The growing importance of the customer experience in creating brands and driving brand value means design has never been more important.
That’s the argument of a recent white paper produced by Adobe about The Design Advantage (Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company). But how accurate is this finding? CMO.com has asked a senior agency creative and senior marketer to weigh in. In the second of this two part instalment, Simon Michaelides, Marketing Director, UKTV, gives his view about the importance of design in marketing.
If you haven't read Part I--written by Simon Gill, Chief Creative Officer, UK, DigitasLBi--you can find it here.
The Marketer's Point Of View
The premise behind Adobe’s recent white paper on “design as a competitive advantage” is that “technology has flattened the competitive landscape”, “lowered the barrier for entry” and “pushed most companies to reinvent themselves digitally to survive”. For the marketing community, this has manifested itself in the democratisation of the discipline. Whilst “old economy” marketing was about a one way push of messages that sought to ensure that brands stood for whatever we said they did, the technology of the new economy has shifted the base of power in consumers’ favour.
The consumption of advertising is now almost entirely at consumers’ discretion and mass reach and impactful creative work are no longer the sole domain of those with big budgets and top drawer agencies at their disposal. In a world where social platforms have become primary influencers and where content is king, anyone with a laptop, a compelling idea and a modicum of technical know-how can successfully launch a business and market it into a global phenomenon.
It is not surprising therefore that 40% of today’s F500 companies on the S&P 500 are not expected to exist in 10 years. Many established, ‘old world’ businesses are worryingly ill equipped when it comes to competing with the ‘new world’ competition. They are often entrenched, with inflexible, capital heavy operating models; designed to deliver advantage through standardisation and optimisation. Conversely most emergent competitors are nimble, disruptive and geared up to offer a more personalised experience. What’s more, structural advantages of old, such as scale and distribution, can now be matched almost at the touch of a button. Airbnb are a prime example of this, having amassed more rooms the world’s largest hotel chains, in just a few years!
Adobe attribute the success of businesses such as Uber and Airbnb, in part to a belief that “design makes the experience”, arguing that “design has emerged as a fundamental weapon for organisations to differentiate themselves in a crowded market place”. Differentiated design is certainly potent, but it is hardly new. Brands like Ikea, Apple and Smart have long had differentiated design at their heart. However, I agree with Adobe that “becoming a design-led company requires a serious dedication to the user experience” and “a solid understanding of the many ways that customers engage with your brand”. In the new economy, consumers have a greater mass media voice than many brand owners and are very willing to share their usage experiences. Consequently, the impact of what brands say is dwarfed by the impact of what they do. Brand performance is more intrinsically linked to the user experience than ever before.
Adobe highlights the need to focus on consistent consumer experience, continuity along the path to purchase and engaging & efficacious creative work. These have long been marketing staples, but Adobe rightly points out that the proliferation of consumer touch points and marketing tools driven by technology, make this much more challenging to do. I agree therefore that is it more important than ever to ensure that all marketing activity is timely and relevant. A particular hot potato identified by Adobe is the sheer volume of marketing collateral required to keep up with consumer demand. Consumers want “amazing content and experiences on their favorite devices, every minute of the day”. The pressure that this puts on creative resources is evident in all of our businesses; compounded by the increasing trend towards personalisation.
The solution according to Adobe is “content velocity”; a workflow solution for producing more assets in less time, leveraging the latest platforms and processes to enable the centralisation of assets, multi-device remote working and seamless on-line collaboration. Whilst I agree with this in principle, in my experience, this is harder to realise in practise. Television broadcasters are very familiar with this challenge, as the industry has always been a low cost, high volume, content model. For TV broadcasters, our businesses are comprised of hundreds of constantly changing products, curated under the banner of channel brands, all striving to offer a differentiated and consistent consumer experience. In this environment the velocity and volume of creative output required is phenomenal.
Most broadcasters have adopted solutions that follow many of the principles of Adobe’s concept of “content velocity”. However all have staffed up internally, concluding that traditional (advertising) agencies are simply not well suited to the demands & operational realities of “content velocity”. Ad’ agencies operate to a low volume, high value, TV centric model, with a time and materials based fee structure that simply isn’t scalable for clients. There is a growing argument that the ad’ industry need to reinvent its business model, but the re-basing of margins required, would be equally unattractive to agencies. Therefore whilst most broadcasters do maintain discrete relationships with agencies, almost all have in-house teams capable of dealing with the vast majority of their needs.
I’m sure that all broadcasters would agree with Adobe’s conclusions on what it takes to make “content velocity” work. Namely “employing the right processes, using the right technology platforms, and hiring the right people.” Cloud based platforms, connected assets and collaborative workflows are at the heart of our approach to creative at UKTV and have helped to make us the UK’s fastest growing broadcaster year on year for the last four years.
Adobe argue for the need to enable creative teams to “work collaboratively whenever and wherever genius strikes”. This is something that is becoming increasingly important when it comes to the recruitment and retention of talent. Millennials place much greater value than previous generations on the ability to work flexibly, making it almost a prerequisite. All of this points to a need for the kind of tech’ solutions that Adobe provide. The litmus test is the ability to scale-up quickly in moments of peak demand, onboarding freelancers or outsourcing projects, all very hard to do without collaborative, centralised, and easily accessible systems.
Adobe’s closing conclusion that businesses need to invest in C-suite executives “who are committed to the success of a design-led company”, is something that should give all marketers hope. Adobe point out that “design-driven companies have outperformed the S&P Index by 219% over 10 years”. This would correlate with the trend for an increasing number of CEOs coming from creative / marketing backgrounds. Spencer Stuart recently reported that 21% of consumer-facing companies in the FTSE 100 now have CEOs with a marketing background; rising to 24% in PE backed firms. Both Nike and Burberry’s CEOs are creatives / designers and I agree with Adobe that this is a “bellwether of what’s to come” and a long overdue recognition of “how design impacts the bottom line”.
The need for “content velocity” is a fact of life in today’s tech’ driven world and the requirement to “engage every customer where they are, when they want it” is only going to become more pressing. To herald design as a new “secret weapon” may be somewhat overstating things, especially given that the power of great design is hardly a new idea. However, in a flat competitive landscape, where most barriers to entry have been removed and creativity & media access democratised, the ability to differentiate and maintain a competitive edge has become harder. In this context, the value of great design / creative work has undoubtedly increased and its role in influencing brand loyalty and business results is more decisive than ever!