What is Marketing?

The following piece was written for a final assignment in my Market Insights course. It can also be found on the CCA DMBA blog.

As an undergrad, I was introduced to the basic principles of strategic marketing through books like Steven P. Schnaars’ Marketing Strategy, Kate Gillespie’s Global Marketing, and Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy.  I learned about the Four Ps, the internal and external forces within a market, differentiation and a host of other components that made up what I considered “marketing.”  However, it wasn’t until I began following the discussion surrounding design and specifically “design thinking” that I started to think more critically about the relationship between marketing and design.  This connection became more evident as I finished my first year in CCA’s MBA in Design Strategy program when, for the first time, I was asked to explore this relationship closely and provide my definition for marketing and its relationship to design.

Let’s begin with what marketing is.  Marketing is a framework for the organized delivery of experiences designed to achieve a particular response or action.  Within a business context, this framework is typically grounded in research, both qualitative and quantitative, and driven by a measurable goal or desired outcome.  In most cases, this goal includes some form of economic gain but may include ancillary social benefits as well. Behind all marketing plans is an agenda or point of view that drives the message through various channels where they are eventually expelled at identified touch points.  These touch points serve to inform the user of the intended message and help to deliver a meaningful experience.

So, if marketing is a framework for the organized delivery of an experience, design is the act of building the delivery mechanism for that particular experience. Within the marketing framework lives a set of constraints that inform the strategy, delivery and design of a particular experience. These constraints can include budget, timelines, resources or particular market segments and must be the primary motivator when exploring possible solutions. Within a business context, design without marketing is, perhaps, arbitrary.  Since the marketing framework includes a research component built specifically to uncover unmet needs or desires, design should be driven by a strategy or intent to meet these needs in a meaningful and relevant way.  Problems arise, however, when a particular agenda is pushed that is either not supported by findings in research or fails to address the desired outcomes of the “agenda.”

In the business realm, marketing and design are more closely related as they serve to connect the desires of a particular audience to a product or solution.  I believe the distinction between design and marketing becomes more apparent when you step beyond the world of business and a “market.”  In this sense, design has more freedom to explore possibilities by virtue of fewer constraints and becomes much more interpretive.  Design more closely resembles art in this realm.

The questions then becomes, do marketing plans lead to better design?  In short, yes.  Within a business context, I believe good design is achieved only when driven by a well-planned marketing strategy. A good marketing plan will serve to provide the tools, constraints and lens through which to design through but must also walk the fine line between “informing” and “dictating.”  One of the primary values of design is delivered through the subjective nature of interpretation.  There may be several well-designed solutions that address a particular problem, but what makes one design “better” than another is usually decided upon closer inspection of the marketing plan.

As design continues to gain acceptance as a critical piece to corporate strategy the relationship between the value design delivers to any business framework must be identified and continuously advocated.  As a design thinker and graduate student, I am confident that the challenges I have been asked to confront at CCA are serving to build a case for not only the future of design, but my future as business leader.

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