Most of my clients, especially promoter clients, end up becoming my friends. We end up sharing ideas and interests well beyond those involved in professional engagements.
One of them, LC Singh, a unique combination of intellect and heart, founder of Nihilent, and one of the best design-thinkers in the business, once shared an interesting 4x2 matrix about client-vendor relationships.
(PS: I know none of us enjoy being called a ‘vendor’, but this is a thought experiment, so let’s focus on the concept for now)
Imagine Dark Green and Light Green rectangles stacked like this.
(Why rectangles? Well, no reason...you can use parallelograms or squares or pink hearts or whatever:-)).
Dark Green represents experiential and first-hand knowledge of own subject, Light Green represents conceptual and second-hand knowledge of own subject.
For example, a young marketing manager in a multinational who hasn’t personally made any decisions in the launch of a brand has only a conceptual knowledge of a brand launch. This person in effect does have not own a personal decision-making toolkit, and can only discuss matters through borrowed concepts.
You all know the type!
Eg: “Err, I don’t think this colour reflects the brand archetype correctly!” Now if you ask her which colour does reflect it correctly, she is at a loss. With the next question “Is colour truly your decision-making criterion?” she is further confused.
Finally, if you ask her what is the brand archetype, she most likely throws a tantrum.
This is a Light Green client.
On the other hand is a client who not only understands her business, she knows exactly what is needed from her vendor, whether brand consultant, ad agency, PR agency or product designer.
When you present work to them, they have a simple, well-defined criterion for judging whether the output meets their objectives.
Hopefully, you have met more of the latter than of the former... this fact can dramatically change your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, employee attrition...!
This is a Dark Green client.
Similarly, you have a Light Green vendor. Eg: an ad agency that has no viewpoint of its own, and one that merely creates what the client wants and not what the consumer needs, is a Light Green vendor.
Which brings us to the outcomes of these relationships.
The two Light Greens merrily destroy value by creating work that is irrelevant to the end consumer in the short-term and the brand in the long-term.
In most cases, they are unaware of this value destruction process.
The two Dark Greens joyously reach newer heights in creating value, because they allow each other to build on each others’ strengths.
The frustrated Dark Green client soon sacks the Light Green vendor, and if and whenever a Dark Green vendor has a choice, they sack the Light Green client.
Now, here’s another thought construct. I don’t remember who explained this to me, but I share it with all clients so they are aware what is going right or wrong.
The construct relates to the moment of judging creative work, ideas, products, design...
You have four theoretical possibilities (venues) of what the decision-maker can say:
1. On brief, like it
2. On brief, don’t like it
3. Not on brief, like it
4. Not on brief, don’t like it
Venue One is simple: go into production, pronto, asap, right now, and let’s go celebrate in the closest bar!
Venue Four is simple: go back to the drawing board (and why the hell are you off-brief anyway)?
Venue Two or Three is where the mutual trust and respect will come into play.
Does the vendor push back against the client’s subjective “Don’t like it” choice in Venue Two?
And do both vendor and client agree to fling the brief and the strategy (imagine, you have spent months and money on research to come up with this razor’s edge strategy!) out of the window and pledge allegiance to the idea instead...all on the basis of “I like it!!!” in Venue Three?
“We too like it...that’s why we shared it in the first place!”
This species of magic can only happen in Dark Green - Dark Green interactions we suggested above. It’s an interaction where there is trust in each other’s instinct, an instinct honed over years of experiential knowledge, honed by making errors, by burning fingers, by suffering the ignominy of being called stupid or a risk taker or...of letting go!
According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated One billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year; an estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas. Clients and vendors don’t need Greeting Cards, they need Trust Cards and Mutual Respect Cards:-)
(The author is co-founder, Chlorophyll brand & communications consultancy.)