Jeni Sez: Corporate Competition Continued

By Jeni Herberger

A few weeks ago we discussed the benefits of corporate competition and how it is that in-house creative teams can learn from agencies. It started out something like this: Corporate creative teams and agencies can learn so much from each other. In-house corporate teams kick ass in their abilities to live a brand, knowing the ins and outs of a particular product or service. Agencies are good with process, promotion and keeping current with trends. All – not some, of these traits are necessary in the production of visual communications and business solutions. This week let’s discuss what it is agencies can learn from the methods of their corporate counterparts.

In-house teams offer up the most necessary element in visual communications – knowledge of the brand. They have the unique opportunity to walk, talk and live the brand. By being immersed in the brand, corporate designers can create visual strategies that have more perspective and more possibility than their counterparts. Corporate design teams get to walk the halls and breath the air of their brand. Take for example Starbucks where design managers are required to work as baristas for a day or Mattel where the design team members are encouraged to play with toys!

If not already in place, this is an idea that in-house design teams can and should implement. Design agencies can also benefit from this idea of immersion with their clients and should look for ways to emulate this method. If you work for or with a university, become familiar with the bigger departments and their vision, eat in the food courts observing the students, go to a sporting event, etc. If you work for an insurance company, look for ways to experience the claims process and become involved in company-sponsored community outreach programs. The possibilities are endless and every connection made with the inter-workings of the client expands the understanding designers have of how to best create compelling communication pieces and campaigns.

The challenge for in-house designers is to keep a fresh perspective on the brand. Being a part of the discussion from the earliest moments is critical to gaining a 360-degree perspective. Too often corporate designers fall into the role of order taker becoming increasingly frustrated that they are not working on the “sexy” projects. When you realize that designers are the last stop before a product or service is taken to market, it becomes critical that the brand and the business are completely understood.

Look at it this way, every design firm has internal promotions and branding initiatives where the teams come together, discuss the vision of the firm, the overall client experience and the strategy for excelling in business. Doesn’t that mean that every design firm also functions as an internal team for themselves? When you look at it this way, corporate design teams and external design firms really shouldn’t function differently and can learn so much from each other in operating for the greater good of their clients.

I said it before and I’ll say it again, every client, whether internal or external, is looking to further their brand recognition and see a return on their investment from marketing campaigns, visual communications and product design. Design is about solving problems, big or small. Providing a client with successful solutions is the core of what makes for a good designer and a good design team.

©2010, Jeni Herberger

2 thoughts on “Jeni Sez: Corporate Competition Continued

  1. Andy

    In-house designers surely have the advantage of living the brand- i work for an upscale grocery store and our “immersion” program goes like this: Once your hired you spend a week in the store, each day working in different departments. Then during the holidays the corporate offices folks also spend a day or two in the stores working as well just to keep up that connection.

    We all look forward to getting out of the office and into the stores and interacting with store support and costumers- basically free focus groups. It’s also a lot of fun to see the surprises on customer’s faces when they find out the the person who worked on designing a catalog or packaging in the store is the same person bagging their groceries. Never gets old.

    I also like the idea of in-house operating more like agencies- any books or resources to help map that out for departments that don’t have a plan yet?

  2. Jeni Herberger

    Immersion is such an important part of learning. Educators have been promoting its benefits for years! I’m glad to hear your company as a whole involves employees in the workings of the company.

    Have you read my other posts here and at my site ( I write and speak often on the subject of corporate design teams working as agencies. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of resources here as the idea is new (often the obvious is over-looked)!

    Thanks for your comment, Andy. Contact me if you interested in dialoging more about this!