even if you only have a rough figure in mind, this will help them get a handle on what may be feasible and suggest the best approach to work within your means.

  9. Think in multiples, rather than stand alone items. For instance, if you are going to create a set of information leaflets/downloads (even if not all at the same time), it would make sense for there to be a generic format which can be tailored for each purpose. This can make the designs for each one more cost effective, but also ensures consistent brand output.

  10. Any spend on design should be for a reason and to help engage and convey your messages to your audience/clients/customers. The results should look good, but this is not the only reason for their being. The point is, if communications are nicely designed and do their job well, you will undoubtedly feel more confident in pushing your message out there, with the knock on effect of better connecting.



Some other thoughts relating to design and value

  • Good value, doesn’t necessarily equate to the cheapest option

The phrase ‘Buy cheap, buy twice’ comes to mind. We all like cheap, but if the thing you buy doesn’t do what you want, it could easily end up costing you more. This certainly relates to design, make sure you have a good rapport with whoever you choose to do your design - they need to ‘get you’ and you need to feel like your needs are being listened to and understood. The best design work always happens when there is a good working relationship between you (the client) and the designer.

  • Throwing money at a project isn’t a solution either

The groundwork needs to be solid. Great design can make a product more appealing, but if that product doesn’t work or isn’t what your customers want, I’m afraid even the best design is unlikely to work in the long term.

  • Design can’t promise everything

A nicely designed marketing leaflet or brochure won’t necessarily ‘make the sale’ but it can help grab attention and get your foot in the door with potential customers. If your product is strong, the next bit will come more easily.

  • Be clear of your needs, or be open to advice to help work out what will work best for you



I hope this post has helped you start to consider how you could achieve some good value from any design/creative spend. Obviously every business (charity, organisation or whatever) is different and you will have your own priorities, which can be discussed specifically with your chosen designer or design agency.

I would be really interested to hear any particular challenges you may be facing with your marketing materials. If you would like to discuss any specifics, as to how design or illustration could be best utilised for you, please do feel free to get in touch - I’m always happy to have a chat.


To recap on previous posts mentioned above, that may be of interest to you:

8 Steps to Choosing the Right Designer or Design Agency for You

How much does illustration cost? - A client guide to illustrator's fees