The underlying emanation behind this philosophy is straightforward, whether designed by nature of mankind. Wolff noted that when loading on bones decrease, they become weaker because they are less metabolically costly to maintain. And Sullivan, who adapted this construct for architecture, looked for efficiency in material, space planning, and ornamentation as a core component of smart architecture.
Form follows function out of an inherent desire for efficiency.
But that doesn't mean we always get it. Applications, social networks, and websites are largely designed in reverse. Developers, programmers, and marketers construct a form and then ask participants to function within it. And while some have their reasons, few consider efficiency.
Ergo, Facebook didn't launch sponsored posts to help improve the efficiency of receiving status updates of friends and family or organizations, but rather to stimulate ad revenue by creating an artificial model of supply and demand. Twitter doesn't limit tweets to 140 characters as an optimal communication model, but because it believes constraint inspires creativity. Google doesn't organize search to deliver the best information, but rather the fastest information based on 200 unique signals that range from your region to the freshness of your content.
Marketing has adopted a similar approach. Rather than providing the right content on one network, they explode the same content across every network. Rather than producing valued content, they produce large quantities of low quality content to create pitch sheets. Rather than developing proactive public outreach, more campaigns are built on distraction, disruption, and slacktivism.
As a result, the continued explosion of digital marketing has led to unmanageable change with more marketers leaning on automation as a means to increase their production efficiency with little regard to function — such as organizational purpose or public need. Yes, the budgets are bigger but marketers will eventually have to consider efficiency to maximize budgets and protect themselves from consumer aversion. As they do, most will find pre-social media strategies put function first.
What does function-first marketing and communication look like?
There will always be novel exceptions, but function-first marketing reconsiders the intent of the organization and interests of its audience. Much like Sullivan in architecture, function first means optimizing a balance between aesthetics, economics, experience, and usability. It breaks away from ornamentation design for the sake of cleverness and more toward prioritizing fewer but more cohesive messages where they will have the most impact as opposed to the most reach.
• Aesthetics. Creating a memorable brand goes well beyond good design and a recognizable identity. Brand aesthetics bring organizational purpose into the design, creating a second layer of communication that reinforces the organization mission, vision, and values.
• Economics. While everyone loves a big budget, they tend to be the most prone to misallocation. For example, a marketing director can all too easily invest in increasing production content from inferior sources, thereby wasting money on the presumption that it's cheap. Fewer well-proposed pieces from quality sources are likely to have a greater impact and be perceived as more valuable over time.
• Experience. As content marketing is treated more and more like a marketable product in and of itself, organizations looking for maximum impact with minimal means will consider the customer experience at every point of contact. Ergo, link bait headlines would never lead to disappointment.
• Usability. The era of non-functional marketing is nearing its end. Just as social media initially begged organizations to create valuable content, the next generation of communication solutions will be baked into many products in an effort to assist consumers as opposed to distract them.
The real question that marketers ought to be asking themselves is what is the purpose of their organization and the intent of their communication (aside from sales generation). And if those two questions cannot be addressed without any semblance of efficiency for both the organization and the consumer (such as unwieldy sales funnels, capture and call telemarketing, database spam), then it might be time to re-evaluate the budget for something better. Why? Form follows function.
The more often organizations waste their communication efforts, the more likely those actions will eventually have an impact on the form of the company. Always make sure the marketing and communication reflect where the organization is going because form will eventually follow function, for better or worse.
What some additional insights into the future content. See my guest writer contribution to The Future of Content series from Danny Brown. We're right on the edge of something fantastic. And while we didn't see it with the launch of the new Apple Watch today, I fully expect we will in the near future.