Instead of marketing, you need a product designed for market

I want to talk about why I call myself a designer and not a marketer, and why that choice matters to me. And why the reasoning behind my choice should influence how every owner of a product or a service works.

“Marketing is the act of inventing the product. The effort of designing it. The craft of producing it. The art of pricing it. The technique of selling it.” — Seth Godin, Purple Cow.

I’ve gotten around to reading some classic marketing books and just last week I read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, from which I pulled the above quote.

And something really fell into place for me.

Even though the book was written way back in 2003 (yes, that’s pre-iPhone and pre-Facebook and god dammit we’re all getting old aren’t we) it contained reasoning that really drove home points I’ve been trying to make for some time. His words explained back to me exactly why we at Uppfatta call ourselves designers and not marketers or writers or communicators or some such, anymore. (Some say the truth lies in books and “some” are correct.)

Old-school marketing — 6 ft. under since 2002

Purple Cow paints a picture that you’ve seen painted many times over since 2003: old-school marketing (the mass marketing of the golden era of TV and newspapers) is dead. As in: not nearly as effective as it used to be. It was true in 2003, it is many times truer in 2018.

Hey, at least advertising makes cities colourful?

Seth Godin asks:

“If […] marketing is dead, what replaces it?”

and proceeds to answer:

“Design […] a market-centric design that builds the very success of the product’s marketing into the product itself.”

This is the central thesis I took with me from Purple Cow: the product is the marketing. If the product is in some way remarkable, you’ll be able to market it after it’s done or launched or whatever. And “to market it”, really means that you’re able to facilitate the spreading of the idea that the product stands for. The innovators and early adopters will tell others (they’re “sneezers” in Godin-speak), if the product is remarkable.

If it’s not, if it’s plain and dull and mainstream, then your only option is to advertise the shit out of it get someone to pay attention because, well, the product in and of itself is not worth attention. You need to scream to get it.

The world has no place anymore for brands, products and services that aren’t remarkable — that idea should be familiar to you and wholly uncontroversial. But let’s follow that idea down the line and explore the implications it should have for brands:

If the product or service is the marketing, then why do you need marketers?

Well, you don’t. You really don’t, if what those marketing people intend to do is take your finished product, service or offering, dress it up in a nice coat of paint and sell it for all your budget’s worth. That’s called advertising, and the old ways of advertising are quickly becoming irrelevant. Today, 90 % of “Digital Marketers” are doing “Digital Advertising”.

The other 10 % should have their Linkedin profiles say “Digital Marketing Designer” or something. Because in place of marketing, you need a product designed for market. Which means in place of marketers, you need people who can design for marketing.

“Wow, look, another black and white cow!” — No One, ever.

Why ‘marketing design’ really should be a thing

What do I mean by “design for marketing”? Who should be a “marketing designer”? I guess what I’m looking for is for people to be included in the design process who’ll ask questions such as:

  • What value do these features create for the user? Why should they feel passionately about it?
  • How will the idea of this product come across to our audience?
  • In what way should we talk about our features, inside and outside the product?
  • How can we craft strong marketing messages from findings in our research?
  • Is the story of this product or service easy and interesting enough for our audience to pass on?

These questions and ones like them are often posed today, but too late. I ask my clients such questions, but all too often the answer is lacking. It may turn out, for example, that a new feature is great and works like magic (as Apple would have put it), but completely impossible to communicate the value of. That’s a troubling find when it’s too late in the process to change anything. Earlier in the process, such a find becomes a gold mine of shit that needs to be done for the marketing-minded designer.

People speaking of your product to others, that’s marketing. Design for it.

Who can design for marketing, then?

Honestly, I think I can. And my colleagues. And many other people at agencies around the globe.

You need people who are great at helping brands come alive through products and services. People who can tell stories, craft a strategic message, produce great writing, visual design, film and audio. And you need them in the very thick of the product design process. That way the communicative aspect will be along for the ride. It will inform the whole design process.

No, you don’t e-mail the “marketers” or “branding people” once you’re about done. Don’t go to the marketing department or your agency when the product launch date is set, asking for “a great campaign to connect to the audience”. The product or service itself needs to be designed to connect to the audience. That’s why you need these people there for the first ideation meeting and for every strategic meeting thereafter. The marketing must be built into the product.

Marketers, step up to the design plate

Seth Godin again:

“If you’re a marketer who doesn’t know how to invent, design, influence, adapt, and ultimately discard products, then you’re no longer a marketer. You’re deadwood.”

Deadwood might be harsh, but he’s right. Project Managers and the like need to bring the marketers into the design process, turning them into marketing designers. And classic marketers — who used to craft messages and websites and campaigns around a finished product — need to step up their game and be ready to join in on the design process.

This way of defining our role for our clients puts a ton of new responsibilities on us.

Ever since we here at Uppfatta decided we weren’t writers or marketers but rather designers, I have constantly been learning new stuff. Because yes, this way of defining our role for our clients puts a ton of new responsibilities on us.

I don’t need to be a developer — but I need to understand development. In the same way, I need to understand business, project management, UI, sales, and so on and so forth. If I want to sit in and bring the communicative aspect to these design meetings, if I want my voice heard when my client decides on her business strategy for the next year, I have to understand these things. I have to be able to view the business and the brand holistically. Otherwise: Why would she listen to me?

It’s been completely worth it. We have this one client who usually, like most clients, hails us on Slack to say he’s getting some new products ready (he has some 40 or 50 in his catalogue) and wants us to write copy for them. But just recently, he actually asked us to come up with new product ideas instead. He knew we had such insight into the brand, its market, the business strategy and last but not least its customers. He trusted us to come up with great ideas for products designed for market.

This small example illustrates the pivot I believe most agencies need to perform and likewise the change needed at those early strategic meetings at the offices of product and service owners.

15 years after Purple Cow, there’s still too much marketing going on and too little designing for market. Let’s change that.

Thanks for reading! I would love a comment from you regarding the whole “marketing design” thing — do you agree? Find more great stories on branding, strategy and language, on our publication.