Tag Archive for: advertising
I hear a lot of people today talk about “design process” and how it is being applied more frequently to more areas of business. I’ve had the luxury of working around some great designers for a long time and have long understood the benefits of “design thinking”. To follow is a piece I wrote for Jacksonville Magazine back in late 2008 that is more relevant than ever, so I thought I’d repost it.
Recently, while driving to work and listening to automotive executives getting scorched by Congress on satellite radio, I found myself shaking my head in astonishment at these embattled CEO’s. Like many, it wasn’t the “spectacle” of their treatment that shocked me, but the way these top-level leaders seemed plaintively disconnected with us ordinary folk-aka, their customers.
While there are no doubt many forces- economic, political and otherwise which have contributed to their troubles, at the root of it all seems to be a gaping hole in their understanding of the consumers who use their products. They’re not connected to us. We’re not connected to their brands. And that’s what I’d call, a “design problem”.
I’m not referencing the lack of aesthetic refinement of any particular American make or model. Perhaps to the surprise of some, great design isn’t just about looks or style. Nor is it an issue related specifically to engineering, price, performance or service following the sale. Rather, it’s about the cumulative nature of all of these qualities and how a company’s products and services make their customers “feel” over time.
Great design emerges from a specific kind of organizational “culture”. It is guided by a commitment to understanding your customers (and your “brand advocates”, including your internal team and supply chain), on a human level, so that you can connect with them there emotionally. It’s a problem-solving process that can be utilized in every facet of your business. And in today’s world, it is fast becoming not only a powerful competitive advantage for those all-too-familiar companies that clearly “get it” (Apple, Target, BMW), but a survival tool for those hoping to compete in a tumultuous new economy — a world where companies are increasingly being forced to choose between operating as standardized commodities, or class leaders. I’d theorize that the fact that American automakers occupy neither space distinctly or consistently is a potential source of their problems.
So, how can we utilize the power of design to its full potential in our businesses? A great way to start is simply understanding what design is and the methodology behind it. And don’t worry– you don’t have to be Steve Jobs or Michael Graves to do this.
While design was one of my responsibilities years ago, it rarely rose above my roles as a writer, marketer, strategist and generalist. But, I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside some great ones for many years, and so have come to understand their processes well. Whether you’re talking about industrial, environmental, graphic, interactive or experiential design or whether you’re referencing product development, marketing, branding or organizational attributes, the methodology remains wonderfully, consistently effective.
It is a process based on inquisition; exploration; anticipation; innovation and continual trial and refinement. It is focused obsessively on user-experience (i.e. What’s in it for the customer?). It’s about fostering positive emotional connections with users by focusing on the most sublime details (this is where professional designers are worth their weight in gold and where brands — some knowingly, some unwittingly — often make that choice between invariable “commodity” or “class leader”). Oh yes, and be forewarned: The design “process” never, ever “ends”, because time inherently presents us with new sets of problems to anticipate and resolve.
Many people fail to recognize design as this type of a problem-solving “tool”. They understand it only as one recent prospective client did, when in the course of attempting to pay our firm a compliment, noted our reputation as a creative agency, and said that we are great at making things, “pretty”.
“Pretty”?!! Please!!! Design isn’t about being “pretty”, “good-looking” or even “kinda cute”. Design is about criteria-based problem-solving. And only when a project’s criteria calls for “pretty”, will it be designed in such a way because form follows function.
This is where much public understanding of design tends to get lost.
You see, design is not art. Art is subjective, based on an artist’s personal expression. Design is objective, based on well-organized performance criteria.
Good design is not influenced by the designer’s personal feelings and is only beautiful when it works beautifully — when it effectively achieves what it is designed to achieve.
My iPod is a work of art. But, it works because it can hold a thousand songs in a smooth, elegant case about the size of a book of matches. Same thing with my iPhone. It’s sleek and beautiful and it’s a working computer that’s thinner than my wallet! These things make me feel good about my purchases of them, good about the Apple brand and thus more likely to purchase the next new gizmo Apple puts in front of me.
I trust the company because they provided me with great products and services that have translated into positive memorable experiences, over time. They’ve elevated their brand for me, to the point where I not only use their products loyally, I’ll pay more to get them, because I recognize the value they extend over the long run through the quality of their design. So often, so many companies waste so much money throwing more media dollars after bad brands, when they could have dedicated their budgets to creating stronger brands that require less marketing across the life of their products!
This is not say that good design has to cost more. Just look at Target. They’ve created a design-driven company, whose entire business model is, “great design for less!” Same with IKEA. Their commitment to design runs throughout their products, retail spaces, marketing efforts and no doubt, their entire internal structure.
Meanwhile, American automakers seem confused. They don’t understand their customers and they’ve admitted it. They say they can’t figure out if we want better gas mileage and lower prices; or more room and greater safety for ourselves, and our families.
Hey, how about both?!
If Steve Jobs can cram 1,000 songs into a gorgeous matchbook; if Target can give us haute couture for $19.99, then we know it can be accomplished! And if you want to make sure your brands transcend the competition in lasting, meaningful ways by connecting with us on an emotional, human level —– then by all means, leave the jets parked on your day trips.
Ultimately, not every company has to be a BMW, UPS, Apple, Starbucks, Disney, Samsung or any other of the many organizations that understand “design culture” and employ it throughout every aspect of their businesses. You can choose to utilize design methodology to attack any individual problem and integrate it to whatever level your personal business philosophy begets – or your customers demand.
Regardless of how you use it, here are some handy tips to help keep you “thinking” like a designer:
1. Define the problem: Gather all the criteria by gathering all the stakeholders. Design is a collaborative process. The more brains you involve in problem-solving, the more effective your solutions can potentially be, though someone should always clearly lead.
2. Put yourself in the place of your customer: It seems so obvious, yet is so easy to forget. You’ve got to intently focus on the user, at all times.
3. Inquire: Ask these important questions: What’s in it for the customer? What are their desires / needs / fears? How can I address these wants / needs or anxieties and foster positive emotional connections with users by answering these concerns? How do my products and services make people feel? How can I connect with them on a human level? (Hint: Use your gut).
4. Anticipate and Innovate: As we are fond of saying at Renaissance, “Think forward”. Anticipate change. Study consumer, cultural, media and technological trends and consider how your product or service might intersect with these shifts down the road.
5. No idea is a bad idea: Everyone has a creative gene, from the Creative Director right down to the mail room. Never be overly critical or dismissive of a new approach. Consider all ideas thoughtfully and respectfully.
6. Never be satisfied: Test your ideas, measure their results and never stop refining.
7. When in doubt, consult a professional.
If you elect not to integrate the principles of design into your organizational culture, it doesn’t mean that you’ll end up sweating in front of a microphone, getting flogged by an elected official. But if you do, I promise that your customers (and your people), will notice. They’ll feel that you care. They’ll stick by your class-leading company in up or down economies. And when they shake their heads, it won’t be because you are so woefully disconnected, but because you are so consistently, astonishingly good.
I recently came across an interesting discussion on Linkedin regarding effective graphic design. The original post was called, “Creating a Graphic Design Piece that Sells”. It was written by a person who was promoting a direct marketing firm. The article stated, “Here’s what all great pieces have in common: Use one dominant element per page; minimize typeface variety; utilize white space; use informational graphics where appropriate; and make the logo visible.”
My instinctive response was to question whether effective design could be reduced to a simple standardized formula? Isn’t all good design based on specific criteria?
No sooner than I had thought this, than another group member posted this reply: “This approach assumes that design is to be judged on some standard of design, independent of anything else. First comes an objective in regard to marketing materials. Marketing establishes an objective (or objectives) and develops a strategy to realize those objectives. Design not only does not perform independent of these things, but to be successful, it must assume that marketing did their job correctly and visually enable the strategy to effectively work, to realize the objectives. Good commercial design (i.e. graphic design) when done well is a measurement of how well marketing did their job.”
This designer’s thoughts were similar to my own, however I believe there’s even a little more to it. Criteria is the foundation of effective design and includes more than just objectives and strategy. It includes things like a thorough understanding of who your audience is, how they are unique, where they are, what they do and what their passions are. It includes understanding attributes, benefits, strengths and weaknesses of the brand. A study of com
petition, how to stand out… and much more. The designer should help contribute and synthesize all this in the design process.
I think more thought leaders (CEO’s, CMO’s, CTO’s), are recognizing the rich benefits of seamless collaboration between disciplines and “departments”. I believe it is critically important that marketers understand design methodology and that designers be actively engaged in criteria development from the start- not sitting and waiting for the next “order”. How can you achieve full creative potential with an assembly-line mentality? You can’t.
The same holds true for interaction between web designers, programmers, PR, strategists, media planners, writers, etc. Here at Renaissance we are about seamless collaboration. Our designers are intelligent, strategic thinkers who have a broad range of individual capabilities. And we use all of them to achieve the best results for our clients.
Many years ago, legendary ad man, William Bernbach had the vision to combine copywriters and art directors into two-person teams—they had commonly been in separate departments. So, why did we ever stop there? Fragmenting the brand internally will inherently, weaken it externally. The bottom line is that the more diversified skill sets you put on a problem from the onset, the better your chance of arriving at an effective solution. In my opinion, this is one “general” principle of design that if utilized uniformly, would allow us to say with conviction, “Here’s what all great pieces really have in common”.
The 2010 Winter Olympics are behind us and I for one am sad to see them go. There were so many compelling moments that defined the Vancouver Games for me, from snowboarder Shaun White’s incredible Double McTwist 1260 in the half-pipe (a trick only he can perform); to Apolo Ohno passing the Chinese team in the anchor lap of the 5000 meter short track relay to become the most decorated American in Winter Olympic history; to the final frantic seconds of regulation and overtime in the US–Canada gold medal hockey game. But nothing brought me to edge of my seat like Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller’s exhilarating performances in the men’s and women’s downhill.
What I love so much about all of our Olympic Athletes and find so well-exemplified in these two in this event, is their absolute understanding and embracement of a simple, but profound principle, one I believe creatives should never forget: That distinguishing achievement often requires more than talent and training; more than skill and desire; more than preparation or luck. It most often requires exceptional courage and a willingness to take extraordinary risks. And that’s not easy or natural for anyone.
Consider that when Vonn raced, in addition to a badly bruised leg, she also faced the pressures of a spectacular run by teammate Julia Mancuso, just moments earlier. Vonn was rattled. But rather than downplay the moment, Lindsey’s husband and coach, Thomas, who had just finished watching Mancuso’s blazing finish from his position at the bottom of the hill, radioed up to his wife, who was nervously fidgeting at the starting gate, specifically to confirm for her that Mancuso had just completed a “special run”; and to relate, “You’re going to have to be perfect to win.”
Vonn would later state that this simple, strategically calculated message from her husband allowed her to “focus on that challenge” and “let go of her fears”. She subsequently took the most aggressive lines all the way down the mountain, coming perilously close to wiping out at nearly every turn. The result: she beat Mancuso’s “sepcial run” by over a full half-second.
Likewise, ignoring treacherous course conditions resulting from warm weather and light snow, Bode Miller attacked the downhill course with reckless abandon to become the first American men’s skier to stand on the podium for that event since Tommy Moe, sixteen years ago. His bronze medal time was 1:54.40, only nine one-hundredths of a second behind gold medalist, Didier Defago, the smallest differential ever between gold and bronze in Olympic history. Said Miller of his and the American team’s performance: “We went after it. We weren’t scared. We were always aggressive.”
Of course, while a willingness to lay it all on the line can pay huge dividends as it did in both of these instances, it never guarantees success, and often sets the stage for spectacular failure. Later, attempting to go 5 for 5 in Olympic events in the slalom –the one event for which he had not won an Olympic medal– on a challenging course of sticky, wet snow that was proving difficult for many of the racers, Miller did not change his approach. The consequence: he ran into trouble almost right out of the gate. Said Miller, “It’s unfortunate to go out so early, but you have to take risks… and I did.”
I believe creatives from designers, to copywriters, to marketing strategists should take the same approach as Miller, Vonn and others and not allow themselves to be constrained by fear. I appreciate creatives who are willing to explore their most conceptual ideas, even if it results in more misses than hits. I know that doing so will give them their best chance to come up with something great, which is the only thing I ever want to present to a client.Great creative work must always take a point of view. It has to have “something to say” to be memorable. Remember that people respond to “different” and “unpredictable”. In this sense, “safe” is risky. The real problems begin when fear- the fear of mistakes, the fear of looking foolish, the fear that someone won’t “get” your idea, prevents you from saying anything at all.
I once heard Jeff Kling, ECD of Euro RSCG put it this way: “Screw-ups are tools of evolution. They help us survive.” There’s a lot of wisdom in that statement. Remember also that in the business of marketing and advertising, we’re not looking to connect with the 80% of people who may not “get”, like, or even care about our creative, but rather the 20% who do and are inspired to act upon it.
So the next time you’re faced with a daunting creative challenge (or business challenge, or life challenge), don’t allow yourself to become compromised by fear. Rather, recognize that most of life’s rewards do not come without risk; that we all fall down sometimes; and that even those instances leave us better prepared to make some truly extraordinary runs in the future.
If nothing else, we’ll put people on the edge of their seats. At least for marketers, that’s our job.
These are Chris Martin’s notes to himself and his bandmates, one of many such items posted on the walls, a whiteboard and even Martin’s studio piano (he scribbles on it in green marker).
How many new ideas or profound realizations arrive for many of us at unexpected moments? Insights that you just can’t afford to forget? What do you do? Grab a pencil and jot ‘em down, of course! Most designers I know keep idea/sketch books handy and I’ve got plenty of notebooks and post-it notes full of marketing, design, business and leadership lessons that I’ve either come to realize myself, or have picked up from others much wiser than me.
“The most powerful element in advertising is the truth”…
“Always have a point of view”…
“Make an emotional connection”…
“Don’t be afraid that a concept will go over your customers heads. If you assume they’re dumb, they may be smarter than you”…
“Safe is risky”…
“Advertising can’t create product advantages, only convey them”…
The “Mysteries” of Coldplay, revealed:
1. Albums must be no longer than 42 minutes, or 9 tracks.
2. Production must be amazing, rich, but with space, not overlayered, less tracks, more quality, groove and swing. Drums/rhythm are the most crucial thing to concentrate on; difference between “Bittersweet” and “Science of silence.” (A reference to The Verve and Richard Ashcroft solo)