How five marketers are injecting design into brands

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Design is the new black in marketing. Whether it's a sleek form or an easy-to-use function of a product, a package or a store, more CMOs are hitching their brands to standout design. And the most committed of them are fusing design and marketing at the root organizational level, not just at the treetops for consumers.

"Industry is recognizing that design is strategy, and strategy is design-they're not separated," says John Grace, a veteran global branding consultant who now heads BrandTaxi, his own firm in Greenwich, Conn. "So it's natural that marketers and designers are beginning to think alike."

Even at the most progressive companies, the integration of design and marketing is "still evolving," says Bill Chidley, chief strategy officer of Design Forum, a Dayton, Ohio-based retail-design outfit. "But what started out as using design as a means of projecting corporate values, or as part of a company's identity, has now become the practice of using design to try to get consumers to change attitudes about brands."

Well-known examples already abound. In Mr. Chidley's bailiwick, Target is extending a long-term effort to lure its middle-class clientele with innovative private-label designs and a new advertising campaign tagged "Design for All." Apple revitalized its entire brand with iPod, the sleek little digital-music player that also launched a lifestyle revolution. Chrysler's well-documented renaissance has been largely design-led. Even food companies have been using design to stand out in a crowded field, such as Dannon, with its bright-colored and highly functional packages for various yogurt products.

And now more retailers are showcasing their design flair. Gap Stores appears to be counting on a store redesign to reverse its sagging performance. Best Buy is experimenting with a new boutique format called Escape that lures shoppers with dim lighting, textured brick walls and black leather couches.

As the necessity of good design becomes undeniable, more CMOs-at companies whose marketing initiatives have not historically incorporated a design sensibility and even at traditionally design-focused companies-are joining the revolution. Philips is relying on a design-based identity to make another stab at the stubborn U.S. consumer-electronics market. CVS is using a new layout to try to create some space between itself and other drugstore chains. Infiniti is adopting design as the flagship identifier in its competition for American luxury-vehicle buyers. Oreck is showing that functional design can still separate one vacuum cleaner from another. And Naked Juice is recognizing the value of effective design in turning retail stores into marketing venues.

Integrating design focus into their marketing operations is the challenge they're aggressively tackling in an effort to grow market share and win customers. "We're going to see design stepping up to the table even more as the perfect intersection of business-and marketing-thought," Mr. Grace says.
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