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Why bold design is good business

David Alexander

When your brand is bold with design, pushing limits and expectations, you can create an experience that stands out, truly captures the audience and, crucially, gives you the edge in the market. But boldness doesn’t necessarily mean wacky or controversial. Being bold with design can be subtle, too. It’s about telling your story and connecting with people memorably.

Take Apple. It has consistently used bold design to its advantage. The iconic fruit logo, Jony Ive’s sleek product design, and the enduring “Think different” philosophy; all work together to make Apple irresistible to customers.

And it has demonstrated that design-led thinking pays off: Apple became the first $1 trillion company in 2018 – and the first $3 trillion company earlier this year – because it understands the value of simple ideas and executing them well. Apple’s many imitators, notably Samsung, underline the appeal of its design philosophy.

But many businesses don’t put their money where their design is, especially in the B2B space. At The Frameworks, we set out to understand why by surveying 150 B2B marketers. Our Be Bold report revealed that a quarter of respondents allocate just 5% of their total budget to marketing, less than half the industry standard, but 76% acknowledged that the lack of investment impacts their effectiveness as a marketer.  

Today’s marketers know that audiences are more challenging to engage than ever, and playing it safe won’t wash. So, how can brands get the most out of their investment?

Trust an agency partner

I know what you’re thinking: I would say that, wouldn’t I? But agency creatives are a valuable sounding board. We want to create work that gets results, and we have other clients, too, which has two key benefits. Exposure to other brands expands our thinking. And we’re more likely to push creative thinking beyond the status quo, challenging the client with a greater outside perspective.

That’s not to minimise the role of in-house creatives – they know their brand better than anyone. An extra layer of input from an agency partner can challenge ideas and take them from good to great.

Trusting in bold thinking can bring great rewards. In 2007 Cadbury’s Dairy Milk did just that. It gave agency Fallon London the brief that eating chocolate makes you feel good. It took four months and a lot of convincing for Cadbury to approve the creative – a gorilla playing the drums to Phil Collins’s In the Air Tonight – but airing the surreal TV ad soon became one of its best decisions.

Apart from the on-brand purple background, what did it have to do with chocolate? Not much. But the design completely nailed the brief of making you feel good and embodied the “A glass and a half full of joy” sign-off. It went viral, won the top prize at Cannes Lions, and the return on investment was three times greater than expected.

We’ve seen similar success in our relationship with IBM. We developed the creative concept for IBM Garage, a co-creation space for clients to work with IBM experts to solve business challenges with IBM technology. We knew it had to stand out from other innovation hubs and needed a little design magic.

Our simple concept – Where it happens – focused on the physical space of the hub and fusing offline and online with a classic print book and a virtual reality (VR) experience.

The multi-sensory campaign delighted the target audience, doubled the average level of IBM page engagement, generated $62 million in lead progression in five months, and won multiple awards. This was only possible because our relationship with IBM was based on trust, synergy, and bold thinking.

Businesses are people, too

B2B? Think KPIs and ROI. B2C? It’s perceived as more personal and human, targeting the consumer, their wants and desires – not just hitting a number. But that distinction is a misconception that could be holding your B2B design back.

A business isn’t a building. It’s formed by the people who work there. We should never forget that B2B communications need to talk to people, just as B2C campaigns engage and empathise with the audience. Get this right, and you’ll have a greater chance of hitting KPIs.

At The Frameworks, we put that thinking into action with New Law pioneers Lawyers on Demand to create a B2B campaign that was playful and fresh to reflect their brand’s offering. Using anagrams, wordplay, and bold typography to demonstrate their focus on seeing things differently appealed to the audience’s human curiosity just as a B2C advert would. And it was joyful and fun – a bit like Cadbury’s gorilla.

Standing out with bold, high-end design shouldn’t be the preserve of B2C marketers. The same creative tools can be applied to B2B brands to a significant effect. We saw that with our work for 3D software giant Dassault Systèmes. We created striking, award-winning photography for the brand’s awareness campaign – something more typically associated with B2C – and delivered a 150% increase in unaided awareness.

Be consistent in your boldness

Beyond splashy advertising and campaigns, brands need to maintain consistency with their bold design to thrive. Inconsistency will muddy the brand message and create confusion, no matter how big the company is.

Even the best-known brands can lose their way. Take BBC’s regional radio stations. Initially, each sub-brand was designed with consistency, but they have fallen into disrepair over the years, with quirks and inconsistencies slipping through. Lack of central oversight soon saw the radio station logos become so different they didn’t look like they belonged to the same organisation.

For a branded house, these design inconsistencies reflect negatively on the parent brand, diluting the BBC brand’s power. The BBC is now doing something about it as it undergoes a significant rebrand for its centenary, but most can’t afford to let it get that far. Design principles and guidelines need to be rigorously upheld so that the effort into creating a bold and distinctive brand doesn’t go to waste.

Design to make people feel

To reach—and connect with—their audience, brands need to invest in the creative process, trust an agency partner, push boundaries and be consistent.

This is as true for B2B brands as it is for B2C. Marketers would do well to remember that they are communicating with humans, not machines. And those humans are busy, bombarded with messages everywhere, all the time. Businesses can’t risk playing it safe. They need to prioritise the user experience, get under their audience’s skin, and provide a design that makes people feel something.

Brands can stand out in today’s overcrowded market only through great design – and consistency. And when you invest in and realise the power of being bold, you will soon reap the rewards – and the dividends.

A version of this article previously appeared on Creativepool.com, in March 2021