Does your Design deliver?

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Does your Design deliver

In the marketing world, very often “graphic design” and “Design” are used interchangeably. The reason is quite simple – “graphic design” is one of the most visible faces of marketing, thru packaging, online, offline, etc. As a result, anyone driving his marketing operations from the commercial hub of any city, would come across numerous “Design” houses, offering everything in the name of “Design” solutions. What they actually deliver is just “graphic design” solution.

A few days ago, I was looking for a Design house to develop a new packaging for a cosmetics client. I met at least three “Design Boutiques”. My initial discussions revealed that they are just graphic design houses, offering Mac iterations / experimentations on some forms of random concepts. They pitched in by adding how their solutions “would attract various age groups, be easy to produce” etc. The whole rigueur of concept development behind Design was completely missing!

The core problem lies in our basic understanding of Design as a function, which continues to be limited. In our society, perhaps the word “Design” has been commoditized to a large extent. Design has become more of hype, and less of an enabler. It has also become an easy vehicle for newbie practitioners to make a quick buck early in career. And if those early rewards are handsome too, we have yet another bright talent losing an opportunity to carry forward the responsibility of Design.

Majority of the creative practitioners perhaps ignore the “accountability” part of Design. Hence while we have an explosion of “Designs” in our daily lives, we fail to see how yet another Design helps us more – even in terms of art or aesthetics. How many times we see “Design” playing a key / driving role in the creation of or aiding to the brand / product concept – esp. among smaller local brands?

At its core, Design is supposed to solve a problem, set in motion a certain feeling about the product or brand among its users, and be overall, simple in its every manifestation. Some good examples are Ikea, Ideo, Apple, etc. (in products) and Amazon, Google, etc. (in user experiences).

And in its ability to solve a problem, the practice “Design” has evolved into an independent faculty of “Design Thinking” – which, simply put, is the application of Designers’ orientation and approach to management processes. More and more societies and economies are utilizing this faculty to solve behavioral problems – be it on social, academic or even commercial levels.

Considering the deluge of designs and designers alike, I feel it’s the right opportunity for communication practitioners to re-look at our craft through the eyes of Design thinkers and solve the “perception” problems associated with our brands. Doing so would eventually develop newer attitudes and behaviors, which would in turn help our brands to be more meaningful to their adopters. It would also do well to liberate our static and limited consciousness associated with Design, into something more divergent and powerful.

Design can differentiate, not by creating yet another set of graphic elements or visual identity or even a new campaign, but perhaps by giving a solution to the needs and wants of consumers.

The Simple Art of Solving Problems

The famed inventor and the head of research for GM, Charles Kettering, once said “a problem well-stated is half-solved.” How many of us in the marketing / media / communications industry really care to heed this simple observation?Question words

We often come across many professionals, who are quite kind and quick enough to suggest solutions first. These could be as simple as from generating awareness, to as complex as kick-starting a growth for the brand through revenue generation. Most probably, the simple logic is that unless you’re able to offer solutions, nobody listens or respects you. Or sometimes, it could even be motivated by a wish to explore free-of-cost ideas from media / advertising / creative professionals.

The solutions in most of these cases, arguably, are driven by new business development objectives of the idea proposer, which justifies his time costs. While all this may continue, the whole process itself is a bit flawed! It fails to heed the rigour and vigour that characterize the Art of Defining the Problem.

A typical Case…

One of my prospective clients – then the national marketing head of a famous insurance brand – once called in the senior team members for a briefing. The one line brief was to launch an image campaign on TV within 3 months.

Naturally, asked about the need for such a campaign, and why TV only! What was the business / marketing problem he was facing? It turned out that his half-yearly accounts closing was round the corner, yet he was still far off from the target, in generating new buyers.

So far so good! But why did he think an image campaign on TV would accelerate sales? Because, he felt that a top of mind recall on a mass media like satellite TV will help in driving sales.

Now, insurance is a high involvement category. It’s usually is a matter of solicitation, and for this to happen, one really needs to work deeper, develop “assurance” values of the brand. It cannot (and should not) be treated like a toothpaste or a snacks brand, where top-of-mind recall at the shop level gains high priority.

Therefore we tried probing further, asking questions about its hero products, competitive advantages / disadvantages, the process of selling / mobilizing them through various channels, the core values of the brand and and above all its differentiator in the market. As expected, the director did not have the time (or most probably the necessary patience) for delving deeper into this.

Back in our office, on careful in-depth analysis, we discovered that in the past, the brand had experimented with every type of approach, to develop assurances of dependability. However, one or the other competitor was able to neutralize each of these approaches! As a result there was no specific differentiator available for the brand!

So the communication problem was clearly defined as a case of gradual loss of Identity within insurance category!

Once defined, the solution approach was very easy – i.e. developing a strong differentiator founded upon the core values of the brand, which would transcend competition, time, market forces, and would be very unique for the brand. Needless to add, when we presented our strategy, our esteemed client could not find any way to challenge our direction.

The Take Out

It’s a fact that while every advertising problem starts as a business problem, not every business problem ends up with an advertising solution. Therefore for any marketing or advertising to be truly doing its job, it’s very important to dedicate some time and energies into the first step of Strategy Development – i.e. Defining the Business Problem.

This problem is not just restricted to an “attitudinal” or an “image” issue – but there’s a commercial reason associated with it. While working on it, one needs to be a detective – i.e. sequentially following the analytical rigour – as well as be a doctor – i.e. utilizing the value of experience while marrying the analytical with the imaginative skills.

One needs to be assertive, asking probing questions on all fronts, to cross analyse, extrapolate and then synthesize data. Only then one would be able to truly identify the problem. Needless to say solutions follow fast! This is what I call “Art of defining a Solution”

How important is humour in brand-positioning?

  • In most parts of the world, luxury or premium goods stay away from embracing humour into the communication mix. Does incorporating humour give the firm an impression of being flippant and ‘not serious enough’ to be premium? LinkedIn question by: Sameer Vyas

Humour used in the context of explaining the differentiating benefits of the product or service definitely contributes to sales and long term brand recall. However humour should not be used as a part of the positioning for the brand – it should rather be used as a means to achieve / contribute to that positioning. e.g. if a brand’s benefit positioning is “Brand X makes me enjoy my home life in a lively manner” – Then humour could be used to drive suggestions towards “lively manner’, and could be retained for a long time as a differentiator among competitors’ benefits .

In case of luxury or premium goods, humour has not been used frequently, perhaps because the form of humour fitting these categories is not very easy to make a direct association to the benefits / positioning of the brand among premium customers. Long ago, a small premium Ericsson phone ad showed a sophisticated lady in a premium restaurant talking to her fiance on the phone, while fixing her gaze at a person sitting on a different table. However the phone was too small; hence this person thought she was proposing a dinner with him – till the moment she finished the call, and said: “One black coffee please”. The ad (see below) had excellent recall and contributed to the premium positioning of the product.

(The ad went on to win the Lion at Cannes Advertising Festival. Read about this ad. Also see Heinz example)

Therefore, it’s all a matter of finding how the benefits of a premium product could be associated to the sophisticated humour levels enjoyed by the prospective customers of the product, and translating this association into communication – thru ad or otherwise. Humour is a means to an end – not an end by itself, while positioning a brand.

Also look for Other Answers in LinkedIn.

How to build trust when competitors created skepticism?

  • A company wants to get in to market like air purifiers, detox products, or gas addittives. Its predecessors have created some skepticism with non-performing products, because they are a very ethical company and believe their product does just what it is supposed to do. How would you advise the newcomer to move ahead and buid trust with consumers? What must they do? What must they not do? LinkedIn Question by: Jeffri Epps

First and foremost, you need to do an in-depth research of customers, and specifically try to probe on the effects of competitor communication on them. It’s likely that one of the 3 results might emerge:

  • A – Consumers agree to competitors’ skepticism, and are content with that position, taking actions accordingly
  • B – Consumers are skeptical of competitors’ activities, but have decided to carry on with competition – because of herd mentality or due to no other alternatives available
  • C – Consumers neither agree or are skeptical about competitors’ position / messages – hence are not bothered who offers the products or services

In case of A, it might need further probe on additional factors they are looking for, which are currently not addressed by competitors. Depending on how strong and sustainable advantages these factors are, you may decide to take a course of action

In case of B, you might like to explore ways in which you’re able to present yourself (your product) as something that makes a difference in the attitudes towards the product.

In case of C, you might like to see in what ways the product could be seen – not necessarily in terms of benefits, but in terms of value. e.g. something like “well, you know, people say many things about this, but who cares!!”. But you’d have to really see how the values associate to the brand in the long term.

Long ago in India, domestic TV advertising started going the route of being “also ran” stereotyped communication. After all all TVs gave comparable picture an audio performances. At that time an imported TV was considered much superior, but was not available to 99% of the population! On researching, one brand discovered that actually, an imported TV immediately created an element of envy among the peer circle. this element was capitalized with huge success thru the “Neighbour’s envy; Owner’s Pride” campaign – even though “envy” was depicted with all its negative connotation.

I’m not sure what product category you’re in, but maybe by research, you’d get some insights that truly justify a “negative against the negative” approach, which ultimately could work positive for the brand.

(Please contact me should you need elaboration / clarification) Also Look for Other Answers.

Do companies / brands fear to differentiate?

  • There is a lot of average and mediocre brands around today. As if brands lost their guts and courage to stand out and stand for something crisp. Is this caused by fear? What are its sources or drivers? LinkedIn Question by:  Lucia  Tarbajovska.

Well, I feel it’s not the fear… primarily it’s the failure and lethargy to identify a differentiator that:
– truly falls in line with the short term and long-term profit objectives of the company
– succeeds in convincing the decision makers that it’s an “opportunity” worth exploring
– gives them an understanding / courage that it has a sustainable competitive advantage

Additionally majority of the companies who are in a particular product / service category, have a tendency to have a “herd” mentality – “everyone is going that way… they could not be wrong!”. In short they tend to embrace mediocrity, if this gives them short term gains or saves them the hassles of taking risks.

In today’s ever-changing business / economic battleground, you’d rarely find a Bill Gates and Richard Branson who stick to their guns / dreams or who are not bothered about short term results as long as keeps their long-term goals intact.

Also Look for Other Answers;

Basic approach to position a Hotel Brand

  • How would your marketing strategy differ for launching and promoting a luxury city centre business hotel as a brand vis-a-vis a Destination spa? (LinkedIn question by: L. Aruna Dhir)

There are many angles to be looked into before we can really give a proper answer. However, in brief, the answer lies in the basic positioning and differentiation approach that would define the core strategy. The approach should be as follows:

  1. Where’s the property located? Is it within easy city limits or a bit on the secluded outskirts of the city? If it’s within city limits, “City Centre” business Hotel branding sounds good, while for a far-off location the “Destination Spa” would sound good. Premium destination Spa perhaps would have more appeal with an accommodation added in, if it’s located out of city – since possibility of promoting as “Spa and Resort” would have long term attraction.
  2. What’s the core benefit / value of your product for customers? Is it more towards the hassle-free stay / conference / meetings / banquets? Then positioning within the “City Centre Hotel” market would make good sense. Otherwise, if your core benefit / value on offer is “Leisure and Relaxation”, then it would make more sense in positioning it within the Leisure resort / Spa domain.
  3. What are the possibility of “packaging” the product and increasing its value? Once the above 2 fundamentals are decided, you’ll get a very clear cut core positioning of your product, which will define the next stage – strategy to promote in each case. However, it’s also important to note that it’s not the end of the other option , whichever position you choose. For example:
  • Once you have promoted / established your hotel as a Business Center, you can extend / branch out to the other offering as a part of the 24 hour package; e.g. Conference /Business, Dining, Pub, Spa, Relax… each at different time of the day. It also allows you to promote the Spa separately, and then adding up this sub-brand as a “total hospitality experience”
  • In case of promoting it as a Leisure Resort cum Destination Spa, you can take a similar approach too! Therein, to promote Conference /Banquet / Business products, you can just add: “Our weekend get-away package can also include your business seminars / conferences”

Therefore to answer the question in one sentence:

  • Marketing strategy in each of the cases quoted above differs in the basic orientation and approach one wishes to take in defining the core benefits and values of the brand, vis-a-vis competition (as pointed above).

Also look for additional Answers in LinkedIn

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