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Ask a designer | Designing to appeal to two audiences


This post is part of the Ask a Designer series. You ask me questions, I answer them to the best of my ability. The questions can be about design process, branding, software, technical things – or even completely unrelated. Want to play? Leave me a comment here, or use the contact form.



Question: What’s a good approach to take in designing marketing materials that will target both traditional (aka conservative) B2B executives and more modern, social-savvy executives? How does one deal with what I see as two very different audiences, using the same branding materials?

by Richard Stevenson


The easiest way to answer this question is to start with a metaphor. So that’s exactly what I will do.


Let’s say you have two friends. One of them appreciates classical music and doesn’t think much of rock. The other used to be a groupie for rock bands and finds classical music boring.

If you want to spend some time with both of them, then either a rock concert or a symphony is not exactly your best choice. But let’s say that both of them also love garden parties and burgers. So you invite them over for a Saturday afternoon barbeque.

Of course, some background music would be nice. So what do you do to please both of your friends?

Do you play a selection of both types of music, carefully timing the songs and making sure each genre takes up the same amount of time?

Do you choose to play just the classical music this time, promising your friend that next Saturday the soundtrack will be all rock?

Do you opt for an alternative instead and put on some country music (which you happen to like, but you know that both your friends are indifferent to)?

Or do you get two different stereos, one playing the classical music and one rock, and blast them at top volume at the same time, hoping that the resulting cacophony will somehow manage to be pleasing to both of you friends?

(Surprisingly enough, this last example – which I hope no person in their right mind would even consider – is exactly what small businesses often choose to do when unsure which design style to choose for their marketing materials.)

I think it’s obvious that the double-soundtrack solution would be equally annoying to both of your friends – as well as to anyone who happens to like both classical and rock music.

Now, let me ask you this: what if you do play classical music in the background as you are enjoying your burgers and conversation? Do you think that your rock groupie friend is going to throw her burger in your face and leave, slamming the door behind her?

My guess is no. (And if she does, then you either did something else to upset her or you might want to reconsider your friendships. Just saying. )

The point isn’t really the music. The point is the company, the food and the conversation.


In much the same way, when it comes to your marketing materials, the point – gasp! – isn’t really the style.

I know, sounds crazy coming from a designer. Let me elaborate.

The point is your main message and how clearly you express it – through design and copy, images and words. The style is the background. If it fits with the theme of the message, it works. If it works, it becomes seamless, a part of your message that nobody can picture separately, enhancing your message, never distracting from it.

The style shouldn’t draw attention to itself. The style should draw attention to your message.

And if your message is appealing to your audience, they will be drawn to it, regardless of their personal style preferences.

Another point worth bringing up is that the definition of design style as either modern or conservative is quite limiting to begin with. There are thousands of possible variations, themes and nuances. The perfect style is crafted from the perfectly clear message. The perfect style is about what is right for your brand. It feels right, it resonates, it represents, it fits.

What does your brand stand for?

Is it all about tradition, about maintaining the core values? Or is it about the new possibilities, always evolving, always seeking a better way to do something? Though I can help define and refine this, you are the only one that knows the answer.

And that’s what you should start with to define the style of your marketing materials – not your potential market’s personal style preferences.

I mentioned a niche within a niche in our Facebook conversation, now it’s time to elaborate.

Yes, there are some that might be turned off by your choice of style, especially if you make it strong and clear.

I can guarantee you that you can not have 100% of your target market as your clients though. Trying to build a monopoly isn’t exactly realistic, or desirable. (Though if that is your aim, you just might consider two distinct styles for the two audiences, as many of the bigger companies often do.)


And if you are going to have 20% that entire market as your clients, there is really no harm in making it the 20% that aren’t turned off by the style that feels natural to you. In fact, it’s an advantage.

Alienating some potential customers is a prerequisite to strongly attracting others.

You are looking to create strong emotions: love or hate. Compromises and unsure choices will only create indifference. Definitely not what you are looking for, right?

But don’t think that choosing, say, a modern style for your marketing materials will instantly alienate that portion of your target market that you consider conservative. People are rarely that clear-cut in their preferences, and often they can appreciate more than one style.

Let me use another metaphor to make this point.

Let’s say you dislike the color red. Is that going to stop you from visiting that new restaurant around the corner that serves the kind of food you really enjoy simply based on the fact that their logo is red? What about if their chairs and tablecloths are red as well?

You might avoid it if you really, really hate the color red. Can not stand the sight of it. Feel sick to your stomach when you see red, or react to it like the bulls do.

Now, let’s be realistic here. How many people do you think feel that strongly about the color red? 0.1% of the population? 0.0001% ? I honestly don’t know, since I have never met anyone who felt that way.

Most people don’t have such strong negative feelings about colors, or style.

They might prefer one over the other, but generally, it won’t stop them from falling in love with a place, a product, a service, or a message if it really speaks to them – even if it isn’t quite their favorite style or color.

You might even be surprised when someone compliments you on a style that you thought was completely incompatible with their character and personality. People are often more multi-faceted and open-minded than we give them credit for.

(The website you are looking at is, without a doubt, clean, bright and modern. Yet I quite often receive compliments and project requests from people who I thought couldn’t possibly be attracted to that kind of style.)

And it isn’t just me. Think of the bigger companies, of department stores, clothing brands. I am sure you can think of many brands with a very modern and young image that attract a more traditional crowd as well — and vice versa.


So, to sum up, you don’t design your marketing materials in order to cater to the tastes of every potential customer out there.

That unavoidably results in a confusing, unpleasant look for everyone – just like in the two stereos blasting two kinds of music example.


You design your marketing materials to complement your brand and your main message.

You pick the style that feels right for that, be it modern, conservative, or yet another style that can’t really be defined as either. And if your brand promise is reinforced by the style, if the style becomes one with the message, I guarantee you that the people who resonate with your message won’t even notice that the style doesn’t cater to their personal tastes, but will view it as a whole — an appealing, unique brand image, which is exactly as it should be.


I hope this answers your question, Richard, or at least gives you some food for thought. I will be happy to continue our conversation in the comments if there is anything I can clarify.

2 Comments on this Post.

  1. Lisa, thanks for turning this around into the question it needed to be – Brilliant! I grew up on rock music, but would be quite happy to grill burgers or anything to classical :) The common theme in your analogies is truly “me”- in my real world scenario, it’s my product. Thank you.

    • lisa

      So, so happy to hear that my answer resonates and makes sense! Yes, exactly – turning it around into the question it needs to be makes everything a lot easier, doesn’t it? :)

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