Isn’t marketing an overlap of business and design ?

Early indicators or a rough straw poll, you could say, tell me that what I have to say in this post could lead to a vociferous debate. However, the more I have been thinking about the subject, the more I’m convinced I could make an argument for marketing as a discipline possibly being an overlap of business and design.

Before going any further, I am referring to the conventional wisdom of associating the word business with such left brain attributes as spreadsheets, metrics, numbers, ROI and targets. And design as a loose term covering the right brain attributes of creativity, innovation, empathy, being user centered et al.

There has been much discussion, dissension and debate on the overlap of business and design – we even had an unconference on it – but as yet, imho, there has been a dearth of clarity on the subject or even clearcut examples of what integrating these two disciplines, in a whole brain way, implies. Reading writers such as Seth Godin and bloggers like Hugh McLeod, particularly their posts in the recent past, got me thinking about the subject.

Why marketing in particular?

Lets break it down logically, Mr. Spock. When we develop and implement a marketing strategy for a particular product, service or company, there have always been two components to it.

The first component is the creative aspect – everything from the ‘breakthrough’ idea that formulates the advertising campaign, the marketing collateral, the brand identity, the communication strategy upto and including the design of said service or product.

The second component is the strategic or business aspect – whom do we wish to reach, how do we reach them, how much will it cost to reach them, what would be the return on our investment [sales] as well as questions like is there a large enough revenue potential in the first place to encourage our entry into said market or spend money on a new campaign to encourage more sales.

As we can see, once we break the various aspects of the corporate marketing function down into its component parts, a pattern emerges. While the proportion of the "creative" aspect vs. the "business" aspect may differ based on the individual circumstances, it seems to me that marketing is an excellent example of where business and design meet.

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2 Responses to Isn’t marketing an overlap of business and design ?

  1. Rob says:

    I think that design definitely fits closely with marketing, but I see it as more of an underutilized tool to help the marketing department understand their customers better and make appropriate products. To me, design seems to be sandwiched between a few groups such as marketing (understanding customers), sales (contacting customers), and R&D (prototyping, ergonomics). It can be used as a vocabulary between those groups. Obviously, marketing also makes projections and helps upper management determine which products or markets to pursue — that’s the more analytical part.
    It’s important to remember that marketing isn’t a one way street. To be effective, marketing needs to listen to customers, not just advertise. The question is how marketing best listens — what I’ve seen has been mostly surveys with a very little bit of “beta testing” with prototypes (followed by surveys). Ethnography and rapid prototyping are new tools brought by design.

  2. niti bhan says:

    Rob,
    I’d say marketing is a form of design or you can design an effective marketing strategy, applying the principles of user centered design. In your last paragraph you say that marketing needs to listen to customers, in UCD we say, we need to observe our customers, then communicate with them – not just advertise our widgets. Or as niblettes would say, supply side economics pushing the widget that is already manufactured, rather than manufacturing a widget that the user needs. Pull marketing or user centric marketing vs. push marketing or “any colour as long as its black”. I don’t see design as a seperate function anymore, particularly where you note it ‘needs to be sandwiched’ – anyone can pick up the basic process or approach, if one is not expected to create a final ‘form’ or ‘visual manifestation’ then one can still effectively use the tools of design to create effective organisations, strategies and processes to run a profitable organisation. what do you think?

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