Design a powerful marketing tool


Manufacturers, service providers, and retailers seek new designs to create differentiation and establish a more complete connection with consumers. Holistic marketers recognize the emotional power of design and the importance of how things look and feel. Design is now more fully integrated into the marketing management process. For example:

After seeing some of their brands lose share to competitors with stronger designs and aesthetics, Procter & Gamble appointed a Chief Design Officer in 2001 and now hands out an A.G. Lafley Design award each year. Lafley, P&G’s CEO, is credited with pushing for more products to involve design at the front end not as an afterthought. These products such as Crest White strips, Olay Daily Facials, and the whole line of Swifter Quick clean products, have generated more trials, more repurchases, and more sales.

Sweden’s IKEA has become one of the top furniture retailers in the world in part through its ability to design and manufacturing inexpensive furniture that doesn’t seem cheap. Another Scandinavian company Finland’s Nokia, is credited with taking a little black blob with tiny buttons and turning it into an object of desire. Nokia was the first to introduce user—changeable covers for cell phones, the first to have elliptical shaped, soft, and friendly forms, and the first with big screens. In the early 1990s, Nokia controlled only 12% of the global market for cell phones. Today, it is the world leader in handsets, with 38% of the market.

With an increasingly visually oriented culture, translating brand meaning and positioning through design is critical. “In a crowded market place aesthetics is often the only way to make a product stand out. Design can shift consumer perceptions to make brand experiences more rewarding. Consider the lengths Boeing went to make its 777airplane seem roomier and more comfortable. Raised center bins, side luggage bins, divider panels, gently arched ceilings, and raised seats make the aircraft interior seem bigger. As one design engineer noted, “If we do our jobs, people don’t realize what we have done. They just say they feel more comfortable�.

Designers sometimes put a human face literally on their products. The Porsche Boxster’s bulges and curves can be seen as suggestive of muscle; the Apple iMac was thought by one designer to be “a head stuck to a body via a long skinny arm�; and Microsoft’s optical mouse can be seen as an outstretched hand. When Frog Design set out to make a Disney cordless phone for kids, it wanted the design to live up to the famed Disney imagery. After exhaustive study, frog defined the composite elements of a Disney character and applied it to the phone. The eyes were interpreted in terms of the LCD screen and were made as big as possible; the torso was interpreted in terms of the housing of the phone and was S-shaped, with a roundness in the top front and bottom back; n the feet were interpreted in terms of the base and charger stand, which used built-up plastic to emulate a sock pushed up around an ankle.

A bad design can also ruin a product’s prospects. Sony’s e-Villa internet appliance was intended to allow consumers to have internet access from their kitchens. But at nearly 32 pounds and 16 inches, the mammoth product was so awkward and heavy that the owner’s manual recommended customers bend their legs, not their back, to pick it up. The product was eventually withdrawn after three months.