Making friends with marketing: A practical guide for designers

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In this post, our friends at CloudApp share six strategies for a harmonious workflow between marketing and design teams. Use these tips to help bridge communication barriers and set realistic expectations to ensure a smooth project delivery.

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Does this email string look familiar to you?

Email 10 of 20: Hey, thanks for making those edits we requested. A few other people wanted to give it a pass before we push it live and they had some other requests. I have them outlined below and in a PDF.

Email 15 of 20: I know I said that was the final request, but I noticed some typos. Can you update this?

Email 19 of 20: Final Final Final request, I promise!

Email 20 of 20: The graphic/page is finally live! However, I noticed one other change. Can you update? 🙂

There is a better way

The emails above are from a verbatim exchange I had several times with our creative team when I was working at Adobe. The communication challenges between marketing and design teams are just as prevalent today as they were years ago… even with the plethora of slick collaboration tools, technology advances, and co-working opportunities.

Whether you work in a 1,000-person corporation or a 10-person agency, it’s critical to bridge communication barriers. And your marketing partner can be the wind beneath your design wings. TL;DR? There’s nothing better than a smooth and collaborative connection between design and marketing.

Ready to build that rapport? Follow along as we share six tried-and-true tips to improve communication with your marketing cohorts.

1. Set expectations at project kickoff

Set expectations: No matter which side of the project you are on, expectations are, well, expected! Designers need to outline what they expect from the other team members or project leaders, and vice versa. With no expectations, it’s difficult to determine if the work you are getting is what you actually want, and this will likely cause the back-and-forth and hordes of last-minute changes.

Designers and marketers need to have a clear, detailed discussion about expectations, constraints, deadlines, etc. On the side of the designers, it’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t promise a mountain and present a molehill. Marketers, on the other hand, can further aid in ensuring they get exactly what they want delivered by being direct and detailed. Show examples of the kind of design you’re after and ensure the designers have clear brand guidelines to fit the project at hand. After all, how do you expect someone to create your vision if they don’t know the half of it?

Designers and marketers need to have a clear, detailed discussion about expectations, constraints, deadlines, etc.

To put into perspective, visual examples such as videos, screenshots, and GIFs created with collaboration and productivity tools like CloudApp can help everyone working within the project better understand what the end result should be. Referring back to the string of emails, retaining all the necessary information can be tricky. Especially if you are trying to explain a visual project in words. A short webcam recording from a member of the marketing team outlining what needs to be done, or a screen recording from a designer showing their current progress will better bridge the communication gap.

You may even consider some tips on operating a remote team in order to find success. Recently tools like Slack, Asana, Airtable, and others have provided opportunities to connect both remote and matrixed teams to keep things on task. Frequent communication and usage of some tools is key for remote teams, and should also be a big piece of connecting with teams cross org.

Now that expectations are clearly set, what’s next?

2. Create a work-back schedule

On day one, outline a clear work-back schedule:

  • When is the definite deadline?
  • How far along should the project be by the end of week 1?
  • When is the next meeting to discuss the project’s progress?

The process needs to be clear for everyone working within the project. Setting up important milestones, for example, 50% of the project should be completed by the end of week one, is a great way to keep the team on track and ensure the project gets completed well within reason. A clear work back schedule will also keep productivity levels at a good pace. Knowing that 50% of the project needs to be done by a certain time won’t allow you to wait until the last minute to mash something.

Leads from both the design and marketing teams need to drive the project in order to ensure deadlines are met and quality levels meet or exceed expectations. Project leads are key when it comes to keeping everyone on task and bridging the communication between design and marketing. Once expectations, deadlines, and important dates pertaining to the project are set, everyone can begin to move forward at a reasonable pace.

3. Add buffer time

So you have a work-back schedule in place, everything is going smoothly, and the project was delivered the day of the deadline. It sounds like a perfect scenario, right?

With many design projects, there may be some edits requested from the marketing team. Some edits might be easy to fix, while others require a couple of hours of work. Now the designer is stuck rushing to finish a project that they had already completed… confusing statement, I know.

Knowing that feedback and changes are inevitable, it’s best to start the project earlier and have a completion date 1-2 weeks prior to the actual deadline (if you have that much lead time). That way, if any edits are required or expectations change, there is enough time to complete them and discuss them further without having to rush. Adding this buffer time will help to ensure mutual recognition of each team’s time and busy schedules!

4. Involve any and all stakeholders early on

Bring in other stakeholders early on IF you believe they can play a role in optimizing the projects at hand. If you believe their contribution is necessary or that they may insert themselves later on in the process, its best to connect with them early on.

If you can’t reach these stakeholders in a timely manner, talk to product, sales, management, or anyone who has a strong relationship with a company you might be mentioning in a report, marketing campaign, or design.

Remember, executives have their plates full almost 24/7. Attempting to get anything from them in the latter stages of a project may cause delays or you simply won’t be able to nab them on time.

5. Immediate communication if expectations change

One frustration when working with other teams is when one doesn’t communicate enough. If either side is working on something, don’t wait until it’s done. Grab some time for a meeting, video chat, or roundtable discussion for a check in well before you’re almost complete. Long wait times for responses or lack of communication as a whole can result in decreased quality of work and increased hours put into a project trying to fix everything towards the end.

If expectations change, designs need to be moved around, content needs to be changed, certain elements do not work, etc, communicate this right away. It’s easier to resolve an issue or shift a project when it’s 25% complete rather than doing so when it’s 100% complete.

Communication should be part of every team member’s routine in order to deliver the optimal result.

6. Celebrate and do a postmortem

When the project is done, it’s important to meet as a group to analyze the project. You may consider asking these questions.

  • What went well?
  • What could use improvement next time?
  • Did we stay on schedule?
  • What took longer than expected?
  • Who were the unexpected stakeholders?
  • What stakeholders do we need to bring in earlier and follow up with more?

Along with an in-depth analysis, find ways to praise each other wherever possible. In team meetings, acknowledge and thank those who worked on the project, “We couldn’t have done this without the creative team, they did great work with the design and delivery” and vice versa.

Big or small, it’s important to celebrate projects and collaborations. Each and every project is a chance for marketers and designers to expand their productivity, work, and communication skills. Celebrating and thanking those who contributed can also help boost morale for the next project that comes through the door.

Conclusion

These steps are meant to provide some understanding from both perspectives. Marketers and designers alike need to effectively communicate with one another in order to deliver the best product possible. As a dream team, it’s essential for these departments to have each other’s best interests in mind and drive one another to achieve great feats. From setting expectations to celebrating another project done in the books, effective visual communication, and consistent consideration can be the major difference between meeting expectations and exceeding expectations on both ends.

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About the author:

Joe Martin is the current VP of Marketing at CloudApp, a visual collaboration tool. He has over 12 years experience working in marketing and strategy. Prior to CloudApp, he led multiple content, research, and social teams at Adobe. He has an MBA from Utah and an entrepreneurship degree from Stanford and his work has been quoted in top tier press like the WSJ, Forbes, AP, and CNBC.


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