Applied Reading: Timeless Vol. 1 – Five Fundamental Business Design Principles by Gianluca Cinquepalmi (2018)

Normally I write up books immediately, it helps me process them, but it took me a little while to work out how Timeless Vol. 1 by Gianluca Cinquepalmi fit with my field of expertise, marketing. I found the concepts big, all-encompassing, and difficult to pin down to specific questions or tasks. But then this is an essential challenge of design, so it served to reinforce my appreciation of the difficult art of good design. Taking the time to percolate this one did the job and was worth it.

So, what are Cinquepalmi’s five principles?

Character

What does your business stand for? What is it trying to do in the world? How is it trying to change people’s lives?

Values, Strategy, Detail, Attitude, Originality

Desire

This is about how the solution you’ve created meets people’s feelings about it. It’s the resulting change in our feelings we crave, not the object itself. In marketing we often call this “The Promise”.

Behaviour, Aesthetics, Craftsmanship, Purpose, Impact

Empathy

This about understanding people on the receiving end of your product or service. It’s deeply human. It’s about accepting reality as it is, not as you want it to be.

Target, Needs, Stories, Community, Recognition

Trust

Trust is about whether or not you have good intentions towards someone and whether or not you reliably deliver on those intentions. It can get into a positive or negative feedback loop quite quickly, which is why you need to be vigilant. Business and business design is an infinite game – you’re playing to stay in it not win it. Playfulness leads to creativity and authenticity.

Competent, Honest, Reliable, Authentic, Familiar

Consistency

Showing up consistently in all contexts, whether written, visual, in-person and across fields and industries is key. You want all the touch points to reveal you and the Character, Desire, Empathy and Trust in your brand. You should be able to take away the logo and it should still feel like you.

Image & Identity, Human Centred, Collaborative, Experimental, Status

The Timeless Model in marketing

I found the model to be an interesting perspective on the work I do in marketing, which is about building Empathy, Trust and Consistency. Normally when marketers come in, the business and it’s core product or service, which create the Character and Desire elements, are already established. We may influence them incrementally, but generally it’s better to market for a business and product or service you believe in. This is why I interview clients as much as they interview me.

There are three ways we can use Cinquepalmi’s model in marketing:

  1. How can marketing help to deploy the business service design outlined?
  2. How can marketing feed information into the business service design process?
  3. How can we use the 5 principles to better design marketing?

How can marketing help to deploy the business service design outlined?

Comms, Marketing and Business Development/ Sales are charge of most of the touch points between the customer and the business. It stands to reason then that we can move the needle significantly on the consistency markers and trust markers in particular. On the Trust piece we need to be backed up by the product or service delivery. So as a marketer, you can seek to understand the business you work for through this model, coordinate with each other effectively and be conscious about including markers in whatever touch points you’re in charge of (as well as the campaign content).

How can marketing feed information into the business service design process?

I often think about marketing as the social science of the commercial world, and it uses the same tools to group, measure, track and inquire into what people want and need. This clearly feeds into the Empathy the business builds with the community of people who buy the business product or service. The big difficulty here is not to become focused on what the business needs from their community, but to focus on what the community needs from the business. This is always the desire of those in the business, but it is very easy to drift when you live the day-to-day of seeking to please your internal stakeholders. This is where I find the Empathy discipline imposed by many design processes such as User Experience (UX) design and Design Thinking so useful.

How can we use the 5 principles to better design marketing?

Let’s a do a very quick and incomplete thought experiment to apply the 5 principles that Cinquepalmi has laid out and bring this to life. If we pretend that the marketing department is a standalone company then we can treat it like a business who’s services we need to design.

  1. Character: In marketing, we are trying to connect those who have value with those who need that value. That could be an iPhone with someone who needs an iPhone or an M&A service with people who need a successful M&A.
  2. Desire: This comes from creating delightful user journeys and experiences for customers and having aesthetically pleasing graphic design. Attention to detail is absolutely key here.
  3. Empathy: Tried and tested social science tools come in here – customer feedback surveys, qualitative interviews, split tests, and metrics (like return on investment, click through rates and web traffic) all give us insight into what this group of customers want. Generally, you double down on what works and discard what doesn’t so you focus on what people want. This can lock out creative potential though, which is why I bring in design lenses.
  4. Trust: Essentially we need to deliver hot leads or prospects, that’s the brand promise of the marketing department. If we’re not doing that competently then it’s not working and we need to correct our course.
  5. Consistency: Creating a look and feel that tracks through all channels and seeing each touchpoint under your control as a chance to include brand markers helps you to be consistent. It is important here to also strive for simplicity – focus on one Job To Be Done or market for each touchpoint and put the others somewhere they won’t distract users, but will give dedicated people the additional information they’re looking for.

See what else you can think of to add to these sections. You’ll likely shake out something you didn’t think of before that unlocks an area you can work on to improve as a marketer.

Some bonus ideas

There were three nuggets in particular a latched on to.

Cool idea 1: Pareto principle is that 20% of the cause creates 80% of the effect. When assessing design it is useful to consider what 20% of the design will generate 80% of the effect (or improvement in the effect) because this is the 20% you need to make sure is fulfilling its potential.

Cool idea 2: What I loved about it was it’s Asian flavour. Cinquepalmi explains his five principles in reference to the Chinese system of elements (Wu Xing) and the relationships between them, which was a unique approach. As someone who has spent half my life in Asia (including Hong Kong, Cinquepalmi’s home city) it was a pleasure to see this lens.

Cool idea 3: I’ve heard it said a million times – the design is in the detail – and Cinquepalmi also subscribes to this. The part I found helpful was that he really went into depth on the role of detail in the Desire principle, making it very clear that he linked the desirability of your product with your attention to detail. Remember, desirability is where the solution meets how people feel about the solution. In practice, it can be difficult to have the resources to be diligent here as you’re often trying to keep the trains running on time and stay in the infinite game, so taking stock once in a while is essential.

And Cinquepalmi also included a sample business service design survey from a real business in Hong Kong that helped to connect the theory with the practice.

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