The Design-Marketing Tango

A successful product requires more than just design and engineering. A good design and smart engineering can result in a great product, but these two factors alone won’t necessarily achieve a successful one — a product that makes for good business. The bridge from a well-designed product to a successful one very much depends on Design-Marketing relationships.  The common relationship between product design and marketing is complicated. In many cases, you may find a lot of misunderstandings and unorganized multidisciplinary working procedures involved in this Design-Marketing Tango. This chaotic situation can cause great damage to any Product-Design Driven company.

This article deals with the integration of marketing knowledge and abilities in a product design process — the benefits you can gain from it, how to do it properly, and what to be aware of.

1) Add a marketer to the product development team
A marketer should be an integrated part of the product development team. Their job is to provide input and insight about the market, competitors, trends, and more. Besides their professional contribution and the enriching (non-design) point of view, being part of the development team will make a marketer more committed and accountable for the product’s success in later stages.

2) Don’t expect the marketer to write the product brief
Some might think that it’s the marketer’s job to define the product, and it’s the R&D job to develop it accordingly. Well, that’s true — but it’s not the whole truth. Product development is not a linear process, but rather a two-sided iterative one. It’s a combination of a top-down (marketing to design) and a bottom-up (design to marketing) process. The marketing instructs the design just as the design enables marketing opportunities. The product’s brief writing is an on-going team job, and it falls under the design manager’s responsibility.

3) Build the marketing strategy during the R&D stage
The average marketer is trained to sell finished goods — without any influence on the product design. Well, this is not how you want to work. Developing a product without developing (or at least considering) its marketing plan is missing a big opportunity. More specifically, it provides the opportunity to achieve a much better product-marketing fit – a product that best fits to the users, trends, pricing, channels, and so forth.

4) Make a Market & Competitors (M&C) Analysis
You don’t want to define and design a new product before you have a deep understanding of its environment. One of the marketer’s responsibilities is to make an M&C Analysis in order to give the design team a good picture of the product’s market, competitors, and trends. M&C Analysis is a quantitative tool that captures current market situations, with the addition of short-term forecasting.

5) Perform US & UX Research
While M&C Analysis gives you the big picture view, User-Scenario (US) and User-Experience (UX) Research gives you a personal detailed point of view. You can’t see the whole picture from the top view only — you have to dig deep into the details. US & UX Research is a qualitative tool to understand users (or stakeholders) perception, attitude, habits, actions, and more. It’s a person to person research method including observations, questionnaires, and UX testing. This research should be done by the designers who have to “experience” the research with their own senses. US & UX Research is also one of the best innovation generators I know of.

6) Avoid Focus-Groups
Focus Groups are a good tool for learning about user feedback for existing products, but it won’t help you at all for your next product. Here is the logic: users can give valuable feedback only for products they have experience with. User opinions about future products is meaningless or even worse – it can mislead you. You can’t ask users, “Would you be happy to have this as a future feature?” They simply have no clue. To properly ask users, you have to define the product (brief), then design it (design), then produce it (prototype), and only then you can give it to users to try. Besides the waste of time and money, this scenario will only give you a go/no-go answer. In other words: a Focus-Group is a retrospective tool; it can give you answers about things that you’ve already done, but it will never lead you where to go.

7) Beware of target-cost
“We won’t be able to sell this product if it’s cost exceed $24.50!” We often hear such statements from passing marketing people, during the R&D process. The product’s cost is, of course, crucial, and it has to be wisely defined. However, announcing a target cost without any reference to other parameters is meaningless. Shall we add this unbelievable feature for an extra cost of 5%? Or reduce the product’s weight by 30% for an extra cost of 10%? Or maybe we can sell it as a kit for higher price? The cost is always connected to the product’s capabilities, features, design, marketing plan, and more. The target cost should always be connected to and part of the product’s brief. Preliminary stand-alone target-costs mean nothing.

Developing a new product without the involvement of marketing is like going hiking in the mountains without considering the weather. The market’s conditions are complicated and always changing. A professional weather report is a crucial part of your trip planning. Don’t expect the weatherman to give you all the answers or a 100% accurate report, but ignoring his knowledge and advice might put your trip at risk.

On my next post, I’ll discuss Perfectionism in a product design process – is it good or bad? Is there a way to adopt it or get rid of it? Is it God or the devil in the detail? Get notified about this upcoming post.