If you’re in marketing and you’re about to hire a graphic designer, here’s what you need to know.

Imagine this scenario. You’re a marketing person and you hire a graphic designer to make a poster for an important event.

Your designer creates the poster. The layout is clear. The imagery is beautiful. The typography is exquisite. It makes your heart soar with delight and inspiration.

But nobody shows up. It’s a total disaster. What went wrong? The poster is a work of art, right?

Yes, it is… but it didn’t mention the venue. Or the date. Oops.

“This would never happen to me.”

Maybe you’re laughing right now. A marketing professional would never forget to include the call to action, of all things.

(Well, you’d be surprised! But that’s not the point.)

The designer could tell you that the poster meets the definition of “graphic design”. And they’d be right. You asked for graphic design and you got it.

“So what IS graphic design?”

Graphic design: The art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books.

Graphic design: The art or skill of combining text and pictures in advertisements, magazines, or books.

Can’t argue with that. It’s certainly succinct.

But you anticipated something more. You assumed the designer would know the fundamentals of marketing. And have some common sense.

“No, really – this would never happen to me.”

Of course not. You’d spot a simple error like that in a heartbeat. You’re a professional.

You always make sure that you:
  • complete a thorough design brief for every project
  • give your freelancers every scrap of information they need
  • explain your organisation’s visual identity so your designer doesn’t make any branding faux pas
  • write brilliant on-target copy every time
  • ensure all photos are adequate resolution for large-format print
  • check all URLs and social media details are correct
  • allow every stakeholder their say while keeping them focused on the deadline and budget
  • take a decent amount of time to examine proofs and get the final one proofread
  • keep track of all your responsibilities, no matter how often the phone rings or how much your colleague tries to distract you with cat videos.

Still laughing?

“Marketing is a demanding job and I’m only human.”

It’s not a perfect world, and it’s inevitable that sometimes details get overlooked.

It’s a good idea to hire a designer with marketing experience so there’s someone to watch your back:
  • they ask the right questions
  • they look beyond the basics
  • they specialise in design for marketing people.

That’s not graphic design. It’s marketing design.

“Surely it’s not all that different?”

A graphic designer asks “what”:
  • What size?
  • What colours?
  • What images?
  • What font?
All valid. But a marketing designer also asks:
  • Who is it for?
  • How do they think?
  • Where are they?
  • How will they respond?
  • Why should they care?
And a good marketing designer will ask (and answer) one other crucial question:
  • What’s the idea?

“Well, the idea is… you know, it’s the IDEA.”

We’re using the word “idea” in the specific context of classic creative advertising theory.

There are whole books and courses dedicated to this subject.  Here’s the short version:

“The idea is a creative interpretation of the promise made to the target audience.”

A couple of examples:
  • If I want to say small savings lead to long-term value (promise), I could write “every little helps” (idea).
  • If I want to suggest a sense of fun (promise), I might write “I’m lovin’ it” (idea).

Tesco doesn’t say “our food is good value”, they use an idea that resonates with customers.

And McDonalds doesn’t just blurt “our burgers taste nice”. No, they suggest what the experience is like and use social reinforcement at the same time. “I’m lovin’ it” implies “you will too”. Not bad for three words and a few whistled notes.

That’s the power of an idea. So remember, the idea is a creative interpretation of the promise made to the target audience.

“Slogans and jingles are nothing to do with design.”

A smart marketing person knows that they’re all elements of a brand. They combine to bring a set of values together and create a unique personality.

The idea tells your customers about your promise in a way that’s:
  • quick
  • memorable
  • provocative.

That’s the secret sauce of marketing design. It makes a promise to your customers, and your product keeps that promise.

“Sounds simple enough.”

There’s more. The idea must be adaptable to different media, different sizes and different executions. Maybe even a different target audience.

If you have to distort (or even abandon) the idea to suit new circumstances, it’s not as strong as it could be.

You may only be producing a one-off poster, but you never know. Your boss might like it so much they ask for a few Facebook ads too. Then you’ve got a campaign on your hands.

The strongest marketing design ideas are future-proof.

“So what do I do now?”

You’re asking a lot from a designer.

You want to trust them to deliver understanding, creativity, marketing knowledge and experience. You need much more than the “hard” skills of composition, layout and typography.

Trust is the result of a successful relationship. It’ll happen when you’ve seen your designer deliver results, time after time. And your designer should commit to understanding your unique requirements.

“What are the top five tips to get the best from a marketing designer?”

  1. Know exactly what your promise is (and make sure your designer knows it too);
  2. Know exactly who your target audience is (and make sure your designer knows it too);
  3. Work with your designer to create a perfect idea (a creative interpretation of the promise);
  4. Make sure your idea works in different marketing channels;
  5. Don’t look for shortcuts and take time to build your working relationship.

And finally, don’t forget the call to action! (Here’s ours: leave your comments below.)

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