Does Marketing really believe great design is FREE?

I have been in marketing for many, many years and it is not often that I feel a sense of embarrassment about the function I love but there is one area where I feel it most acutely. In most cases I would just brush it off and think of the saying “it’s like water off a duck’s back” and just not let it bother me. But in this case, it is just too important.

It concerns design. I am a great fan of Brian Solis and I think his book “What’s the Future of Business” is a terrific guide to marketers and a great foundation for really understanding the role and power of marketing when done well. He recently followed up this book with the launch of “X: The Experience Where Business Meets Design”. He places design right at the epicentre of great marketing. In the introduction to his book, he states “X explores why great products are no longer good enough to win with customers and why creative marketing and delightful customer service too are not enough to succeed. Brian shares why the future of business is experiential and how to create and cultivate meaningful experiences.”

In summary, how you design the customer experience is how you can differentiate your brand in the mind of the customer. Great design enables your brand to emotionally connect with the customer, whether it be in the digital world or in a retail store.

So how does this relate to this post? Well, I am a member of the leadership team at LeanPie. We are a supply chain solution that helps retailers and brands improve how they both design and source retail fixtures and permanent Point of Purchase materials. We achieve this by enabling them to find the best providers for each stage of the supply chain from DESIGN (Art) to SOURCING (Science) to INSTALLATION (Execution). These stages require a fundamentally different set of skills.

At the current time, the market is characterised by POP suppliers who offer a one-stop shop to marketing teams. To help establish a relationship they offer up their design services for FREE. Yes, the design is completely free of charge ……. or is it? Anyone who has run a business will know that you don’t get anything for free. Of course there is a cost to the supplier but rather than charging just for the hours used, they build a nice hefty margin into the manufacturing cost. This is not broken out in their proposal, it is there, it just so happens it is hidden. On top of this, if you ask five suppliers for FREE concepts, then they all invest resources in design. If you don’t go ahead with four of the suppliers, they still have to recoup those investments, which will probably be in the next order that you place with them. So you not only pay more for design but you could end up paying for it 5 times over.

BUT this is not actually what frustrates me. It is the lack of value and importance that marketing apply to design. This idea that it is really not worth paying for. Can you really believe that your brand is worth so little that you are not going to invest even a fraction of your budget in generating great design?

OK, so let’s look at this another way. If you truly want to differentiate your brand in-store and create a compelling and immersive experience for your customer who would you ask to create the design? A designer who works for a manufacturer, where to be honest the focus is on creating pretty concepts or do you want to engage with a design agency that really understands and are experts in shopper marketing?

Unless marketing wake up to the importance of design and its role in creating outstanding customer experiences, then the quality of shopper marketing activities will continue to under deliver on the opportunity that is available. Let’s hope we have some entrepreneurial marketing leaders out there who can see the significant opportunity that lies in front of them and are willing to transform how they do business for the benefit of themselves, their brand, their company and most importantly of all their customers.

Please feel free to contact David Newberry directly at