Why Designers need to be Marketers

I came across a great article today titled, "Why We're All Designers", by Laura Weiss which discussed the importance of design as a big part of MBA's next job.

It covers some very interesting points on the design process and in how important it is with the engagement of the public eye. Value propositions can be easy to quantify by numbers, experiences and professional associations who we recognize and have certain expectations but everyone regardless still needs an understanding of communication by design.

The general public is still pretty visual and it's very shortsighted to think that only the lowest common denominator relates to visual communication. It's very important to understand that most businesses cannot afford to be trained or hire individuals with degrees in marketing or even business administration. Schools and Universities train thousands and thousands of business and marketing people, but only a small percentage of them get hired to work within their education parameters.

One of the key lessons I consistently teach my students is how important a designer fits in a marketing communication strategy. However if there is to be any value attached to the work they do, it must show that they are not just meeting a client's superficial expectation, but also meeting the marketing objectives of the client's needs.

Many designers are guilty of creating aesthetically pleasing work without regards to whether or not it meets any marketing objective. Having a big idea is much different than understanding the big picture. Identifying the target demographics, the value propositions/return on marketing investments, the logistics, competitive advantages, etc... are some of the many lessons that I cover in my Marketing Communication class. But I teach them more than just how to become 'marketers', rather I teach them to learn how to use their work to translate the messages of their clients into messages that the public relate to and understand. My student's work become less motivated by looking good but become better examples of looking successful.

In recent assignments, my students also demonstrated the importance of going beyond the process of their design, to successfully market their ideas by their own manual intervention via social media channels and not just by relying on the traditional medias to carry their message after they have been handed the design. By carefully identifying key markets and medias, but also identifying influencers that matter, they were able to spread their messages by transmitting their ideas to a much larger reach than they would have by the traditional means.

Designers have to be more than computer jockeys that are good at operating design software to create their client's advertising message. They are more likely to convince a small or even medium sized business to use their services than an MBA graduate. Designers have a great opportunity to show value in their services by demonstrating that they are more concerned about the big picture rather than just the big idea.  As an example, by being metrics driven, designers can show just how much they really understand the target audience's response to the work they produce. They are less motivated by the delivery of the product, but more concerned about the performance of their service.

In past years, many marketing professionals have hired designers to do their bidding, but even in those scenarios, when a designer has an understanding of marketing, they offer the marketer complimentary skills, but also a better integration of the two skill sets when they both understand each other. Beyond that, all visual based vendors and not just designers, have the opportunity to change the perception by businesses by adding the value proposition of their marketing understanding.

As a simple case example: A small/medium sized business identifies their need to market themselves. There's several ways they can go about this:

  1. They can contact a specific media vendor and have them create in-house, deliver and distribute a message for them.
  2. They can contact a designer to create the message and choose the media for which it will be distributed.
  3. They can contact a business/marketing consultant who will create a marketing strategy, then hire a designer, and then select the media vendor who will deliver the designed message.
Each one has their advantages and disadvantages:
  1. Advantage: Direct to the media and no middle designers/consultants. Disadvantage: There is no guarantee if this is the right media to advertise in or that it reaches the right target audience. In-house designs are often very quick, basic and sometimes very budget driven.
  2. Advantage: Knows how to deliver meaningful messages and maximizes media choices. Generally speaking the media chosen based on experience of the designers will be appropriate. Understands what visual cues that people will recognize and identify with. Disadvantage: Most designers tend to lean towards delivering product rather than service. Once the materials/message is created and delivered they feel the job is completed. Their services can be both affordable and expensive which is both advantageous and not, but still generally more expensive than direct to media.
  3. Advantage: Offers market knowledge and clear understanding of marketing objectives. Knows which medias offer the best value for the client's budget. Customer service driven. Metrics and performance driven which show value in their services. Disadvantage: Generally has less understanding of what visual triggers that a target audience will respond to without at least conducting expensive research or focus groups. Typically will hire designers independent of the media vendors they use which also adds additional costs to the entire marketing objective. Mistakes can be very costly and potentially ruin an annual marketing program.

Obviously it is always cheaper to deal with a direct vendor, but if a business needs to choose some sort of middle consultant to design and produce marketing materials, this is where the opportunity for designers to become a more appealing option when they also offer similar understanding as a marketing consultant.

Designers don't need to become pure marketers or have a degree in marketing (that's not what I try to teach my students), but by understanding where and when their designs are to be used in the market place is far more important than what their designs are about. By being a part of the bigger picture rather than just a big idea, the future designers have an opportunity to not only be the go-to-person for marketing requests by businesses, but potentially be the expertise that smaller business cannot afford in a marketing consultant.