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‘Make it Pop’ Doesn’t Mean Anything: How Designers Can Communicate Better with Marketers

Hal Conick

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Marketers and designers often communicate on different levels when starting a project, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Designers can take control of the interaction and show marketers their expertise.

During Kyle Carpenter’s session at the 2019 HOW Marketing Live conference, he asked the room full of designers how many clients have told them to “make it pop.” Nearly everyone in the room raised their hand.

“’Make it pop’ doesn’t mean anything,” says Carpenter, editor-in-chief of Clients From Hell, a website that posts anonymous interactions between creatives and their clients, usually skewering the clients for a foolish request.

While the term “make it pop”—which he says marketers often use when working with designers—doesn’t mean anything itself, Carpenter says that the term has a deeper meaning: make something stand out.

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“That request starts to show exactly what marketers want from you,” Carpenter told the crowd.

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To work through the relationship, he says that designers must know the differences between marketers and designers, along with the differences between marketing and design. Designers direct consumers’ attention, create aesthetic and flow and convert leads, while marketers engage consumers’ attention, create messages and find leads. Marketing research is what people say, UX research is what people do. Marketing pleases the greatest number of people, design pleases a specific person who will use it.

“You need both of those [sides] for any product to work,” Carpenter says. “Marketer is the forest, designer is the tree. … What they need from you is to use your creative, empathetic and imaginative skills to convert that into sales.”

Every time a designer begins a project with a marketer, Carpenter says the client should be their first interview. This should be the case even if the designer isn’t conducting any brand user research.

“The key is to just barrel them with questions,” he says. “Inundate them with everything you could possibly ask them about what they want from this project.”

Carpenter ended the session with advice for designers: Become the authority on what you do for clients by asking questions and educating them on what you do. But always know when to say “no.” Certain projects simply set designers up for failure—if a client doesn’t know what they want from the project or the designer, it may be best to move on to another project. When these interactions between designers and clients—including marketers—seem directionless or turn sour, Carpenter says that the projects have potential to go very wrong. “I know everything I know in my career just seeing where other people went wrong,” he says. 

Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.