Many marketing executives probably think that the success of companies such as Dell has everything to do with their enviable ability to innovate. After all, they're selling technologically innovative products in a technology age.

Business has relied on innovation to corner the market with new products and services for decades. Now, with a definite intensification in global competition, marketing executives are learning that bringing a stream of innovative products to market does not enable them to uniquely position and differentiate their companies from their competitors. Predicating a company's USP (unique selling proposition) on innovation simply doesn't work; it's just too easy for competitors to knock off any new product or service in a few short weeks or months.

There are myriad examples of knock-offs out there. Think of a category such as cell phones. How many have similar, if not identical, features? Basing corporate brand positioning and differentiation on innovation is no longer an effective strategy.

While companies like Dell are extremely adept at building innovation into new products, there must be something deeper that drives these brands. For example, Apple consistently demonstrates that its customers have an absolute passion for the brand. In international business circles, marketing experts have long admired, and lusted after, the kind of brand passion that Apple commands from its customers, who are truly devotees.

Something profound is going on here. While business executives correctly view that innovation built into new products and services is important, few have understood that the cornerstone of groundbreaking innovation is design. And even more importantly, design encompasses far more than the development of innovative features to products.

Design, when great, has its roots in in-depth consumer research. Design represents a basic, intrinsic value in all products and services. While creative consultants have understood that, their corporate counterparts have not always grasped this concept. Nor have they fostered adequate respect for the value of design. But that is changing.

Essentially, the concept of making design the focal point of every corporate department, then leveraging that, has the power to create the unique, differentiated corporate and brand identity that every company needs to succeed. Marketing guru Tom Peters has always maintained that design is so important that it should be on the agenda, along with design consultants, of every meeting in every single corporate department.

But what do we mean by all-encompassing design? And why is it critical that all corporate departments understand and embrace design as their true USP—in unifying their internal and external branding efforts?

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Ted Mininni is president of Design Force, Inc. (, a leading brand-design consultancy to consumer product companies (phone: 856-810-2277). Ted is also a regular contributor to the MarketingProfs blog, the Daily Fix.