By Carl Da-Costa-Greaves
The thin CYAN line between marketing and design
I recently posed the question on a business forum to gauge individual feelings as to what the general consensus was from fellow marketers in regards to how much depth a marketer needs to go, if any, to truly understand and add value to the design process, for print and web campaigns. And vice versa; how much marketing knowledge should designers have in order to be conversant in marketing? OR do these two functions remain mutually exclusive?
The dialogue is below and contains interesting first hand information that some people may find useful.
Comments 1: “Marketers understand that design is always second to conversion … designers often don’t even understand conversion. I have seen many websites which would look fabulous framed and hung on a penthouse wall but are totally useless at selling the product or service they were designed for. Having said that a marketer with design flair is a rare breed and their design skills will squeeze that extra % of conversion”.
Comment 2: “I think it’s incredibly important… because you can’t expect designers to know anything about designing ads or sites to maximise either readability or conversion”.
Comment 3: “It is the marketer’s job to give the designer a good clear brief and let the designer get on with their job. Too many times I have seen designers struggle with woolly briefs or minds being changed. On such occasion the designer then has to overstep and do the marketing i.e. positioning and objectives”.
Comment 4: “I see a lot of very nice looking flyers come through my letter box. But the sales copy sucks. Rarely do I see good copy on these things. If I do, I keep it as a learning tool. I keep the bad ones too, to show clients how NOT to do it”.
Comment 5: “I’d expect GOOD designers to know at least something about selling and marketing. A design can look absolutely superb, but it can also ruin the effectiveness of sales copy and the selling ability of the design as a whole. At the same time, a superb looking design can be created which ticks all the right boxes and makes the copy work. If I use a professional designer I’d fully expect the headline to be large and attention grabbing, and I’d also expect the main selling points to visually stand out etc. In my opinion, this is what separates the professionals from the amateurs. I’d feel much more confident using a designer who knows why and how my sales copy works”.
Comment 6: “It depends on how you define ‘designer’. Too many people consider the website designer to be the one with the photoshop skills who comes up with the pretty layout. I’d argue that these are graphic designers. I consider a website designer to be the one who can pull together all the components of a website to create the finished product. This will include the content, programming, usability, accessibility, user experience, navigation, styling, imagery, testing and so on. I wouldn’t expect a marketer to understand how a CSS hover effect works or how to develop a shopping cart but I would expect them to listen to the designer on how best to implement their ideas”.
My injection to the debate at this point: “Marketers who take control of the value stream from auditing through to implementation of campaigns, by understanding the constraints and limitations of things like print/web design and SEO will, in my opinion, make an even greater impact. It would be good to get some opinions from designers on how they view marketing or whether the feeling is that the buck stops at the PC screen”??
Comment 7: “Experienced direct response marketers do not design any marketing on the basis of ‘opinions’ ‘gut feeling’ ‘looks’ etc. We design our marketing based on the results of previous tried, tested and proven techniques and then ruthlessly test and discard any non performing part of that marketing campaign. In website design there are a multitude of fundamental basics which if not applied will seriously affect conversion; I would name font type, font size, paragraph length, type colour and type background colour among these fundamentals. Get these fundamentals wrong and your wonderfully ‘designed’ website may look ‘pretty as a picture’ but to the visitor may be almost unreadable. However … because the vast majority of web designers and marketers do not split test … much of what is discussed here will fall on deaf ears. That is because we have long learned the awesome power of how small changes in font type/size etc., etc., can massively influence conversion, sales and profits. Asking those who do not have years of split testing experience to understand the points we make on design/conversion is akin to leading a donkey to water. Often very difficult and very frustrating”!
Comment 8: “I will still make the case that poor design is often a function of poor briefing. Because you are in the direct marketing industry and you require action, therefore your briefs are prescriptive and will tend to build on what you have done before. However, if the objective is just to raise awareness, interest or desire, then you need to brief the designer and let them get on with it. The big issue is that too many people who are involved with marketing do not understand communication models as they have had no formal training. On the other hand the majority of designers have been formally educated on how to grab peoples attention and get a message across”.
Comment 9: “I’ve got clients who write excellent design briefs, as a result I usually am there abouts on the first draft and pretty much done on the second. I do have one or two that think they know what they want then completely change it when its done! And (IMO) change it for the worse, I’m not complaining, as I still get paid, however, and its a big however, I’d rather they get good design and effective copy to do justice for their products/services. I get the feeling that lots of customers are out there, are like those that appear on “Property (Snakes and) Ladders. They are skint, they want to cut corners, they wouldn’t know great design if it bit them on their backside. Then there are those that think they are right all the time, those that won’t take advice no matter what, those that came up with an idea in a dream and the dream is a premonition to success, as their success was also shown in the same dream. Lastly there are those customers who research the topic, take advice, listen with an open mind and understand that spending a bit more and either take a slight hit with the profits, or more likely increase profits by doing something correctly creates that “WOW” factor that seals the deal instantly. With the above in mind, I’d love to guide my clients to a few articles, chapters in books or have evidence based guidance to help them on there way”.
Comment 10: “One of the problems with ‘briefing’ is that the client very often does not understand what it is they are trying to achieve. Typically the designer then offers the client a few website/advertising design options and the client picks the one that he thinks ‘looks best’. This is a ‘blind leading the blind’ format of marketing design. I have to take exception to your statement that “the majority of designers have been formally educated on how to grab peoples attention and get a message across” – not in my experience. You don’t get ‘formally trained’ in direct response skills you learn these skills in the cold hard world of putting your money where your opinion is ie., spending your own money on your own advertising for your own business or being paid by a client not for an advertising campaign that ‘builds awareness’ but on a campaign where you are paid by results ie., leads, sales or a combination”.
Comment 11: “Define designer? In any case it’s probably only the graphic designers who have formal qualifications. I can’t think of any recognised ‘website design’ qualification, there certainly aren’t any examinations in usability, accessibility and copywriting. There are courses in programming but that doesn’t qualify someone to create an effective site architecture and logical page structure. And I wouldn’t expect the marketers in question to understand these elements of design either”.
Comment 12: “Web designers and graphic designers are not the same. Lumping all designers into 1 pot and only giving examples to a single distinction is not quite fair, especially when the example you choose can built by anyone and there friends son. As for me i actually come from a graphic design background (an area I’m soon to go back into). I was taught from the beginning colour and font psychology, some areas that marketing may see as “conversion techniques”, however not every company as you think are worried about these “conversion techniques” not every piece of graphic design produced is done for sales. Look at a lot of tabloids today the most striking ads use high impact artwork/photography with small yet simple taglines, these are not trying to get sales by making the headlines bold, using verdana at 20pt or whatever. They work by simply creating a mood, leaving the reader with questions weather or not they realise it, this is the power designers have. Now back to the question.. How much knowledge should a marketing guy know about design?
They should understand the limitations of such platforms. Should they design? No. How much knowledge should a graphic/web guy know about marketing? TBH not that much, otherwise marketing people would not be needed, however they are needed. I myself will be using there services for my own company (mainly the web side). At the end of the day the best work will always be produced when both are involved”.
Comment 13: “I’m not as experienced with the direct marketing here as many others but I’ve recently kind of made the switch from making the marketing briefs, to doing the whole lot (design, code, copy writing etc). I’ve employed and worked with many designers over the years and even the best ones didn’t ever think about response. Just recently I’ve designed/written some leaflets for products and before I even started I was doing research on the best response methods. Compare this to another company we’ve been working with who got a freelance designer to produce a leaflet and they have come up with something all in 7pt point that strains the eye so badly, you throw it straight away, it looks pretty though! IMO it’s essential for a marketer to have a good knowledge of design and the ability to churn out concepts be that for print or the web”.
Comment 14: “In my view it would be the marketing company who gave the brief to the designer, and he/she meets that brief. If its not right, the brief wasn’t right. I’ll spend as much time as possible extracting specifics about the brief, otherwise it’ll bite me later. .”
My injection to the debate at this point: “Thanks to everyone for the replies. This has turned out to be a very interesting topic. One additional comment that I’d like to make is that we mustn’t forget; neither the design function nor the marketing process should ever take priority over the customers needs. They must always be working together towards the same goal. Also, when reading through this discussion, there is a clear separation between marketing and design, this comes across very strongly… why is this I wonder??? For me, marketing 101 is about moving to, or keeping your business activities within a marketing orientation, which means considering and appreciating ALL functions. And as any manager would, I think a marketer must cross the “division” of design and other disciplines to understand the process better, therefore achieving greater results. All that really matters is how you or your client is viewed as a business by the customer, and you return a profit. Once upon a time it used to be the scurry of activity to make sure the car park was brushed clean and the walls had been wiped down in preparation for the “client visit”. Now, our shop windows, so to speak, are available for all to see at the click of a button. This is why as a Marketer I advise to learn all you can about Design, Copywriting, SEO and SEM in order to manage the metaphorical Internet broom to ensure both you and clients have the tidiest step”.