Why Designers Make The Best Brand Strategists

Thomson DawsonJanuary 29, 20134 min

If you’re inventing or transforming a brand, somewhere in the process you’ll be working with a Designer or Design Firm who will be tasked with bringing your “brand strategy” to life through sounds, words, pictures, physical environments and emotional experiences.

Brand Design is a highly specialized expertise. I prefer to think of brand design as the equivalent of a musical score around a film. One’s no good without the other. 

Brand Design still struggles to break free from its down stream “implementer” role in strategic brand development. Brand Designers are not typically seated at the strategy table early in the brand development process. Many marketers view brand design as the fun and gooey, superficial decoration part of the brand development process – something next on the to-do list after the research and positioning work is complete, the tagline has been written and now the logo needs a “treatment”.

Marketers (and those who cling to big data) are prone to view brand design more narrowly than they should. I would like to suggest the lens be opened to a much broader view of the significance of brand design to marketplace success.

For enlightened, savvy marketers of emerging, next generation brands this is not the case. There have been too many success stories in the marketplace to ignore the fact design is the last great differentiator, and brand design has contributed billions of dollars of market capitalization to those brand owners that “get it”.

Of all the various professional disciplines involved in strategic brand development, brand designers usually make the best brand strategists. Here’s why:

Great brands are about ideas and meanings not just products.

No one understands the power of ideas to transform perception and behaviors better than brand designers. Brand designers create the entire emotional relationship customers have with a brand. They are the choreographers of customer experience.  If you want your brand to matter, you’ll have to design the customer experience accordingly at every touch point. It’s not marketing and it’s not decoration, design is the difference between market leaders and market followers.

Brand Designers link diverse constituents around the brand.

Understanding user behavior, cultural trends, ethnography, organizational behavior and brand storytelling, brand designers are fluid in their unique ability to work with and through all of these processes. Like a needle and thread, brand designers stitch together the very fabric of highly values brand experiences. They create engagement across all the required touchpoints in the both the physical and digital worlds. Brand designers are skilled at organizing complex systems that provide function and utility and telling simple stories that connect with people on deep emotional levels.

Well designed products + a well design brand = a high margin business.

This is the simple equation for marketplace success. However, you can design a beautiful product and all you will have in the end is a beautiful object. It doesn’t mean you’ll have a successful business.  What’s critical is how well people connect with a compelling idea that grows in their minds–one they will become forever emotionally bonded to. A smart phone is a functional idea, but what enables people to choose their brand of smart phone embodies much more. Unless there is a compelling idea that goes beyond the way it looks, feels, operates, and how well its value is communicated to the right tribe who share the same values behind the idea, it’s just another thing. Ask RIMM.

Brand designers think holistically far outside operational silos.

Brand designers create the relationship between companies and customers. Brand design is a discipline that integrates the experience of a brand into a single concept. Beginning with how a product operates, feels, how you became aware of it, how you buy it, what you experience when you open the box, what the interaction must be with company leaders, employees and customer service. All of these diverse experiences can be designed to create brand insistence. In effect creating a brand where there are no perceived substitutes.

The slush pile of irrelevance.

Design matters. In fact it’s design or die.  Brand owners must focus on the experience of value they bring to customers. Customer’s care about their experience, not your manufacturing and analytics or go-to-market process. These are important, but none of that will matter unless the design of the entire experience is right. It’s the difference between Apple and Dell, BMW and Cadillac, Herman Miller and HON.

For enlightened and successful marketers in all product and service categories, Brand Design is not an after thought in the process– it is the central thought.

Brand designers are strategists not decorators. Their value to your business and the strategic brand development process is the direct thoughtful development and design of every interaction point between the business and the customer. This is stuff you really can’t uncover in focus groups or with online surveys. Functionally, most people can’t tell you why they love their iPhone more than a Blackberry. They just know they do.

At the end of the day, your business, your brand must matter to people. Design is a powerful and effective tool for creating relevant differentiation, brand innovation and marketing success. Indeed design matters.

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Thomson Dawson


  • Renato Alves

    January 30, 2013 at 6:30 am

    Awesome Thomson,

    I totally agree with you. Designers pay an important role in brand creation and in everything related.

    I also would like to share that when working along with the developers and the executors, the designers job gets much easier and more accurate.

  • Robert Hacala

    January 30, 2013 at 9:20 am

    Thank you, thank you! This article is a breath of fresh air when so many companies seek designers as an afterthought to their strategies, marketing, products, and services. It may be hard to see brand design talent because every kid with a copy of Photoshop calls himself a designer, but the ones who know what’s going on deserve to have their full potential utilized.

  • Karen Tejedor Bowen

    June 5, 2013 at 6:59 am

    Thanks for sharing! Design is indeed often underestimated, as if it wasn’t a crucial part of the brand experience.
    I would also highlight the importance of the first step – brand managers being completely clear on what they want their brand to stand for, what message they want to define this emotional connection. We don’t work alone, and without this direction it would be difficult for a designer to either nail this brand experience or to have a satisfied client!

  • Lindsay Knox

    June 3, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Thanks for sharing. I love this ‘Design matters. In fact it’s design or die.’
    I totally agree that designers can be brand strategists as they have been working alongside brands their whole career lives. I also agree with Robert however that they need to be experienced designers not anyone who has used photoshop.

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