How marketers can work better with design — asynchronously

How marketers can work better with design — asynchronously

Our guide to making async work between marketers and designers more successful.

How marketers can work better with design — asynchronously

Our guide to making async work between marketers and designers more successful.

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Written by
Liz Huang
Liz Huang
Senior Managing Editor
Liz Huang
Liz Huang

Marketing and design can sometimes feel at odds in their working relationship.

“Marketing is usually focused on growth targets for the business, while design seeks to build useful things for humans,” says Taylor Coil, director of product at Animalz and former director of marketing at Tortuga. That key difference in focus can be challenging in an asynchronous work environment.

This is because asynchronous work gives us fewer opportunities to experience the casual moments of connection that build trust between teams. When written, feedback can feel much harsher than in-person discussions. Written communication is also easier to misinterpret, which can lead to mismatched expectations.

Despite these challenges, both Taylor and Vikas Bhagat, director of product marketing at Webflow, feel that — if approached thoughtfully — asynchronous collaboration actually offers an opportunity to create better relationships, clearer expectations, and more successful work between marketing and design. 

“From a marketing team perspective, how do we cultivate a relationship where design is seen as thought partners instead of service organizations? Design is so creative, they're so great at what they do, leveraging those skillsets early and often in a project is also going to make that project a thousand times better.”

- Vikas Bhagat

Here’s how you as a marketer can make async collaboration work better between your team and the design team. 

Respect each other’s time

The biggest difference in working asynchronously, aside from not physically occupying the same space, is that teams are often not working simultaneously or even in the same time zone. “Allow plenty of time for review and response to ideas,” recommends Taylor.

Making an asynchronous schedule work requires everyone to reframe their expectations of each other’s time. Remember, responses may not be immediate, so schedule enough time to accommodate that. “Set reasonable scopes and timelines to account for asynchronous delays,” says Taylor. What does it boil down to? “Respect and trust, which includes respecting each other’s time.”

Tips for using asynchronous time well:

  • Block out time on your calendar if you need to do deep work without interruption.
  • Be clear that communications don’t need an immediate response.
  • Only mark a communication as “urgent” when something is seriously time-sensitive.
  • Schedule Slack messages and emails to be sent during your co-worker’s working hours.

Set expectations from the beginning

The first and most important step in making asynchronous work successful is setting expectations and making sure both teams have a solid understanding of the work ahead. “Communicating and writing down what the actual requirements are from a marketing team perspective to the design team is really critical,” says Vikas.

Write down project briefs, key requirements, what your goals are, and what a successful project looks like for your team. Having all this written out creates a single source of truth for both teams to reference throughout the project. Vikas adds that at Webflow, having a written source “actually helps streamline a lot of our conversations. It keeps us focused. And helps us avoid scope creep.”

Once marketing sends over their expectations, background, and context, the design team can come back with questions and feedback and ask for any clarification they need around timelines or requirements. “One of the things that I heard from our design partners is, we want to be brought in earlier on into a project,” says Vikas. “It allows us to have that alignment from very early on.”

Tools for asynchronous project management and planning:

Create opportunities to build trust between teams

With design’s focus on building useful things for your customers and marketing’s focus on getting those things into the hands of the customers, the goals of both teams may be at odds sometimes. “Those two objectives live in harmony and in tension – it’s a Venn diagram, not a circle,” says Taylor. “Marketers and designers working together on a project will always face tradeoffs — without trust, it’s easy to see those tradeoffs as battles.”

Unlike in-person work, opportunities for connection and building trust don’t happen spontaneously. That means you need to make intentional space to connect and grow collaborative energy between teams. It isn’t about formal exercises or icebreakers but about leaving space to make casual conversation and get to know each other organically in and around meetings.

“Trust is built on micro-moments, the little things that make people feel heard and respected. Here’s a place to start: take 15 minutes at the beginning of a meeting to get to know each other as humans — don’t rush through it or minimize it as wasted time; engage and show up.”

- Taylor Coil

Build good systems for feedback exchange

You need to give and receive effective feedback to refine your work, but feedback can sometimes be tricky to negotiate. Written feedback can be misinterpreted without nuanced context, and it can result in edits being taken in the wrong direction. It’s also easy to mistake tone in writing, which can lead to conflict. Vikas recommends using video recordings and voice memos to improve the quality of your feedback.

“Marketing can put together a Loom video walking through talking points or feedback, so design can clearly understand and digest that information on their own time,” says Vikas. Video feedback allows you to elaborate and explain your reasoning, making your feedback more effective. It also respects the other teams’ schedules instead of pulling them away from their work to jump on a call.

“Video allows us to give feedback that is highly targeted. So we can give a piece of feedback for a very specific set of design features on a mockup, for example, and it's highly focused. Let me just walk you through my thoughts, and if it makes sense for us to meet, we can create that space for one another.”

- Vikas Bhagat

Tools for asynchronous feedback exchange:

Use synchronous time strategically

Sometimes, you just need to jump on a call and handle things synchronously to get through a roadblock. “In situations where a cross-functional tradeoff is inevitable, it’s time to get abstract, and it’s time to have a synchronous conversation,” says Taylor. It can be hard to cut through a knotty problem or have a truly nuanced back-and-forth asynchronously. Use meetings thoughtfully and strategically to move your project forward.

“Spend your time together on the juicy stuff — why are we taking the path we’re taking? How does that ultimately serve both functions long-term?” Taylor explains. “When both departments deeply understand the vision and how an organization is implementing that vision, it’s a lot easier to let go of a competitive mindset in async interactions.” The goal should be to make meetings into strategic, collaborative conversations that grow your capacity for productive teamwork.

Do retrospectives after each project

“It's really important to make space after a project is done to figure out what has worked and what hasn’t worked,” advises Vikas. Especially when a company is growing quickly, it can be easy to jump right into the next project without taking the time to learn from the last one.

Create space for honest conversations about how communication can happen more effectively and where in your process there is room for improvement. Put time on the calendar at the end of every project, and don’t rush past that meeting, no matter how busy your schedule feels. “Doing mini retrospectives actually made us a lot more efficient,” says Vikas. “We built trust and credibility.”

Asynchronous work allows you to respond, not react

Perhaps the most powerful benefit to asynchronous collaboration is that it naturally forces you to consider and compose a response instead of reacting in the moment. “It gives you time to cool off and choose how to respond — not react — in moments when you feel competition seep in,” notes Taylor.

Vikas found that his team’s feedback was more focused when given asynchronously. “It actually forces us to sit with our thoughts and provide much more granular and thoughtful feedback to be completely honest with you,” he explains. Your first reaction isn’t always your highest-quality feedback. Take the time async work gives you to sit with your thoughts before sharing them with your colleagues.

Approach your asynchronous work seeing this inherent time for reflection and response as a strength that can benefit both marketing and design in their work. “I think that's what remote work has kind of taught all of us,” muses Vikas. “How do you be mindful of your own time and also of your colleague's schedule? Take the time to digest and provide the right level of feedback.”

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Last Updated
May 6, 2022