The Difference Between Designers and Marketers

A reader of this blog, recently, inquired about the difference between Designers and Marketers. I took some time to think about it and came to so many conclusions that it was Wicked Marketing entry worthy. This won’t be as snarky as my usual posts, but then again I’ve been known to surprise myself now and then.

The most basic definition of a Marketer is someone who promotes or exchanges goods or services for money. A Marketer is also known as a promoter, but in the very rare occasion a Marketing is also responsible for Public Relations (something entirely different, but yet the same). A Designer, on the other hand, is someone who creates or makes original print and web marketing materials, artwork and the like.

While the two work hand in hand on most projects very rarely are they the same person. A strong Marketer will have at least a working knowledge of the limitations of design. Marketers are responsible for creating, executing and tracking the marketing strategy and tactics a particular project or campaign. Marketers are also responsible for understanding their clients’ needs, consistency of message, target audience and demographics, establishing milestones and creating, or outsourcing the creation, of the text content that is to be used on whatever piece, or pieces, is needed. When they have a concept in mind, they generally create thumbnail sketches or rough drawings of what the pieces they need will be to best communicate the ideas to the Designer who bring them to reality. Last but not least, marketers are also responsible for defining a strategy for and tracking the Return On Investment (ROI) to show the effectiveness of the marketing piece or campaign. First and foremost, Marketers are strategists, tactical analysts and sales people. A Marketer, for the purposes of defining the name, could be a person, team of like minded individuals or firm (larger than a team of like minded individuals, but smaller than a football team).

A strong Designer will have at least a working knowledge of marketing strategies, branding, the psychology of what sells or attracts and the different between how to design for print work or web. The Designer will translate the ideas created by the Marketer and the client to a visual medium. The Designer may suggest alternative marketing pieces, offer multiple variations of the initial design for choices, and suggest alternative mediums to assist in marketing the client (namely to their own benefit). Designers are responsible for creating the deliverables (marketing pieces), providing the pieces in formats for use on multiple platforms (if needed) and working with the Marketer to provide the best possible avenue to produce and create the designed items. A Designer needs to understand the clients budget restraints, voice, target market, avenues of use, and be able to communicate any questions, comments, concerns or ideas directly to the client. First and foremost, Designers are creative people. That means they are one part artist, one part mind reader and one part fortune teller. A Designer, for the purposes of defining the name, could be a person, a group of freelancers, a studio or a firm.

So now that we’ve outline, roughly, what they are; let’s go over how they work together. Generally a client will either source out their Marketer and/or Designer. If they have found their Designer first, hopefully, the Designer will suggest that the client uses a Marketer to come up with the strategy and allow the Designer to do what they do best”¦design. The Marketer will work with the client to determine their desired outcome, target audience, understand past marketing attempts, create a scope of work as defined (or limited by) a budget, and create the overall message. The Marketer will present a few rough ideas to the client for their selection or find one they feel strongly will best represent the client and run with it. The Marketer will then bring in the Designer to meet with the client, get a feel for the visual personality of the strategy and answer any questions the Designer may have regarding past work(s) the client has created.

From there the Designer goes away to that magical land called creation and waits for their respective Muse to hand down a few ideas. Mine tends to wait till the last possible second and then overload me with more choices than I can possibly present. Those ideas are then turned into rough drafts to present to the client. Notice I didn’t say finished works? The Marketer presents the ideas to the client who then has to choose one, or two. The designer gets any notes and feedback on the selection, returns to the land of creation and brings back a more polished product. This process could repeat several times. We’ll fast forward as thought they hit the proverbial home run on the first try.

The client signs off on the designs and the Marketer and Design begin their process of finding the best possible avenue to have the piece(s) created. Once done, the Designer steps out of the picture, tips his/her hat to the client and waits in the wings for the next piece, revision or what have you. The Marketer takes over at that point and, depending on the strategy, distributes to piece to the client or out to the avenues they determine them to go. After the run of the piece, the Marketer will look at the overall success of the project/campaign and report back to the customer with suggestions, improvements, or a finished report.

Please note I said “œGenerally” when this example started. Marketers and Designers are fickle people and the route that a project could take varies depending on both the Marketer and the Designer. The example was, in my opinion, the simplest route that a project could go without going into too much explanation. I only have so much space for text you know. Besides, I’m pretty sure you don’t want to get bored reading this.

Good Marketers and Designers are the mad scientists of their industry. They create pieces that sometimes won’t see the light of day for sometimes close to six months. When they create these pieces they have to look into the future and feel confident that these strategies and designs will still be relevant and appealing as they are when they created them.

What you need to understand, as I close this extremely long entry out, is that both Marketing and Design is subjective. Not everyone will like every concept or idea. These things are organic and can often take a life of their own. As a Marketer or Designer, you’re trying to get as many people you’ve never met to connect with something strongly enough for them to remember it firmly enough to tell other people about it, pull out their hard earned cash to pay for it and simply just engage them in such a way these pieces stand out in their day to day lives. Marketing and Design are not two things you should go lightly into assuming everyone can do. You’re bound to spend a lot of money on things that bring you very little if you do.

In closing, the difference between a Marketer and a Designer is vast, but ultimately you should feel confident in both enough to trust your business, project or event will be a success”¦whatever you decide that to be. I’d love to hear the experiences you’ve had with the Marketers and Designers in your past. I’d also like to know that you found this entry informative and educational. Drop me a line.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.