How To Create a Marketing Design Strategy for Startups

Discover why a strategic approach to design is particularly important for companies that have digital products—and how to create your strategy in 5 steps.

Marketing design
October 11, 2021

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If you want your marketing efforts to be successful, the design of marketing assets needs to be a product of strategic planning and research. Here’s how to do it.

Why is design important for marketing, again? Several reasons, but most importantly since:

  • It helps you build brand awareness.
  • It distinguishes you from your competition.
  • It increases sales.
  • It helps you communicate more effectively.

However, for startups, the importance of good design is perhaps even greater. Since modern businesses such as those in the software-as-a-service (SaaS) industry don’t have physical products that people can use, good design is related to both marketing and their actual product. A cake packaging might not look unappealing, but ultimately if it’s tasty, it might sell. A digital product that looks bad is also going to be difficult to use, which will drive users away.

Finally, you should remember that any successful brand provides a solution to a specific problem, however, this is something that’s especially important for a startup since unlike a cake, people don’t buy digital products on a whim, but rather for a specific purpose.

Why is strategic design important?

Strategic design is linked to a business methodology called design thinking which is a set of processes by which design concepts are developed. The term is usually linked to product design, and so is particularly relevant to digital startups.

Simply put, it’s a philosophy where you create something through understanding the end user’s challenges and needs. This process starts with empathizing with a particular problem (realizing its importance), and goes through several stages such as ideation, prototyping and iteration.

It’s important to note that this is a nonlinear process, meaning it doesn’t end with one single solution to a problem that’s been identified. As the problems evolve or change, the solutions must follow suit in order for startups to stay competitive. As we said, if a digital product’s design prevents users from achieving their goals, it’s not a matter of aesthetics but rather of usability.


How to develop a marketing design strategy

So, since design is such an integral part of a startup’s success, here’s how to develop your design strategy in 5 steps and ensure your products and marketing efforts are always communicating with the target audience in the right way.

Define your business

Many people won’t know that branding design is in fact part of marketing design. Once you have a business strategy in place, it’s the marketers’ job to help people hear about your products and services.

However, in order to know how you want to convey your message, you need to understand what your business is: what makes it unique, what is its competitive advantage and what is the target audience you need to reach.

If your business has a well-defined reason for being (and it always goes beyond just making money), and a unique sense of self (how are you different if you’re selling the same or similar product as somebody else), you’re already on the right track.

This is of course a long and complex process in itself that requires thorough market research and plenty of introspection until you land on a concept that resonates with you and your target market.

Set objectives and key results

No strategy is complete without measurable goals that are to be met. Of course, overall business goals are usually something you want to achieve in the long term, like build a recognizable brand, with loyal customers and recurring revenue.

But a marketing, and more specifically, marketing design strategy requires a much more tangible set of key performance indicators (KPIs) that suggest whether the strategy you’ve come up with is working, or if you need to make some changes.

When it comes to setting your KPIs, they should be:

  • Specific: Don’t just set out to “build brand awareness”; make sure your marketing plan includes specific goals such as increasing website traffic or the number of social media followers.
  • Measurable: Make sure you can quantify the success of your campaign in actual numbers.
  • Attainable: Don’t underestimate yourself, but don’t set unrealistic goals either. Make sure your plan aligns with what is achievable given your marketing budget and capabilities.
  • Relevant: Are these goals actually related to your overall business strategy; if not, change them.
  • Time-bound: Marketing campaigns should exist in a limited time frame. Test different copy and design options for a period of time and find what works best.

Just like a business or marketing strategy, strategic design allows you to use design to achieve your business’s long-term goals. Instead of just creating an isolated marketing asset such as a blog cover or social media post, this will help you understand why and how each visual plays into the big picture: what kind of messages they convey and how they prompt your target audience to take the required action.

Find the right design service

If you’ve been following so far, you might already have a feeling that a design strategy means a lot of different visual design assets. Naturally, each of these requires a specific set of design skills, so when it comes to choosing the right design partner, startups with a limited budget usually have a very difficult task.

Let’s quickly list some of the key aspects of marketing design that you’ll need to cover:

  1. Website: If you want to get your website designed and developed on a budget, you can always try to use one of many website-building tools. Many of them are user-friendly and actually quite affordable, so if your needs aren’t extensive this solution can work. However, bear in mind that it should be linked to your product, and since it's often the first point of contact for a potential customer, a bad user experience on your website might mean that they won’t even give your products a chance.
  2. Logo and branding: Startups are definitely not exempt from good branding, and though you might not need things like print collateral, you’ll definitely want all of your design assets to be reflective of your brand identity.
  3. Products: The secret to a good product, aside from a good idea of course, is good UI/UX design. Your designer needs to have expertise in these areas in order to create a product that’s both easy and enjoyable to use. That means following design principles, such as balance and hierarchy, and making sure that the product onboarding is smooth and easy.
  4. Display and social media ads: Startups don’t run traditional ads in print or on TV, so their marketing campaigns are focused digitally. Although this might seem much simpler than filming a whole TV ad, bear in mind that digital marketing involves a lot of different formats, and a good designer has to know all the specifics for different types of ads.

While you might be tempted to reach out to freelancers and handle part of the work yourself, this might not prove to be the most cost-effective solution in the long run. Having to rebrand early on or make expensive changes to product design won’t just put a dent in your budget, but it can also seriously harm your brand image and, consequently, the success of your startup.

If you’re looking for a service that’s both affordable and able to handle different design requests, look no further than unlimited design! For a flat monthly rate, you can get all of your design needs taken care of!

Learn from other startups

We’ve already said that it’s critical to understand how your business is unique and what makes you different. However, good ideas also don’t come out of nowhere, so you need to do a lot of research and see what are the relevant design trends in your industry and how you can make them work for your business.

One great example to learn from is the finance and budget planning app Mint. At the time when the app launched, its creators did a great job at defining their target audience, namely millennials who were just starting out in the professional world and had very little knowledge on how to manage their finances.

Throughout the years Mint created a powerful organic reach on social media by sharing both fun and informative content for young professionals looking to manage their finances.

As a startup, you can’t rely on word of mouth and, instead, it’s critical to create engaging and informative content that people will want to share. Of course, it’s important to adapt your approach to each platform. For example, you’ll find that Mint’s Facebook page is a place to share articles on different topics, while their Instagram has a more playful fun side addressing the big pain points of their customers (“How about that doctor’s appointment, mom?”) in a simple, visual manner.

mint app social media 1.png
mint app social media 2.png

Evaluate and adjust

If you’ve started your design journey with users’ needs in mind, you’re likely already on the right track. However, a strategic approach to design should also include possible iterations based on the results of your marketing campaigns.

Test different colors and fonts for your email and display ad design and see what performs best. Experiment with the placement of copy and CTA buttons on your designs, or gather a focus group and see how they respond to your product concepts and ideas.

While a strategy is needed to provide you with long-term objectives and a direction, bear in mind that some design decisions will be made along the way.

Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.

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