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Design Your Way To Smart Marketing Plan

by Alf Nucifora

As a marketer I admit to possessing a different, some would say warped, point of view about how I relate to my surroundings. A recent week on the road confirmed that admission. I could not help but notice how surrounded I was by bad design and how intimately and significantly that affected my perception of the situation and the offending cause. Crossing the Threshold

The journey commenced at my hometown Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta. The noise was beyond annoying. Try oppressive. Bleating people carriers competed with the overhead CNN, set at hearing-impaired levels, which, in turn, fought PA systems manned by individuals with nothing more than a narcissistic satisfaction in the sound of their own grating voices. (Actually Cincinnati's Terminal C takes the Oscar in that latter regard). Hartsfield's dim lighting and worn, faded appointments do nothing to elevate the perception of the airport or exciting town for which it is a portal. The baggage carousels, resplendent in worn and tattered carpeting, leave the departing visitor with memories of an over-tired facility that's lost its need to impress; which it probably has. Marketers know that syndrome as "crossing the threshold" and entering the brand space. So much of the initial brand perception is tied to design empathy or in offending situations, lack thereof.

We Don't Care Because We Don't Have To

Why does a trip to the airplane lavatory always inspire fear of communicable disease and dread of an uncomfortable experience? Beyond the cramped quarters, which one will understandably concede to lack of space, these badly ventilated hell-holes with concealed flush buttons, hard-to-maneuver faucets and napkin dispensers that refuse to release their bounty without a stiff fight, were designed by a generation of fly-boy, Yeager-groupie engineers who took pleasure in delivering exceptional design as long as it supported the aerodynamics and fuselage. Once you're in the plane, you're on your own. Some airlines, like Singapore Airlines, acknowledge the shortcoming and treat every element of the on-plane experience as an opportunity to impress and confirm the premium value of the brand. They design around the design because they understand that good design leads to a favorable customer experience, which in turn leads to brand loyalty.

Bad, Bad Product!

Like a bad dog, some products are genetically pre-disposed not to get it. Why is it that speakerphones and three-way calling inevitably fail? That hands-free earpieces always break at the connecting stem? That restaurant menu type is always too small or too slight for over-forty eyes in dim surroundings? That the $3.00 Gillette Turbo Mach blade never reaches those stubborn hairs right under the nose? That it takes the patience and skill of a surgeon to master the alarm clock in most hotel rooms? Or that most hotel conference and banquet rooms are designed with paper thin separating walls, atrocious acoustics and overhead lighting guaranteed to position a chandelier or can light immediately above the presentation screen? Why? Bad design. Nobody took enough time or effort to get it right. These are not malicious marketers. They don't think or they don't care. Or they don't comprehend the value of product design in forging loyalty from a customer who does notice, but rarely complains. I'm Master, You're Slave! Here the design dissonance is deliberate. There's no mistaking who's the boss, and it's definitely not the consumer. Child-proof pill containers, one can understand. Even the impossible-to-open retail blister pack, one can forgive. How else to showcase the product and prevent pilferage at the same time. But there has to be a special corner in hell reserved for those who manufacture and market CDs and tapes. What cruel mind is capable of designing a package that demands the sacrifice of teeth and fingernails in the quest to breech the wrap? And why?

How To Get It Right

It took the Japanese to show American manufacturers and marketers why good design is important - because the customer responds to it. Sit inside a Lexus, or pick up any Sony appliance and the design aesthetic is both noticeable and irresistible. It's the same reason that Apple Computer has been able to survive the Windows onslaught. This is not some Yuppie-Boomer predilection at play, but instead, a genuine marketing advantage that curries consumer commitment and support that can often be life-long.

For those who want to sample the rewards of good design the game plan is relatively simple, albeit expensive, if allowed to get out of hand.

  • First, always view the experience through the customer's eyes. This demands a zero-based approach, a willingness to consider design from the ground (base) up and not be hampered by engineering or manufacturing obstinacy. Remember that it is not axiomatic that good design and high manufacturing cost must always go hand-in-hand.

  • Shop the competition. If they're doing it better, be willing to copy.

  • Always be looking for added-value that can be built into product or packaging. Where possible give the customer something extra, a bonus beyond the expected benefit. The cosmetic companies are masters of the art.

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