Going Over The Wall: What Marketing & Design Can Learn From Each Other

We are all marketers: strategists, innovators, brand managers, design managers, production managers, researchers, trend watchers, creative directors, designers—not to mention specialist consultants of every stripe. Some of us work inside corporations with their own brands; some of us work outside corporations (but inside our own mini-corporations). Some of us think corporate culture kills creativity, and some that it’s the foundation for everything we do. Both camps are right, some of the time.


Whatever our roles in this world of marketing, most of us have two significant things in common: We don’t have enough time (we enjoy telling each other that) and, we can’t help living in our own “mini-marketing” world. However long we’ve been in the business and however many hats we may claim to have worn, we can’t help becoming specialists. Specialization is good. It’s why brands developed in the first place! But the big breakthroughs come when we cross pollinate, when we make leaps of faith or of judgment – when someone decides to call a deodorant “Phoenix”, to call an ice cream “Cherry Garcia,” or to sell gourmet food on a truck.

So, back to the first commonality, the lack of time: “I don’t have time to reinvent how my team works!” Maybe we don’t need to look very far to raise our game. What if we just look over the cubicle walls? Then, maybe we would have time for small breakthroughs.

Let’s take two functions that can drift apart easily. The brand management/marketing team and the consultant design team. Let’s put our heads over the wall and steal some good ideas!

Here are three things that the design team can learn from the marketing team, in other words – three things the marketing team often does very well:

1. The marketing team understands consumers. And, they love them. Without consumers they don’t have a job (designers tend to forget this). Looking at it from this context will help you to see the brand from the right point of view. At Dragon Rouge we got the chance to create a value wine for one of the big box stores—we’re talking less than four bucks. This could have lead to a simple, “design low, sell low” approach, but the client actually gave us the chance to create a very exciting stand-alone brand that we are proud to talk about.

2. Marketing guys often use words expeditiously. Verbalize your design ideas more and write them down! You’ll be amazed how a design route gets stronger if you try and describe it to someone else without pictures! Aren’t we all in the business of communicating? Even assigning names to your design routes instead of numbers, forces you to clarify your thinking and put a stake in the ground.

3. Marketers are better at politics. They know that you need to sell an idea or a plan or a concept and that sometimes if your idea doesn’t come across as a team effort (or your boss’s idea) it’s not gonna fly. And the truth is – very few fully baked ideas really spring from one person’s mind. You’re kidding yourself if you really think that clever idea you had really came out of nowhere. Rolls needed Royce, Charles needed Ray, and clearly Jobs needed Ives.

Conversely, here are three things that the marketing team can learn from a good design team.

1. The design team likes to forget that the consumer has a role to play. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Sometimes it’s okay to follow your instinct. Steve Jobs, anyone? Try asking your team what they would do if it were their own brand. You’ll be surprised how some of them loosen up and get creative and how some limit themselves…

2. Visualize Your Ideas. They don’t own a monopoly on scissors, or on tearing images from magazines or dragging them from Pinterest. Sketch out the stages of the project schematically (PowerPoint draws nice boxes) and you’ll save a couple of hours and hundreds of bullet points.

3. Simplicity: designers are trained to edit. Think Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and his “less is more”, or Karl Lagerfeld with “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a Little Black Dress.” Let’s not forget Albert Einstein and, “Simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means.” We all know that Steve Jobs insisted that the iPhone have only one button. Wanna buy any RIM stock anyone? Sometimes putting together a thorough presentation means a one hundred and twenty page pptx deck, but many times it should only be ten!

While you’re thinking about walls, don’t forget to peek over at the account team, they know what really greases the wheels—and obviously the business development group knows who really creates growth—not to mention what we can learn from the HR department…

Marcus Hewitt is the chief creative officer at Dragon Rouge, an international brand consultancy with expertise in brand strategy, innovation and design. Our integrated network comprises a team of 350 professionals across seven locations. Marcus has been a frequent contributer for Package Design magazine, Shelf Impact/Packaging World, and BrandPackaging, among others as well as a frequent speaker on Macro Trends at The FUSE conference and HBA Global and AIGA.

* Ready to improve your design management skills? Don’t miss David Sherwin’s latest book Success by Design. *

From David Sherwin, the man that brought you the best selling Creative Workshop, here comes the business side of being creative! Success by Design is a reference for designers to remind themselves of best practices in the industry. Complex business advice and information is distilled into an easy-to-reference format that’s not meant to be read cover-to-cover, but to answer questions in the moment!

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