Marketing and Design: A Love Hate Relationship

The best advertising is a clean, simple idea that is beautifully executed. But what the best ads will not tend to reflect are the back-room battles that go into making your average ad or campaign. At the heart of the turmoil is arguably the frisson that tends to exist between marketers and designers. While marketers have tangible, measurable objectives, designers often have ‘visions’. This disparity between ways of working, thinking and existing will inevitably lead to tension. A happy medium of compromise can usually be reached to achieve the final product – but usually not without the odd diva tantrum, showdown or (at the very least) passive aggressive email. We look at this classic love/hate relationship in more detail. Examining where the tension comes from and what can be done to diffuse it…

The role of the marketer

Marketing is all about working within specific constraints, which can be financial, time-related and resource-dependant. Marketers also tend to limit the scope of their briefs so that specific demographics are targeted without too much ‘wastage’. The science of marketing tends to be grounded in research and works towards a measurable goal, which is usually economic. Essentially it’s a rigorously structured framework geared towards delivering results via a positive customer experience.

The role of the designer

The job of creating that customer experience falls to the designer. They are limited by the same constraints as the marketer. However, comparatively they will be less tuned in to the tangible results of a campaign and more interested in aesthetics. The best designers will include themselves in consumer research; in their pursuit of the aesthetic they should always keep their focus on meeting the needs and expectations of their audience.

Within an agency…

In an agency context the marketer will tend to be the direct point of contact for a client. As such, should a client demand changes to design work (after all, the customer is always right), it will be the marketer who passes these change requests along to the designer. The phrase ‘shooting the messenger’ can be painfully relevant in situations like this. Changes are sometimes not well-received by designers, but on the flip side change requests can be poorly communicated by marketers. Welcome to the perfect storm.

Lost in translation

Amends are usually the kindling that can result in blazing rows between marketers and designers, especially if they are not well-communicated. Marketers can often make the assumption that designers are blinkered by creativity and lack of practicality. While designers can resist amends on the grounds that the amends in question compromise the quality of the work they have produced. Flexibility and justification are required by both parties, as well as debate. As a word of warning though, teams should try to structure discussions about amends in a way that ensures they don’t stray into unproductive stalemates. Having a neutral arbitrator can be a sensible idea.

The back and forth

It’s wrong to suggest that the working process between marketers and designers has to flow from the former to the latter in a linear fashion. Less linear, hierarchical structures can often lead to the best results. Indeed, design can often inspire marketing rather than simply take direction from them and a designer’s freer way of thinking can unearth alternative ways of meeting a target. Rather than thinking of design and marketing as yin and yang, it’s more constructive to consider that both are focused – or should be focused – on understanding the user consumer they are targeting.

Celebrate differences

As well as recognising that design and marketing inevitably share a common goal, a positive way to look at their working relationship is to celebrate their differences. Some experts argue that if you want to keep design fresh, unrestrained and creative you should unshackle it and isolate it from the rigors of the marketing bods. It’s good to ensure designers are clued-up when it comes to market research but going too far down this path with undermine the specific skills of both specialties.

Five ideas for improving the way designers and marketers work together:

  1. There is an enormous amount of value to be mined from both disciplines bringing their points of view and expertise to the table at the start of a project.
  2. Ensure all feedback and amends are well-documented and not passed along in a way that is casual or open to misunderstanding. It may feel over the top, but should arguments arise it’s good to be able to look back at the dialogue that’s led to them.
  3. Streamline feedback to ensure the process is as pain-free and efficient as possible.
  4. Justify all feedback with tangible learnings, examples and precedents where possible.
  5. Enable both parties to play to their strengths and celebrate different points of view as integral to the finished results.