Marketers use key messaging and positioning to connect with target audiences and create personalized customer experiences. Design is a strategy that requires collaboration between marketing and designers to make content visually appealing. Today’s guest is Megan Otto, marketing design lead at CoSchedule. She describes how marketing design drives brand engagement. Great marketing with poor design is poor marketing.
Nathan: As marketers, our job is to connect with our audience. We think about key messaging and positioning. We constantly hear that our target audiences are demanding personalized experiences and we make it happen. Then, we hand off our work to a designer to make it look pretty, make it pop, jazz it up a bit.Here's the problem. Design is strategy. It's so important that we as marketers complement all of our well thought out, strategic messages, and positioning statements with design. Why is it so often, that designers are treated like a cog in the marketing production machine, rather than being involved upfront in this strategic creation of marketing? If you've ever wondered that, you're in the right place.We're talking with Megan Otto today on the Actionable Marketing Podcast. Megan is the marketing design lead here at CoSchedule. She's the influence for the entire marketing brand experience across CoSchedule’s website, blogs, sales, and customer success, enablement materials, print collateral, and a whole lot more.Today, we're talking about marketing design, as a driver of brand engagement. You’ll get a sneak peak into what makes for an unforgettable brand, what designers wish all marketers knew about design, and why web design and development should be a strategic role within your marketing team. I'm Nathan from CoSchedule and now is time to get AMPed with Megan.Hey Megan, thank you for being on the show today.Megan: Thanks for having me.Nathan: Let's talk about you and your role at CoSchedule. Could you share a little bit about what it is that you do here?Megan: I am the marketing design lead. I work with a team of designers to create all the brand visuals and marketing design materials for CoSchedule.Nathan: Awesome. You do a heck of a lot more here at CoSchedule beyond that. You basically own our entire web experience, too. You want to talk a little bit about what you do with that?Megan: My primary responsibility for design is mainly the coschedule.com website. All of the illustrations there, coding, and design of the site is mainly my realm and where I live here. Outside of that, just additional supporting materials and then working with my team of designers as well.Nathan: Excellent. I know you've got all these experiences like building a visual brand. I think that's really important for marketing as a whole. I just like to get your perspective on that as we continue this conversation. Let's get some foundation here. What do you think makes for an unforgettable brand?Megan: What really makes for an unforgettable brand is the connection that you create with your audience. You really need to understand who they are and how to reach them in order to tell your story, and build that connection through relevant and consistent experiences. Whether that's in person, on your website, social media, or really anywhere, building that consistency and having that experience be a good one for your users across all mediums.Nathan: Something that I wanted to ask you about there is that consistency with design. You were talking about different touch points like physical, web, and wherever you're at. How do you go about building that consistent experience through design?Megan: A lot of that consistency really starts from the main element of your brand and having your logo. That's what's seen first and foremost everywhere that your brand is. Just bringing that to every element is really important in keeping your brand consistent. But beyond that, it's your colors, your illustrations, your typography. It's bringing all those different visual elements to every medium, whether that is in-person or online, and really keeping that consistent look (specifically design-related look) across all mediums, but bringing that same type of messaging as well.Nathan: As a marketer, it's easy for us to think about a consistent brand message and the words we use to define our brands or our products, and just the consistency across that in all of the channels we market towards. Design, though, is a big factor of a go-to market strategy, much like brand positioning. I was wondering if you could share your perspective on why is design one of the most important elements of a go-to market strategy?Megan: Design really allows your marketing and your messaging to be seen and understood. We've always had a saying here at CoSchedule that great content with poor design is still poor content. Great content and great design really need to go hand in hand to achieve the results that you're looking for in that go-to market strategy. Without good design, it's really hard to get that message across the way that you really want it to reach your audience.Nathan: Good design. That's something that you just mentioned. Let's talk about that here at CoSchedule. How is the CoSchedule team structured?Megan: The whole marketing team is really a team of teams. We have a bunch of smaller teams, each have their really specific focus. Product marketing, inbound marketing, customer marketing, really have each expertise that they really focus on, and then teams that really support each of those, like prop marketing automation and marketing designs. While marketing design is part of product marketing, we really help every single team across CoSchedule to ensure that our message and our visual designs are very consistent across every team and are really reaching our audience at each of those levels in a very effective way.Nathan: All right. You had mentioned that marketing design is part of product marketing Why does CoSchedule feel like that's an important distinction for marketing design?Megan: It's really similar in how product marketing owns the messaging of CoSchedule and owns the go to market strategy that we bring to our market. Design really owns that look, too. Bringing in what CoSchedule looks like on our websites and on our social media, that’s how we're presenting ourselves first and foremost to our audience. Being sure to own that messaging, that visual messaging across teams and across mediums is just really important for marketing our products well.Nathan: Totally agree. I've been trying to figure out the way this team looks from your perspective, specifically. Let me ask you a little bit about the marketing design team members. How many team members are you working with?Megan: There are currently three designers on the marketing design teams. We have myself, then we have one other graphic designers, and then a design intern right now. But we're also looking for one more design intern to join our teams. If you know any designers in North Dakota, send them my way.Nathan: Definitely. That seems like a relatively small teams size to be supporting such a large amount of content that CoSchedule outputs.Megan: Yes. We do a lot of work with our team and we work very efficiently, luckily, so we can get all of our work done, too.Nathan: I wanted to ask you, you're talking about the different teams like customer marketing, inbound marketing, and even product marketing that lead their own road maps and then hand work over toward marketing design. Tell me about the collaboration there. How does the marketing team of teams collaborate with marketing design? How do those hand offs work?Megan: In the marketing team, we always begin our projects with a kick off, and really bringing together everyone that would be involved in the project. That's really is just to make sure that everyone understands the strategy and goal of the project before we even get started. Then, we just use CoSchedule a lot to keep track of each stage projects we are at. We can see when projects are in ideation, or they're with content and inbound marketing, or when they're ready for a design. You really can watch how projects are moving along, making sure that we are there when we need to be, and making sure we get our work done in time to move to the next stage as well.Another big aspect to our collaboration, too, is having regular in-progress demos. This really allows us to get feedback really quickly and often from the teams that we're working with. So, I really just try to over communicate during the whole project to make the collaboration work for our teams.Nathan: Nice. One of the things we tend to talked about is you're trying to unify the strategy and having design being involved in this early kick-off is maybe something that's unique to CoSchedule. Tell me how you go about using that to translate strategy into design.Megan: Strategy is a huge, huge part of design. It's the way that you're presenting the message to the audience. It's just as important as what the message is. Without really understanding how you're going to present it to them, it's hard to know what message to bring to people. Having designers in at the very beginning, and ideation, brainstorm process is really beneficial for everyone involved and to make sure that you're really putting your best work forward.Nathan: Hey everyone. Megan has more to share in a minute, but it's break time and I thought you'd like to check out an example of Megan’s strategic handy work. As a marketing team, we heard from our sales folks that our leads wanted something to better understand the outcomes they could achieve when they use CoSchedule. Basically, they wanted something that show others that are helping make that purchase decision, why CoSchedule is the right decision, and that it provides value well beyond soft benefits, like getting organized or gaining visibility of all things marketing in one place. Megan took it upon herself to build what we call an ROI Calculator. You can check it out at coschedule.com/build-your-case-for-coschedule. This is a great example of strategic design that took problem-solving to a whole new level. Megan designed an interactive experience that offers leads away to better understand what CoSchedule can do for their business specifically. If you ask me, it's brilliant work. Check it out for yourself at coschedule.com/build-your-case-for-coschedule. Now, on with the show.You know, Megan, since you're talking about some of your team members being involved early on like, let's say, this kick-off has happened, you're beginning that project. How do you go about assigning work to your marketing design team members?Megan: A lot of the work is assigned based on capacity, or even just expertise and what designers enjoy doing. While we have a small team, we do have a lot of variety of work that we do in every week. Understanding what people can take on within a week or maybe what would challenge them the most, would they'd be interested in trying to, are great opportunities to really give out work where we can and spread it out among our designers.Nathan: Definitely makes sense. Let's just talk about the amount of work that you do. I know I brought this up a little bit earlier. If you had to take a wild guess right now, with three designers how many pieces are you designing each week?Megan: Probably designing about three or four blog posts per week, about two tear sheets, depending on the size. Sometimes, it can be about 40-page tear sheets within a week. Also, a couple of pages on the website to add in there as well.Nathan: Speaking from past experience at other companies, that is really fast. How do you guys just makes sure that you're prioritizing, moving with speed? Designers are pretty subjective. How do you make sure that you know when things are done, so that you can keep moving ahead very quickly?Megan: A lot of it is really understanding the purpose of the design. Understanding how you can reach being done with the design really depends on if you've achieved the goal that you set out to achieve. A lot of it is over communicating throughout the whole project and getting feedback very often from the stakeholders of the project.We try to be really flexible in understanding where we can spend our time and where we really want to put out quality and get something that really is great, but at the same time meeting those deadlines. Understanding the importance of the purpose and goal and making sure we reach that is how you understand projects are done. We can always keep working on them and fine-tuning them forever if we really wanted to. Finding that done space is really important.Nathan: I think that's really well said, so thanks for that. You've been talking about marketing design, specifically, but we're talking of marketers here. I believe that it's one and the same. Just think about traditional marketer who you may have worked with in the past, maybe in here at CoSchedule. What do you wish that all marketers knew about working with designers?Megan: I think the design is just so much more than creating something that's visually appealing. There's so much more to design than just graphic design. Its strategy, its ideation, its wireframes, it is graphic design, illustration, animation, even web development. There's so much to design and really all these designers these days are so talented and can really bring all this expertise through projects. Really getting them involved from the beginning. Getting their perspective from the start is the best thing and understanding that designers have so much more to offer. Nathan: Yeah, I love that. In many ways, you guys come together to take the strategy to completion. You guys are almost the finish line for a marathon. Having you involved up front really helps the final product become just really on point with that goal.Megan: Definitely.Nathan: Let's just talk a little bit about your career in design and how that's progressed to. I feel like, you're one of the most strategic marketers on our team here at CoSchedule. I used the word marketer there, very specifically. Let's talk about your background and how you've come here. How is your career progressed from graphic design to web design and development?Megan: Yeah. I went to school for graphic design, but really, fell in love with marketing and web design in my first job out of school. Understanding the user's experience in a web medium is a really exciting challenge for me. I just feel like, that just flows so naturally into marketing and web development. Understanding why users are coming to a website, or using a product is so important in understanding how to design for them and creating that experience specifically for those types of people. That just really flows so much more into web development, too. So much on the website's design is in the code. So, bringing web development into the design field is just natural and it's just the next step in making your designs even greater.Nathan: I love that you brought that together, full circle right there. Design is in the code, because my next question for you is, as you're talking, I was thinking why is a web roll like yours, like someone who can design and develop, why is that important for a role like that to be on the marketing team and not in a different department like IT or something like that?Megan: I feel it's really important because so much of the design and the strategy is in the code. A lot of times with people have different teams, that are handling different things like that, so much gets lost in that hand off. We used to refer to it as throwing your design over the wall to development and then not seeing it again until it was done. But so much of the project is still in the development phase. Having a marketer in there, a designer in there, someone who understands what the purpose of the page is, or purpose of the app is, is really important in making sure that the end result is really what you're looking for.Nathan: Love it. I know that web design and development is a major aspect of your role, but you are also a strategic lead here at CoSchedule, who has those team members working with you. Let's talk about that as far as this career progression goes, as we've been talking about. How has your role changed by adding members to your team?Megan: As the team is really growing, it's giving me chance to hire people who are a lot better than me and especially in certain areas, which has been great. I used to have to do a little bit of everything as we're growing and being a start up, trying to get a little bit of everything out there. Now, I can really focus on areas that I bring unique value to like strategy, web, and development, where we can hire super talented illustrators and graphic designers, and put out even better work than we ever could before. Really understanding the importance of that, being able to step back when you can, and let someone else take over and really putting out better work than we ever could just as an even smaller team.Nathan: Spoken like a true leader there. Maybe, sets me up very nicely for my last question for you today Megan is, what's your favorite aspect of leading marketing design here at CoSchedule?Megan: I think it's always just that new challenge. It's really amazing to see how each team member brings that unique value to this team and pushes us to be better. Especially as CoSchedule has grown over the years, it's been great to see the evolution of our brand, our design, and our marketing as a whole. Being able to witness that first-hand and work with the people that are doing it behind the scenes is really a great experience for me.Nathan: I think that's great advice and a great place to end this episode. Megan, I want to say thank you for being on the show. It's been four years and you've skated by without being here. I know, everyone is appreciating what you shared today. Thanks.Megan: Thank you.
Nathan is the Head of Content & SEO at SimpleTexting. He's a demand generation enthusiast, content marketing advocate, and team player. He enjoys spending time with family and friends, running ultra marathons, and canoeing in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota.
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