The Definitive Guide to B2B Design

Operationalizing design is hard. Here's how to make it happen.

The Definitive Guide to B2B Design

The Definitive Guide to B2B Design

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Operationalizing design is hard. Here's how to make it happen.

The Definitive Guide to B2B Design

Over the course of the past 6 years, we here at SketchDeck have worked with hundreds of marketing and B2B design teams, including: Remy Cointreau, Okta, SAP and Instacart. We've helped organizations not only overcome business-to-business marketing design challenges, but transition to more design-centric cultures.

Why? Because good design helps you grow!

design ROI

According to a 2018 McKinsey study that analyzed two million pieces of financial data and 100,000 design actions over the course of 5 years, design-led companies had 32% more revenue and 56% higher total returns. Design-centric companies also outgrew their S&P 500 peers who didn't place an emphasis on design by 211%.

It's therefore clear: design is no longer a nice to have. Instead, it is a proven value driver for business growth!

We also all know iconic designs, such as the Swiss Army Knife, the humble Google home page, or the Disneyland visitor experience. All of these are constant reminders of the way strong design can be at the heart of both disruptive and sustained commercial success in physical, service, and digital settings. —McKinsey

Even so, companies often struggle to implement strong design for a handful of reasons. This is particularly true in the business-to-business sector.

The brave new world of B2B design

Scaling design is a challenging process, requiring adaptation as design teams change how they operate. Businesses must adjust their structure to accommodate for design growth.

In the B2B sector, this struggle is even higher due to a lack of clarity around the starting point–compared to B2C organizations, there is little hard data or research surrounding how much B2B organizations spend on design. 

One reason for this is that traditionally, these design teams have mainly existed as part of a particular department or function, making it difficult to extract exact cost figures and returns.

Getting reliable data about design ROI is further complicated by the fact that unlike industries such as finance and real estate—who possess long held objective metrics and industry leaders that fund large scale studies and reports—the design sector is fractured. Objective metrics have yet to be widely available and are far from standardized. 

Despite this lack of data, we do have a few high-level indicators that reveal broader trends in the B2B design market. The US has seen 30% revenue growth in graphic design services over the last 4 years, with figures rising from $7.4B in 2013 to $9.6B in 2017. We see a similar trend for in-house design hires in 25 top performing companies in a cross-sector of industries. Over the last 12 months alone, the figures indicate an average of 13% growth in design department headcount.

The challenges

But even though demand is growing, there is still little knowledge spread about the specific challenges of attracting, retaining, motivating, and making the most of design talents for both in-house teams and agencies.

One commonly overlooked example is that just like hospitals needs doctors and nurses or law firms needs lawyers and paralegals in order to optimize their work and cost efficiency, design operations needs junior and senior designers working together.

To put it another way: would you ask Michelangelo himself to build the scaffolds used to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling? No, you'd ask him to get some helpers and focus on the painting itself. And yet, we seen too many senior designers swamped with kerning, minor corrections, or template-filling pitch decks for other sectors.

So while it's true that good, on-brand pitch deck design is paramount to your brand cohesiveness, simpler work should be done by entry-level designers–not by your most talented (and expensive) professional. You can’t expect top designers to spend their days joyfully styling pitch decks for the sales team–this will not only drive them away, but you’ll lose money paying a top designer to do something a junior designer could easily do.

On the other hand, if you give flagship projects to a junior designer they’ll likely be thrilled and motivated–but probably won’t deliver the quality and results your brand needs.

And perhaps above all, don't expect a C-level executive with little or no design skills to do their own presentation–if you do, your company loses a lot of money and productivity. Not only is their time is too valuable to spend on DIY design, but the likeliness of going off-brand with your design increases ten-fold.

We have really aggressive goals. The opportunity costs of spending internal time on design is terrible. —Chris Ries, Demand Generation Director at Icertis

As a result, understanding the difference between flagship, creative campaigns and nitty-gritty daily design needs is crucial to optimizing your design ventures. Both are necessary for brand coherence, but workflows and expectations are different.

Hence, it is time to introduce you to a concept that will save you a great deal of trouble:

The B2B design pyramid

To better understand the key pieces of today’s design landscape—and the shortcomings of the current approach to business to business design—we can visualize a company’s design needs as a pyramid.

In this model, the height of the pyramid represents the strategic importance of each design project, while the width of the pyramid represents the volume of projects.

design pyramid

Historically, organizations have focused time and budget on the top two layers of the Design Pyramid. Some of the more prominent and high-profile examples include the Accenture brand, which reportedly cost $100 million–or Pepsi‘s $1.2B rebrand in 2008. These figures show that: a) companies are prepared to invest in their brand and b) a brand can be hugely expensive, especially for large enterprises.

More than 2/3 of Fortune 500 companies have undergone a major rebrand or visual overhaul in the last 10 years.

But while companies are continually investing more in design (tech and software companies can invest as much as 31% of their overall revenue into marketing), they still fall short when it comes to the bottom layer of the Design Pyramid. This shortfall isn’t due to a lack of strong design vision and guidance from designers or agencies, but rather the struggle for non-designers (i.e. marketing and sales teams) to execute on this vision.

To stay relevant and succeed in today’s market, companies need stronger design. You need to build design-centric organization, along with a reliable portfolio of design solutions for both flagship projects and everyday design.

Here are the greatest challenges your company is likely to face when trying to execute everyday design:

  1. Higher quality standards demanding a broader set of design assets
  2. The constant evolution of complexity and of marketing channels, as well as the personalization levels they require
  3. Shortcoming of traditional solutions to keep up with the demand

If you want more details on the Design Pyramid, the contemporary design needs of savvy brands and a cost-effective and timely solution for your everyday design needs, fill the form in the right and download our B2B Design Blueprint Ebook. You’ll also find a detailed 6-step strategy covering:

  • How to assess your design needs
  • Flexible brand systems
  • Independent design teams
  • Clear design metrics and objectives
  • Design-centric culture
  • Design scalability

If you prefer video, you can also watch our webinar on how to scale marketing design. And if you ever need help, just drop us a message–we're here for you!


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