COVID-19 Update

You’ve likely heard us talk about our three company values, the first being open. In response to the forecasted spread of COVID-19, and the projections of associated health risks, we’re staying open … from our homes. The Willow team has gone virtual. (At least for the time being.) We’re available by phone, text, video chat, email, and Zoom. In-person meetings will only be held when absolutely necessary for the health of all involved. Our working hours remain 8am to 5pm EDT.


Better Creative

Creative Icon

Sometimes it’s the only thing you can think about. We know.

The shiny “ta-da!” at the end of the tunnel. Those of us who aren’t gifted designers and copywriters harbor a healthy envy of those who are, which is, of course, why we hire them. At Willow, you’ll find them designing this and designing that. And here’s the most important thing: it all works. It doesn’t just look good, it actually works. Damn them!

No one asks us to design a brochure or a website without a reason: an expectation of what that particular piece will accomplish for them. Whether it’s to inform, promote, influence, or demonstrate, by the time that reason makes its way to the creative department, we’ve carefully fleshed out who we’re designing for and what we want them to feel, think, or do. We make decisions about visual elements, word choices, music, and tone, based on how your brand should show up in the world.

The creative is the final presentation of the idea—the telling of the story in words or in pictures, or a combination of the two. And while it sometimes starts as a doodle on a napkin or a sentence on a whiteboard, we never actually start from scratch. We pick up the process where the research and the strategy left off.


Creative, Digital


Branding, Creative, Digital, Research

Want better creative? Let’s Talk.


How do I start a project?

Every project starts with your input. We’ll ask questions about your goals, objectives, audience, timing, and budgets, and you’ll give us answers. That way, we all get on the same page before we start. Based on your input, we’ll prepare an estimate, a timeline, and a creative brief for the project. If everything looks in line, you’ll put your John Hancock on each, and we’ll get busy creating an effective marketing tool just for you! We think putting things in writing is just a good idea. That way, everyone knows what we’re doing. Everybody’s happy. And no one is surprised.

About that creative brief—what is that, exactly?

A creative brief is a document prepared by the account team based on information gathered from you to guide and inform the creative team about the objectives for the project. Typically, it includes these things:

1. Background/Overview: The 30,000-foot view of why this project is happening and how it fits into the organization’s plans. Sometimes it’s a particular opportunity that’s presented itself or a challenge you’re trying to overcome.

2. Objective: The goal of the project, written simply and focused on what change or effect the project should have on the audience. Want your members to sign up for a series of professional webinars? That’s an objective. Simple, actionable, measurable. Want them to believe you hung the moon? That might take some work.

3. Target Audience: Who we’re creating this piece for, and why it should matter to them. This isn’t about the demographic, it’s about the details. This is where we flesh out that 25-to-54-year-old professional male with a household income of $100K+. We get inside his head and talk about his lifestyle, his pain points, and which belief, bias, or behavior we’re trying to affect.

4. Key Benefit: What is the most important thing to say or show them?

5. Reasons to Believe: Why should they buy, engage, or act? This is a short list of specific reasons why someone would want to do what you’re hoping they’ll do. What’s in it for them? What evidence do you have of that?

6. Mandatory Elements: What can’t be left out? The things that must be included in the final execution, as well as where they will be used.

7. Additional Considerations: Other information that could be helpful to know as background. If your CEO breaks out when he sees the color orange, we want to know that so we can keep the reds and yellows far, far away from each other.

8. Deliverables: What do you need from the creative services team, and when do you need it?

9. Budget: How much can you invest to git-’er-done?

What’s the difference between a concept and a layout?

Concept is the basic idea put into a design. It provides the overall look and feel of the project (website, brochure, marketing campaign). Messaging in the form of headlines is paired with imagery, colors, and fonts to illustrate how your marketing objective could be obtained through a visual/verbal execution. Depending on your project parameters, we’ll create multiple concepts and solicit your input and feedback to make the work stronger before moving into final layouts. It’s a collaborative process to show how an idea might take shape and uncover the details necessary to flesh it out.

Layout is how all the parts and pieces fit into a particular workspace based on the concept or idea. It will include all the details: imagery, headlines, body copy, call to action, logos, contact information, etc. It’s basically the first version of the finished piece.

So, for example, if you are working with us on a branding project, we’ll give you several logo concepts to react to before we refine and develop the final artwork for that logo design. Our process for branding, website design, and print pieces parallels this initial concept approval to final layout process. It’s a thing.

What does the design process look like?

Oh, it’s ugly! Lots of artistic teeth-gnashing and hand-wringing. But don’t worry, no one has cut off an ear yet. But seriously, it actually starts with your input and that creative brief we talked about. For larger projects, we follow a design process that includes brainstorming, research and gathering inspiration, and creating mood boards to set the direction of the project. We generally develop two or three concepts that we present to you for feedback. Depending on how many rounds of revision we’ve already agreed to (in writing—no surprises!), we refine the concept, develop copy, and produce a first draft layout for your approval. Based on your direction, additional or final revisions are made. Once final approval is given, we prep the file for print or web and generate the necessary final files. It’s like magic, only not.

How should I provide input/direction?

Ohh!! Feedback needs to be open (honest and direct), humble (art is subjective, design is intentional), and helpful (“I don’t like that shade of orange” is not helpful). We’re partners in this, so we value your feedback. That’s why we create drafts and initial concepts and even plan for revisions. Every project is reviewed by the Creative Director and your Account Manager to ensure the work aligns with your brand and meets your objectives. But no one hits the bull’s-eye every time. Sometimes people just see things differently. So when giving feedback, be direct, give details, cite examples (of what you like and don’t like), and tell us why. Asking us to move elements around on the page “just to try it” isn’t efficient feedback. So don’t be afraid to ask us for our rationale before you start rearranging things in your head. We’re happy to explain our choices. Then, together, we can make thoughtful decisions to get you to the outcome you’re looking for.

When reviewing a design, it might be helpful to ask yourself these five questions:

1. Does it grab your attention?

2. Does it relate to or reflect the target audience?

3. Is the concept aligned with the brand strategy?

4. Does it clearly convey the benefit to the end user?

5. Is there a clear call to action?