How much should you pay for creativity?

Most things are bought per-unit. A unit based on weight, length of time, or quantity. A unit based on presumed quality…

Quality is an intangible though. To the connoisseur it’s evident, but not to the novice. To the first timer, every wine tastes the same. Every painting looks equivalent. When in doubt, people cling to what’s familiar. They choose the sweetest wine, the most ordinary painting. Unless… There is a price tag visible…

When price enters, people use it as standard. The more expensive an item is, the better it must be. It’s a good, but often misleading rule.

“Pick what you like” is the sage advice given to us. In marketing, it’s usually the worst advice you can take… The only right answer in marketing is “choose what your customer will like.” -What a confusing situation most small business people find themselves in. Being forced to choose things that may be counterintuitive to their own gut instinct. Not only that, – but being asked to pay a premium for something they neither trust, or understand.

Obviously it’s quite easy to get taken advantage of in such a situation.

Since by definition no great idea will be familiar, and most business people will not be an expert on design, -how do you tell a good idea from a bad. More succinctly, -how much should you pay for creative? Let’s consider a couple of examples:

  • Would you pay the same amount of money for an hour of Saul Bass’s time as a recent college design graduate?
  • Would you pay per hour for a designer who was 5 times slower than their competition?
  • Would you pay any amount of money at all for creative, if it was bad creative?
  • Would you pay $5,000 to make $10,000?

The trouble starts when people look at creative as an expense. Creative is not an expense, it’s an investment with an anticipated return. In some cases the return will be quick, and easily quantifiable as in the case of direct mail. In some cases it can take years to truly understand the effect, -as in a new logo. One thing is for sure: good creative has an R.O.I. not a cost. The Medici may have commissioned art because they loved it, and had tons of money. You’re commissioning art based on a desired outcome. Sales.

You can buy creative by the hour, by the year, or by the project. But it’s important to spend the money with a careful eye on quantifiable returns. More customers, more sales, and more money are things any business person can relate to no matter how much they know about design.


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