4A’s Op-Ed: Design, Say Hello to The New Master of Marketing in the Digital Age

ChickFoxgrover152x228This is one in a series of Op-Eds authored by the experts who work at the 4A’s. Here, Chief Digital Officer Chick Foxgrover, offers his views on design and the user experience. He says it’s the name of the game when it comes to surviving the marketing evolution changing the landscape of our fragmented, interactive digital media world.


We need to think [about] ads that work around people. Not channels.

Tom Goodwin, SVP Strategy and Innovation, Havas Media

The focus du jour of most brand leaders is to create end-to-end customer relationships. And in the quest to do so, brands are starting to build big-picture narratives from shared experiences. Things like dialogue and emotion, service, usability and storytelling are becoming what set leaders apart from the followers in the race to get ahead.

Another shift: Digital utilities partnered with data gathering are tying these experiences together into much more effective packages and campaigns than previously possible with simple, old-school mass communications.

Queue the Revolution

Introducing: user experience design. It’s the name of the game when it comes to surviving the marketing evolution currently changing the landscape of our fragmented, interactive digital media world.

To meet the challenge, companies are realigning and reconfiguring themselves. We’re seeing a heavier emphasis on design methodologies that are able to capture the human experience. Things like cognitive research, iterative prototyping and testing, multidisciplinary team building and visualization are becoming the paradigms. These are the tools brands will need to gain—and maintain—a marketing advantage.

Who’s Leading the Charge?

Large-enterprise companies from a variety of backgrounds—like GE, Ford and Fidelity Investments—are leaning heavily on cross-functional design practices and embedding themselves in operations that may give design, innovation and digital consulting businesses a run for their money.

On a more granular marketing and advertising level, we’re trying to enhance (or replace) media-mix modeling and mass-media demographic targeting. We’re instead aiming for a holistic and personalized understanding of modern digital lifestyles. This partnership will guide our communications and service strategies through the transition.

Ad-blocking technology has been a huge part of this transformation, offering the most dramatic demonstration of the shift toward design. But, the change has blindsided the advertising world. It was assumed that the everyday consumer was a passive variable in the media value exchange. Then, suddenly the design of digital advertising became the first-order concern of an industry that had previously focused on precise profiling and efficient delivery.

As Dave Morgan, CEO and founder of Simulmedia, recently said:

Consumers’ needs have been an assumed afterthought in the plans of most intermediaries. The thinking has been, put up some valuable or interesting content, consumers will show up, and you can cookie and track and bombard them to your heart’s content. That won’t continue … Some companies will start to realize that doing right by consumers, protecting them from ad bombardment and data promiscuity, can be a good business

So, Now What?

Even the creative side has a blind spot with digital consumers. They’ve been focusing on relevancy and storytelling from just one perspective, and only occasionally granting behavioral data some importance. While reserving the creative act only for the designated geniuses.

Brands will need to change and evolve to stay in the game. Current and future digital life experience is more goal-oriented. And goal-oriented activities are no longer segregated, even in leisure moments. The addition of contextual, responsive intelligence to all the appliances of life—including media applications—require brands to take a more expansive view of marketing.

Communications must be designed for real-time, interactive, integrated experiences across both physical and virtual domains.

As Alison Millington wrote recently on the U.K.-based MarketingWeek.com:

Brands are finally realising that technology can improve the bottom line in a much bigger and more measurable way than digital marketing alone while at the same time engendering loyalty.

Digital advertising should remain a part of this strategy, but without using technology to boost the customer experience brands are missing out.

Buckle Up and Get Ready for The Ride

Serious transformation is just around the corner. Marketing is now challenged with marrying the rapidly evolving scientific, data-driven capabilities of internet technology with the goals of their clients.

Goals that aim to improve people’s lives, while sustaining a vital economic marketplace.

Terry Irwin and her colleagues at the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon are positioning themselves ahead of the curve. Irwin proposes we consider design as a “Third Culture,” between science and the humanities.

“Design is inherently a problem-solving process,” says Irwin. “It’s at the heart of questions like, ‘Is it possible?’ ‘Should we do this?’ ‘Will people want this?'”

Design is indeed the new master creative discipline for the digital age’s customer relationships. Agencies who add design to their capabilities and designers to their rosters will be first in line to contribute to—and benefit from—new modes of brand-consumer interactions. And the relationships built from those interactions will be more welcome, useful and appreciated than ever before.

Don’t Miss Out!

Want to learn more? Design, experience and the future of marketing just happen to be theme of this year’s CreateTech Conference! Curious? Join us right after Election Day, November 9–10, in New York City for the sixth annual CreateTech. Visit createtech.aaaa.org to find out more.