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Aaron Keller - Letter from Design to Marketing and Marketing's Response

(Aaron Keller, Managing Principal at Capsule,

on the dialogue between Marketing and Design!)

Hello Marketing. This is Design.

I’ve noticed your eyes glancing at my white spaces lately.

You’ve talked about my curves in the past, and it always seemed so shallow. But somehow, someway, something is different now. You’re not treating me like another pretty typeface anymore. Or maybe it is me, people are more interested in my thinking and my empathy for human beings. Whatever the case, my curiosity is piqued and I am writing this open love letter expecting to hear from you.

I know we’ve had our differences in the past, but in my defense you’re always walking around swinging your four Ps and making everyone uncomfortable. You also seem to have relationships with Digital and CRM that are obviously not going well, and everyone knows Social has been cheating on you. And, I know Virtual Reality has been trying to get you to look at her goggles.

So, you’re feeling vulnerable and looking for friends you can trust. I get it. While the attention certainly makes my colors brighter, I don’t want to just be another one of your conquests. If we’re going to get closer, you need to show some commitment to me and what’s important in my world. I’d like to know that you’ve learned some lessons from past relationships. Like there’s no easy answer, real relationships with real people is hard work.

I’ve spent plenty of time to myself meeting others,including advertising, which can be a total asterisk, and even a dalliance with Public Relations. I’ve made friends with Research and Finance has asked me to grab coffee and talk. I know you’ve been in Suite C for a long time, but now I’m getting invited, and people seem to be interested in my way of thinking. Perhaps this is why your glances are lasting longer nowadays. Or perhaps your affection is due to the new spotlight I’ve been pushed in front of, or maybe you’ve felt this way for awhile and didn’t feel comfortable sharing your feelings.

I know I can be intimidating with my language of color theory, heuristics, design thinking, and human factors. But, you’re not so easy to understand when you start carrying on about market penetration pricing models, go-to-market strategies and algorithms for consumer behavior. I think we could both be a bit more receptive to outside perspectives. If we’re truly interested in each other, we will need to be more open to varied perspectives.

Yet, there’s things I do adore about you, like your spreadsheets. Well, more specifically when you make your numbers, big data and analytics sing like classic opera. You use numbers like I use color and images, to sneak up on management and sway them in your direction. It is so elegant and sexy when your spreadsheets and presentation decks convince a leadership team to actually lead.

Although, we all know you and your “marketing integration”, are only really doing what you do for the corporation. You kneel to the Corporation, I get it, but I kneel to the Human Being. My world is about empathy for the human being, creating for them. We’re going to have to reconcile this, find a place where our Venn diagram intersects, or simply agree to disagree. Opposites do attract, but too much opposition will only cause pain and heartache.

We’ll have to find a place where we can both be happy. And, I believe when it happens, we can be the power couple of the century. So where do we go from here?

I’d appreciate a response to this letter my dear Marketing.. And then, a coffee date, where we can talk about what got each of us in this pickle. I suspect, if we listen intently, we will find common ground and perhaps learn to grow stronger together. Though, if all you’re looking for is a romp in the hay, like the one you’ve had with Advertising, then good luck.

I look forward to hearing more from you soon.

Always curious,



Hello Design. This is Marketing.

I too have noticed your affectionate wandering eyes on my spreadsheets.

Having grown up together, I didn’t realize you had any interest in me or this corporate thing, you always seemed more focused on that Art dude and all his exhibits. I am happy to hear you are open to a closer relationship. It has been awhile since I’ve had an authentic relationship, so long I’m not sure how to spell the word.

I have to be honest, it scares me a bit, you seem to have it all going on. You have fashion, architecture, product and experience under your domain. My world has been unstable and declining in tenure for a while, everyone looks to me for the answers and my briefcase of acronyms only holds so much. I guess what I’m saying is, I need a friend first and I hope you can be that person.

It has occurred to me recently with all the hullabaloo and trendy tactics, I may have been focusing my attention in the wrong places. All the spin and buzz has my head spinning and my ears buzzing. You have been the calm in a s#%t storm, steady when I’ve faced the waves of attention from digital, social, mobile, loyalty, influencers, and now augmented reality. My interest is genuine and has been woven in between the lines of my memos.

You have to understand, I’ve held the purse strings to gargantuan budgets and everyday wondered when leadership was going to dangle me from the rafters with those same strings. It isn’t easy walking around with a big purse of expectations and quarterly earning pressures. And, yes, digital lied to me, they were supposed to be measurable and now I find out only 25% of my messages and images get to a real person. I suppose this is what happens when there are no checks and balances.

All this said, I would like to spend some more time talking line weight and color theory with you. I can see people trust you and you’ve been authentically, authentic for a very long time. But, I am worried the corporation sees your extreme focus on the human being as an indication that you can’t be loyal to the them. And, let’s be honest, when you rely on arguments like, “it just feels right, trust me,” you’re losing most of the board. A precisely articulated argument should include emotion and feeling, but needs facts to support it. I can help you with the facts.

I do want to take issue with the implication that I kneel to the corporation. When my work is at its most elegant, I am in service of the customer, being there right when they need or want us. Yes, there have been situations where my talents for creating desire and need for things people don’t really need. I’ve shielded myself with phrases like, “a fool and his money are soon parted” or “perceived obsolescence keeps the innovation engine humming.” The perfect balance is harder to find than the perfect color.

All this said, I’d like to propose a place where we can meet where our common interests dovetail. It is a theoretical space called Customer Experience, where everything comes together. I explored it decades ago as something called “experiential marketing” but really only treated it like one more pointy tactic in my quiver. There are people who speak of it as a driving force in our modern economy, that excites me. There are entire generations of people expressing their interest in experiences over products.

I know you can design many things and the design of experiences might be the aggregation of all your disciplines (space, graphic, product, behavior, conversation and digital). I believe it can be a safe place for the two of us to meet, exchange ideas and get to know each other better. I do agree, integration is a metaphor from our marketing machine history and no longer a worthy endeavor. I also know impressions as the currency in my world needs to be devalued in favor of memories. I’d like to stop buying impressions and start designing memorable moments.

I don’t need a romp in the hay with that asterisk you mentioned. I regret it immediately after and really need to find more meaning in my life. You, design, have been spreading meaning like apple butter for a long time, I’m ready to spend some time enjoying it. If this works, I do agree, we could be the power couple of this century. I know my parents would be proud to see you on my arm and the world would be a better place for sure.

Please accept this as my formal invitation to spend some in each others’ white space.

Always thinking,



Aaron is the co-founder of Capsule, a brand consultancy built on a design thinking platform. His background includes working with clients to solve complex design challenges, identifying new revenue opportunities and rebuilding lagging brands. Capsule’s clients include Patagonia, Herman Miller, Coty Beauty, Target, Panda Express, Craftsman, SmartWool, Medtronic, Red Wing Shoes, 3M, General Mills, Jack Daniels, Fisher-Price, Mattel, and Leatherman Tools. Aaron is the author of three books, two in a series called Design Matters and he recently co-authored The Physics of Brand.

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