Why does Marketing choose colors?

I know, its an inflammatory statement…but one that i have found more often than not to be true.

Why does Marketing have/believe they have control over product look and feel? As in, why does someone without ANY product design experience end up being the one that chooses what color/form the product should be?

I have no doubt that there are exceptions to this, but it has been my experience more often than not.

If you can’t tell, I am about as ANTI-marketing as you get. At least in the current manifestation it seems to have in most corporations these days. That is one industry that needs a significant face-lift.

rant rant rant grunt grunt grunt

The evolution of product manufacturing goes something like this:

  1. Inventor (R&D) creates something, forms a company
  2. Sales added to sell it
  3. Marketing added to compete (by selling it better & informing R&D)
  4. Design added to compete (by reducing the need for marketing)

If marketing is controlling look and feel, then you’re obviously still stuck in phase 3. But they won’t give up without a fight! It’s very rare for non design-centric companies to bring design on as a discipline before (or at the same time as) marketing.

Luckily, I am no longer stuck in a company that is stuck in phase 3. But man, it did make me despise the attitude and position of Marketing.

I do believe that Marketing is necessary and a required part of the establishment. It is simply the control that I see it has.

Does anyone have any examples of successful transitions from CG’s phase 3 to phase 4? Wherein Design controls its process as, in my opinion, it should.

The people/departments that are closer to the money - or perceived as having a better understanding of financial issues - will generally have more decision making power in a capitalist structure.

Since marketing often involves things like MBAs, ROIs, NPVs, etc. while most designers and design departments do not traditionally have these as background or vocabulary, design remains subservient to marketing (and engineering, and finance…) - despite all the recent hype (see BusinessWeek, IIT, P&G, etc.) to the contrary.

(For example, look at the backgrounds of the CEOs for the Fortune 500 - you can find plenty with finance, engineering, or marketing degrees/experience - can you find a single one from a design background? “But we are making progress and reaching C-titles!” But does becoming Chief Creative Officer or Chief Design Officer put one in line for the CEO position the way that COO, CMO, or CFO might? No, because few designers can prove financial literacy or even a vague for-profit interest or EVEN HAVE ANY DESIRE to become a CEO - the one who has the most control and makes the important choices!)

Of course this has been recognized by some - hence the occasional conversation or post from designers interested in getting MBAs, or the Design Management Institute recently discussing design Return On Investment (but still mostly from a shallow, numberless perspective). May be a good start, but bear in mind that marketers have been upgrading themselves with MBAs and MSs for decades and both the marketing profession and marketing academia (and even advertising, to some degree) have been discussing and attempting to measure ROI for years and at least with Google/online ads, have found and demonstrated their holy grail.

Unless designers can “innovate” their way to better financial metrics, “design-think” themselves closer to the money, or “prototype” an accounting oriented vocabulary, it appears design has a long way to go and is playing catch-up to a moving target.

Finally, (to conclude my own rant rant grunt grunt!) if the all caps wasn’t clear enough, let me make the point again: if it is decision making power you want, then, taken to the extreme, you ultimately want the CEO position. Are you really interested in that level of ambition, of gaining diverse qualifications, of vicious competiveness, of accounting knowledge and responsibility, of leadership and general management duties??

Most designers I know are decidedly NOT, while more marketers I know ARE.


Here’s a question:
Which profession is transforming faster; marketing or design?

In the last few years…

Marketing has added:
Portfolio Management
Psychographic Segmentation
Data Mining
Disruption theory (Innovators Delimma)
Moore’s Crossing the Chasm
New channels like permission and viral Marketing
A dozen books on Innovation (and consultants to go with)
Design departments

Design has added:
Strategic Planning
“Design Research”
UCD/Interaction Design/Experience Design
MFA’s at “D-Schools” (aimed at…Marketers!)
Exposure via BusinessWeek and IDEO
Case Studies tied to revenue (OXO, iPod, Aeron, Samsung, Razr, P&G)
Association with Innovation
New Director and VP positions
Tom Peters as a spokesman

Finally, (to conclude my own rant rant grunt grunt!) if the all caps wasn’t clear enough, let me make the point again: if it is decision making power you want, then, taken to the extreme, you ultimately want the CEO position. Are you really interested in that level of ambition, of gaining diverse qualifications, of vicious competiveness, of accounting knowledge and responsibility, of leadership and general management duties??

I don’t buy that you have to become CEO to achieve the level of directive guidance I am referring to.

I am not even referring to WANTING to become a metric driven group. My belief that Marketing has its place is the same as my belief that Design should be driven by designers. Marketing can dictate all day long to me WHO the product should be sold to, HOW MUCH the product needs to be to sell, and I will even concede that they can drive the feature set. But leave the PRODUCT RSEARCH, SIZE, COLOR, and FORM development to the designers.

The last project that I worked on in a corporate environment was a camel for 2 generations of the product. It wasn’t until I went to the CEO and all but begged for him to step in and literally yank decision making authority over design AWAY from marketing that the product started to have any kind of cohesiveness to the design and actually had a product that people were excited about.

It was metrics and spread sheet thinking that drove the product straight into the ground.

So, yes, if I want “ultimate” control you definitely have to be able to be number-centric (driven?). But to have a level playing field, the other groups have to understand that there is a level of experience and expertise in creating a product that matches the hard work put into defining the product market and sales goals.

this is very interesting. i’d like to learn more. can you post pics of certain examples where this is clearly the case?

i somewhat disagree. i understand the point trying to be made, but i think it may be the result of working with a poorly-managed or incompetent marketing department. i have worked with some marketing departments who have researched and developed target segments, brand imaging, consumer demographics, detailed a product/shopping experience of a desired product, and so forth and so on. i found a lot of this information helpful and actually reduced the time of the design development process while increasing the quality of the concepts.

i think when you can fine tune your directives from this information, it makes the design more effective.

i also think that business finds design an intangible department among tangibles. if you can quantify your work into their terms, you really start making a lot of headway. i guess what it boils down to is try to understand what frustrates or confuses you and use it as a tool for translation.

Designers often forget, that they are noting but instruments in a system that is mostly focused on creating profit. In this context color plays an important role. It is well known that color plays a major role in the purchase decision of the customer.

Color is unfortunately a single parameter – that can be applied on top of virtually anything. Everyone will therefore venture to give their color opinion – as it can be easily implemented unlike 3D design which requires considerably more skills.

In this context it is obvious why marketing takes over the color decision.

Now, do designers really understand color? The color theory is made of a set of defunct ideas taught in all schools but rarely used. Designers keep spinning this wheel, while others who don’t make the color decisions. I argue here, that the marketers are more sensible they try and make a simplistic guess of what people may like. Can we blame them ?

i agree.

where i work, we have a textile engineer who knows color trends, fabrics and materials like no other. i rely on her expertise to help me with colors and patterns. conversely, i try to help her when she presents trend boards to sales and marketing. they are too conservative and it takes them a little push to sign off on something that is outside their own reality.

There are two points made here that I need to respond to:

  1. That the original title dissing on Marketing is a blanket statement and there is no doubt it depends on the quality of the Marketing department.
  2. Yes, I do blame what I call Old School Marketers stepping in and making decisions that the product should be blue because his daughter thinks its better (for a “professional product”) or because it matches his BMW

IF (and that’s a big if in today’s industry), you have a Marketing department that understands AND respects the boundaries of the decision making discussion, my question is moot.

I contend that this is most definitely NOT the case across the majority of industry. The fact that design is becoming a buzzword is a good thing to raise awareness. But I have a significant problem with another industry (marketing) that is based on just as much bullshit and fluff as design is (yes, I said it) coming in and making decisions because they claim 12 people in a poorly moderated focus group said so.

“Old school marketers” are features-driven.

I had a request come across my desk last week from an older Product Manager (Marketing) who wanted to build a business case for a product refresh. She listed a bunch of new features, but did not identify a single customer or user need behind them.

To the old-school marketer, a color (any color!) is a new feature. Since there’s no identified need, it doesn’t matter what the color is. Since it doesn’t matter, they’ll pick it because they like it.

Old-school marketers also have a mental model of old-school designers. So to them, designers are just glorified versions of themselves, and are therefore competitors.

The first trick is to teach them new-school marketing. Assuming that’s possible, the second trick is to educate them about new-school design.

This is the best summary of Old School Marketing I have seen outside of my head.

ip_wirelessly, love the colors of your office! :laughing:

As far as the management is concerned, neither the marketer nor the designer is able to guess properly, so the risk of consumer acceptance/rejection is more or less the same. The question that need to be asked is if designers can do a better job guessing?

All they have all the tools to do this. Any CAD or rendering program will enable them to try out different colors that they can market test with some accuracy, but designers resist doing this, as they all know what color is best !

The main difference between marketers and designers is that marketers are able to explain to upper management as to what colors folks like – without any evidence of their ability to do so, while designers talk in terms of right colors and wrong colors making it clear to the management that selling the dam thing is the least priority.

Whose colors would the management pick?

They were chosen by the “design group” :confused:

I guess it is only fair in this discussion for the design side of the equation be brought back to the worst case scenarios as well.

I would be my opinion as well that this is most definitely a skill that is in dire need within the ID profession. I would argue that the companies that get it are on top of the heap. I saw it at Ziba, I saw it at fuseproject (to drop a couple names). The ability to “manage the management”, as a former collegue put it.

Take fuseproject for example. Yves Behar, in my opinion, is the quinticential out of box experience for a company looking for design. He walks into the room, he looks like a designer (no suit, stylish clothes, etc.), he knows his shit (he really is sharp as a tack), and he backs up the work he does with “stories”. Basically, he has figured out that Marketing is a fantastic tool to supplement design. His “design brings stories to life” tag speaks a lot to what is being discussed here.

When it comes right down to it, focus groups, color trends, whatever “research” engine it might be…all the effort is for naught if you can’t manage your management. If you have a VP of BS sitting in the meeting that says, “I don’t like red, I think it should be blue”. You damn well better have something that resembles quantitative data that can prove to the rest of the VPs around the table that your design decision is based on something more than a hunch. Or that it “looks better in red”. Because design will always lose a battle of subjectivity.

Do you have any examples of his design stories?

I have the Fuseproject book, but ironically it doesn’t use stories, it just shows the finished products (old school design!)

We are currently going from “Mktg Phase 3” to “Phase 4”. It’s not been easy.

Our design group is getting more leverage and freedom to play with product color, but it was a battle won by 1. educating ourselves on how color works: PMS, Clab, clear resin with color additives, need for primer paint, complementary, etc. 2. tieing those color choices to the marketing story so that all can understand that these things are not arbitrary nor up for consideration by the marketing dept.

Once a ‘story’ can be told with regard to color (connotations, technical aspects, will it show dirt, etc.) that inspires people, they will get behind you in the next project. Also it’s one less thing on their plate so they’ll gladly cede color authority and the potential for screwing up to the design group.

Moving into print collateral, web, t-shirts for the exhibit booth crew, it gets harder because the marketing and exhibit people consider that their sandbox. By getting good customer feedback on the product colors, we are now ‘invited’ to the conversation on collateral material. But not soon enough, we failed to stop the introduction of GREEN to our exhibit booth - a marketing choice (designed by her outside design firm of choice - again no oversight by internal design). I think they like to have some control over the ‘look’ of things so they’d probably prefer turning it over to an outside group - not realizing the yard sale that eventually happens.