James Thompson
Aug 24, 2016

Design cuts a direct line to the brain

James Thompson discusses one of the few marketing tools that can override rational thought.

James Thompson
James Thompson

Got a few dollars to spare and looking for somewhere to invest? You could do a lot worse than invest in a forward-looking design agency. A necessary disclaimer: my own personal investment decisions are case studies in mis-timing and bad judgement; read on at your peril. 

By rights, there should be a mass migration of talent from traditional advertising agencies to the world of design. No sane person is declaring advertising to be dead, but its role in a marketing mix is certainly diminishing as channels fragment and messages multiply. The role of Agency of Record looks like it is migrating to development and curation of ‘the big idea’ and orchestrating content supporting that idea.

Professor Byron Sharp, at the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing at the University of South Australia, argues scientifically that firmly lodging your brand in its audience’s “memory structures” is one of the first jobs of a marketer. One of the shortest routes to the brain is surely the eye. Case studies show how ill-judged design changes create more problems for consumers in terms of simple recognition and brand identification, let alone relevance and appeal. The challenge for design, not just to provide registration and provenance, but also meaning and experience, is one of the most important in modern marketing.

At the How Design Live conference in Atlanta in May, I talked about how design is one of the few marketing tools which has the ability to override rational thought, creating that ‘got to have it’ reaction. In our shifting environment, the two things brand managers know they have to hold onto are the brand’s reputation and great design. 

Invest in a design company now—but, as I said at the outset, beware my advice.

James Thompson is global managing director of Diageo Reserve (Diageo’s luxury portfolio). Follow or tweet him @JamesThompson1

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