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Digital Design and the Promotion Mix

Promotion Mix

Promotion is an outcome activity of marketing, but marketing is not promotion. This blog post is about confusing the two and how digital design fits into all of it.

When people think of marketing, they often think about promotion. And when people think about promotion, then often think about the collateral generated to create promotional material. And it is because of that connect that businesses often confuse graphic design firms with marketing firms. Heaven forbid, we actually confuse those oversimplifications. 

Myth #1: Creating promotional material is an expression of marketing.

It might be correct to say that creating promotional material can be an outcome of the work of marketing, but it is not the implementation of marketing. Marketing, by definition, is a defining of a brand's position within the market it is targeting. In that sense, the outcome or implementation of a marketing effort is the identification and selection of the target position. In a sense, a marketer helps the brand to know its place in the world. Getting to that place it desires to be via advertising and promotion, is a whole other activity entirely. Knowing the difference is called "strategy".

Myth #2: Promotional goals set marketing into motion.

This is the direct opposite of what it should be. Marketing is understanding your market (market research) your audience (audience research) you brand (who you are by decision) and where you fit into the world (competitive research). Marketing should work to define the map. Think of standing at an airport, trying to get from the ticket counter to the correct international terminal and gate. You need a map that shows you, you are here, and here is where you are headed. Marketing discovers the map. Marketing shows you where you are and identifies the challenges to getting where you need to go.

Marketing campaigns are the routes you take to go from point A to point B. No single campaign may get you all of the way from A to B, so you need to make a plan, a campaign, take steps, then research again: where are we? Where are we headed, again? And then you set up the next route or campaign.

Promotional goals are the steps in that route.

Myth #3: Design means graphic design, which means make stuff look pretty and making stuff look pretty facilitates promotion

This is a massive misunderstanding and underestimation of all of the reality and value of design. Design, at its inherent core, is strategic. It begs for a plan. If you have no plan, then we are looking at art. And I love art, but in the world of marketing, design is not art. And graphic design is not art. Graphic design, as one aspect of design, is about communication, not art. And the goal of communication is not to look pretty. The goal of communication is to be smart. In fact, ugly communication can be more strategic and smarter than pretty art, if it is strategic. Pretty says, "Make the background purple," but smart say, "Why purple?" The effort of design is about movement: Moving people from A to B; Moving people through a workflow; Moving people to fill in a form or contact a sales person. The science of design, from User Experience Design to Graphic Design, is about taking all of that research and making smart decisions, one step after the other. Design may look static, and the unobservant might think it just looks pretty, but design is moving.

Myth #4: Design is a help to promotion, and marketing makes promotion happen for sales

Imagine the confusion at a restaurant if the waiters thought the Chef worked for them! Who would plan the menu? Who would stock the inventory of food products to keep the kitchen ready to make the meals for the day? Imagine planning the menu. You are a fine french restaurant, but the waiter keeps saying they are the one who spend time with the customers, so they know the customer best and should be the ones setting the menu. And what if the waitstaff started selling meals not based on the menu and the food products inventoried for the day?

It is understandable that the waitstaff understand the value in what it is they are doing. They are selling and providing a service. But the number one "client" they serve is the business itself. If this was happening, the problem is not that the waitstaff overvalue their contribution. The problem is that the Chef and the restaurant ownership do not lead with a clear vision and identity. What is missing is the outcome of the real marketing effort: the positioning.

Let's flip around the order and see how things can be organized in another way such that they give everone the thing they need to thrive in the value they add.

  • The business provides a service and this is where it all starts.
  • Marketing helps determine the identity (current) and partners with the business to determine the trajectory (future) of brand positioning
  • The various service parts of the business live and serve the identity in the now along the map/trajectory at the right time

Promotion and sales serve as a service part within the current "now" part of the trajectory map. They shouldn't start taking steps ahead of where they are along the trajectory. And as ambitious and excited as they are about where they are going, they shouldn't sell the future (yet). They live in the now. And when the future becomes the now, they sell and promote that updated now.

Promotional mix is the answer to the chicken and egg question

In the world of marketing, there is something called the promotional mix. Again, recall that marketing helps determine the truth about the brands position as well helps to research the map to help the company move from where they are to where they want to be. Those strategic steps along the map are the efforts the business takes to help move the company toward its goal. The promotional mix is the implementation of those steps.

So what is the promotional mix? The promotional mix are the strategic promotional blend of various steps marketers take to help a company reach its goals. Here is a list of promotional mix "steps":

  • Advertising - money spent on promoting the idea via various mediums (print and digital t.v. internet, etc.)
  • Personal sales - efforts to win over other groups or individuals to the benefit of a sale
  • Direct promotion - efforts to reach out directly to your audience in a campaign-level appeal
  • Public Relations - image management and communication efforts (press releases) intended to reinforce the brand identity and position
  • Sponsorship - reinforcing the brand identity and values in the marketplace by attaching one's self to a secondary group or cause

Therefore, Sales is a tactic of promotion, subordinate to the business and the research/brand identity management of marketing.

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