Understanding America before asking Americans to understand your design

Please note this post by Michael Murray was originially published on “100 days of design”.

Great design does not need explanation; it requires no discussion or debate. It’s a mood changer, it can make you want to burst into song, skip and dance around like a 2 year old in a candy store.

But……“if great design is not profitable, then it is simply art!”

Design cannot pay the mortgage; it cannot buy a car or send your kids to college. If great design was simply the qualification for creating and sustaining a profitable business in the biggest consumer marketplace in the world, then some of my friends would not be on a steady diet of “Mac and Cheese!”

Whether you are a budding U.S. designer or an established European brand, bringing your offerings to the shores of New York and Los Angeles requires more than you think. Yes, even you need to change.

Within 5 seconds, Americans decide to move forward and pick-up your product off the shelf or move on. So, is it really about great design or great packaging design?

Even successful overseas brands perish in the first 18 months of business in the U.S.A. because they made decisions on poor planning and assumption. Three European product design winning companies from 2010 are no longer in business in the U.S.A. Casualties of their decisions and not the market.

If you want people to buy your design, then you are now in business. And business implies identifying and understanding the people you are selling to. Yes, you are now a sales person in the business of persuasion.

“If you wish to persuade me you must feel my feelings, think my thoughts and speak my words”
– Cicero

Opportunity continues to be ripe in the U.S.A. but you have to be a student of culture and the market first. Moving from Manchester, England, when I was 21 to work in New York, I made a multitude of incorrect assumptions (How different can it be, we speak the same language?). Now, many years later, I continue to see overseas companies make poor decisions based on assuming that the U.S. cannot be that different from other markets that have offered them success.

Devote your time to market research: What competition do I have? Do I set up business? Am I here to find a distributor? Can I set up my business and outsource? What pricing can the market bare at retail? What are the pricing expectations and needs of my customers? Can I create a profitable and, most importantly, a sustainable business?

Diligence to your homework will provide you with facts, not assumptions. Those facts will determine if there is a probability of success. Creating a business plan on possibility is an express train to frustration and disappointment.

People and Companies that seek to understand America before they ask America to understand their design, win every time.

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