This weekend, I attended a hat exhibit featuring couture British milliner, Stephen Jones. His hats are famous, worn by Sarah Jessica Parker and Princess Diana. Each is a showpiece in its own right and popular among top like Yves Saint Laurent. Turbans, top hats and twists of melted plastic compliment his collection one could only begin to describe as eclectic. Whether you’re a fan of couture or not, his creations are unforgettable.
I’m not a milliner. I’m a digital strategist but can’t help and recognize parallels between Jones’s design best-practices and our own in the world of digital client service. Here are just a few.
- Before the fitting, ask the right questions first. When asked about design methodology, Jones lists an array of questions he asks every client to crystalize his understanding of the purpose and setting of the hat but also its significance to the wearer. Answers arm Jones with critical data he’ll use to develop a one-of-a-kind creation. Before embarking in a digital program, invest time asking your clients direct questions (the more uncomfortable, the better) so that a unique and tailored approach is developed. Ambiguity creates disconnects and you may only have once chance to make a first impression.
- Know your client; give them a platform to express themselves.Asking the questions above enables Jones to pry out what makes his client unique. He picks up on cues to create something unique, that will get heads turning when it is revealed. Ask pointed questions to your clients. Pry open what drives them and their company and develop content that is easily shareable on multiple mediums to get it to stakeholders as easily and quickly as possible. Do it regularly. Follow social media to identify changing conversations and influencers where your client’s thought-leadership will resonate and come up with a plan to get them in the room. Get them into rooms that matter and keep them there.
- Create the fabric of a great team. Jones admits he couldn’t be successful without his loyal backroom of brilliant designers, some of which have been with him for decades. Before taking on a new project, Jones even considers which of his artisans would be best to take the helm. Respect and recognize the talent of your team and where their skills compliment your own. Have a data scientist? Good, now equip them with the right tools – even if they cost a premium. Have a wordsmith who can develop thought-provoking unique content? Develop a plan surrounding just that and give them the platform to hit the ground running. Educate and collaborate on both sides.
- Express yourself. Being different isn’t good enough. Not when everybody is. Providing provocative thought-leadership helps drive traffic and re-tweets, builds trust and subscribers. People want to hear from other people they like or admire but you’ve got to give them a reason to. It doesn’t take much to awe. Refer back to the passion driving your client and their company – that will appeal to stakeholders. Do something remarkable to keep people interested beyond just one blog post or media hit. Take a big leap or spend five minutes on Twitter, but do something.
When it comes to hats, I’m a bit of a traditionalist but I’ve got to admire the passion and jaw-dropping creations of Stephen Jones. Innovation is in his blood but his best-practices are actually respectably old-school. Try on a different hat in 2013 and take a chance for your clients.