Minal meets Dani McFerran, Done & Dusted Design
Starting any type of business is hard. There’s so much to think about. One of the things any business needs to get right is its brand.
If you’ve launched a luxury brand, or are about to, settle in as I discuss everything you need to consider with Dani McFerran. Dani is the founder of Done & Dusted Design. She and her team have worked with countless luxury brands with great success.
Minal: Tell me a bit about your business. What do you specialise in?
Dani: We work with clients worldwide and help in brand design, strategy, luxury packaging and positioning, websites, apps, UX and UI – everything a client would require design-wise to have maximum impact in their industry.
Our main focus is branding and positioning, especially for the luxury market, which is where we started from and have built from that – opening a second office in New York and then a third satellite office in Dubai UAE.
Minal: When and why did you start your business?
Dani: Well, I started Done and Dusted Design right in the middle of a very volatile economic period! Everyone around me thought I was mad. They said: you’re leaving a great job as design manager in Allen & Overy, the 5th largest law firm in the world where you have job security and great design opportunities across their 48 offices… to go out on your own?!
But yes, after working many years at Ireland’s top design company, moving to London with Allen & Overy felt great. But after a while, I knew I wanted to do something much more meaningful. I knew I had to start something that was more about honest connection. I felt the big design studios I grew up admiring and following for inspiration weren’t serving all their clients as if they were their best.
I wanted to create a design team where the client was a vital component, the nucleus as it were, and not simply a cash cow. I created a design methodology that felt transparent and inclusive and thankfully that’s been working well – we just celebrated 10 years in business!
Let’s talk luxury brands
Minal: I know you work with a lot of luxury brands. What’s the reason they come to you in the first place?
Dani: We mainly operate from referrals – which has been the backbone of my business. Always overdeliver, make sure the client never receives an invoice they aren’t expecting, and actively encourage all members of the team to present, collaborate and advance the design project with their unique creativity.
I believe with this mindset we are uniquely positioned to help clients in an honest, open and energetic team that has the ability to translate where a client wants to be – primarily in the luxury goods market – and speak the design language to get them there.
We have worked with clients and helped them get into Selfridges, Harrods, Fortnum and Mason, and Dubai Mall. That has attracted other start-ups and brands who want to reinvigorate their brand and position themselves as leaders in the marketplace.
As such, we have won 4 international MUSE awards for luxury branding and packaging.
Minal: You like to help people figure out their story. How do you approach this?
Dani: We have a questionnaire that I designed many years ago – and continue to update – that helps clients really start to unpack where they are, where they want to be and what hurdles they see before them.
Once got all this down on paper, I have a 1:1 and have a very personal call or meeting with them to run through the answers, and question some of their responses.
Quite often a business owner doesn’t think they have a unique story! That’s until they speak with me and we really delve into the whys, why nots, how comes and where tos! Quite often it’s what is not said that is revealing as much as what is being spoken about.
Minal: When it comes to luxury products, people might think that all that’s needed is a luxurious look and feel. Is that really all it takes?
Dani: Luxury is a state of mind. It’s peace, freedom, and stress-free living. How do you make that inherent in your brand/product or service?
That’s where we come in. It’s telling your unique story and building that brand into something worth telling. The ingredients really do need to be luxurious. The whole experience of the brand, product and service has to be completely above what people would class as ordinary.
So having a “nice” logo isn’t enough. It’s the words you use in your tone of voice, the textures of the packaging, the imagery on your website, the use of personalising the brand experience in your email discourse – all of it combines to make this a luxury experience.
Minal: Many of the brands you work with want to get stocked in the likes of Harrods or Selfridges. How do you help make that happen?
Dani: A lot of that is compiling a really excellent presentation. If a buyer tells you that you have 15 mins, you really have a max of 8. 5 minutes to present and 3 to answer questions. So you really want to get those slides really succinct from the get-go. Grab their attention whilst also demonstrating that you really know your market inside and out.
Minal: How do you help business owners stay true to their brand when they are pitching to stockists?
Dani: You can’t afford any BS here. You have to know your numbers and be able to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of sales, projected sales, future market potentials and areas of concern. That and get them ready to present – this is crucial – be memorable but not intrusive!
Big business vs. small business
Minal: You work with start-ups and big businesses. Is there a difference in how each should approach their brand?
Dani: That is a brilliant question! In my experience, smaller companies, especially start-ups, have the unique ability to fail fast, learn from it and build better.
Larger companies who have been in business longer – and have the lives of more staff to consider – have a much harder time doing this.
Repositioning, for example, is much harder for a company of some 25 years than a company of 2 years realising that Product B is selling better than Product A and so must make that fundamental shift in marketing and targeted sales.
If you are starting out, the key thing to do is market research. Follow who is succeeding, who you emulate, who you admire and mirror their efforts. I do not mean copying but following in their footsteps with your own identity and personality if something gains traction that you weren’t prepared for, great! We have a saying at Done & Dusted Design: ReGroup, ReFrame, ReFocus©. I encourage our clients to do this quarterly. We also have brand strategy plans based on this for annual brand development.
When you look at what’s working and what’s not, don’t be afraid to change direction, or in the words of Ross from Friends: PIVOT! You are not what your brand is, it’s what your customers say it is! In other words, get yourself out of the kitchen!
Let your customers inform you what they want and how they want it. Answer their needs with a genuine product and service that targets their unique pain point and do that with genuine sincerity and devotion, and you have a brilliant brand with a loyal fan base.
I say this all the time: Your brand is not what you say it is. Your brand is the conversation about you when you’re not in the room. Therefore, make sure every part of how to engage with your customer is 10 out of 10.
Larger businesses actually have a great resource that start-ups don’t have but often are very unaware and sometimes reluctant to utilise it. Their current customers! It seems so obvious yet so alien.
Engaging with your current customers to ask: What are we doing right? How can we improve? What would you like to see us do better? Even this simple exercise in a newsletter lets customers see you are human, you seem to genuinely care and you are taking on their viewpoints to improve service – that’s a win: win!
Quite often larger companies don’t want to talk to their customers as they don’t want to come across as if they are not doing well in business and think that by talking openly they will lose business. In my experience, the exact opposite happens.
When businesses engage with their loyal customers, and ask how can they serve them better, they get an overwhelmingly positive response. Customers like to be involved! It’s why we made the client an essential part of the D&DD Design Methodology!
Also to add is that larger companies have a larger turnover and so have a much bigger budget for brand communication which is essential in delivering a successful marketing campaign
Minal: You’ve been called “The Brand Whisperer” by some of your clients. A very high accolade. What’s the proudest moment in your business?
Dani: The proudest moment? To be honest, I take delight in really small moments. The awards we have won have been amazing but helping one woman sell her products to Tesco simply by listening to her personal story and just requiring a label for her antipasti. She was so amazing; she was literally in a foreign country selling Sicilian antipasti in Ireland. She came to us for a label and we designed her a legacy – all from listening to her personal story and developing a way of engaging with her audience in a modern way but following the teachings of her grandmother. That was such a moving moment.
Minal: What are your top three tips when it comes to creating a luxury brand?
Dani: Can I have more than three?
- Create something truly special – unique, and in my opinion, with a lot of true heartfelt emotion.
- Engage with a designer/team who knows how to design luxury packaging/branding with proven results!
- Make sure you know every ingredient and that it’s worth the “luxury” label. If one minutia of your product is cheap and nasty and you’re trying to pass it off as high-end, you’ll last 5 seconds.
- Know your numbers!
- Aim high! Work with the right design team and go into your dream retailer with all your ducks in order. Offer them exclusivity but be willing to walk away if they are asking you to go well below your profit margins.