Does your design develop a relationship with your customers?

Does your design develop a relationship with your customers?

Good design is a lot like clear thinking made visual.

— Edward Tufte, author; analytical design expert

Do you remember the beer ad in which a man was walking through a field full of crops? Do you recall what brand of beer that ad was for? I don’t remember either. I also can’t tell you the number of billboards I’ve seen that have a catchy sentence, or a really nice photo — but no way to see what company, product or service is being advertised.

Good design has to do more than attract attention. It has to communicate. It has to create an experience. It has to support the copy and help carry the marketing message. If the design isn’t working, the message is lost. That’s a lot of responsibility for a logo, a few photos and some type.

Yet when consumers look at the design and imagine what that product or service will do for them, how it will enhance their lives, and desire it — noting what’s being offered and by whom — well, that makes the effort worthwhile.

And for the client, it makes the investment worthwhile.

More than attracting attention
Design communicates, visually, what the product or service does. It can be beautiful. It has to be useful. As Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery say in Do you matter? How great design will make people love your company: “Design is not applied as an afterthought or window dressing; it is a starting point. Design isn’t primarily about good looks, either. It’s about solving a problem by blending function and usability.” If an ad is great-looking and the design unique, but the consumer doesn’t remember what the ad was for, it’s not doing its job.

The story that the visuals tell not only needs to make the product memorable, but also needs to create an emotional attachment to it. People buy on emotion. In Tom Peters’ book, design, he says: “According to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research, emotions are twice as important as facts in the process by which people make buying decisions. … I simply believe that design — per se — is the principal reason for emotional attachment (or detachment) relative to a product or service or experience.”

If the combination of color, form and flow of a marketing piece can mingle with your customers’ emotions, you’re on your way to developing not only a sale, but an experience that they’ll return for.

Create an experience
As noted by Peters, Harley Davidson sells more than motorcycles. They sell an experience. Several years ago, when I was working for a commercial photographer, they shot an ad for Harley. It was of a somewhat middle-aged man sporting a tattoo that said Harley. This simple visual was part of the marketing experience that inspired the fantasy of middle-aged men everywhere, allowing them to step out of their suburban world back into the carefree days of youth. I’m sure this visual experience, along with others, have delivered strong momentum to Harley for years.

Which brings us to relationship building. Design not only develops the experience that draws customers, it builds a relationship that fosters customer commitment. Brunner and Emery talk about the retailer Target, and how Target’s appeal is based on — design. Think about it. They are a discount retailer. Wal-Mart is a discount retailer. Yet Target is somehow able to compete with this huge company. Why? Because Target’s customers are attracted to the design of the store, the products, the advertising — design moves people. And Target continues to build on this relationship to keep customers excited about their stores.

Salt is salt … or is it?
You may say this is all fine and good for large companies, but you have a budget to think about. Is it worth it to invest in professional design? In design, Peters quotes Tom Asacher, marketing guru: “Salt is salt is salt. Right? Not when it comes in a blue box with a picture of a little girl carrying an umbrella. Morton International continues to dominate the U.S. salt market, even though it charges more for a product that is demonstrably the same as many other products on the shelf.” Yes, you can charge what your product is worth — and increase the value of your product in the minds and hearts of your customers.

When you build a relationship through design, you allow your product or service to take a spot in your customers’ lives and emotions. Design doesn’t strong-arm customers into buying. It shows the product in its best light and allows the customers to make their best choice.

Bring design into your company and build an experience your customers will remember. How will you know it’s working? You’ll know when they come back.
– by Maribeth Conard