Coming from the world of engineering and product development, design thinking has been spreading across businesses and agencies over the past two decades. Major brands including P&G, IBM, Accenture, GE, MassMutual, Fidelity, Lowe’s, Bayer and SAP have all seen the light and started to incorporate this unique approach in their strategy. For brand marketers, design thinking can be a catalyst for creating compelling campaigns.
So what is design thinking and what’s the appeal? Essentially, design thinking is nurturing and endorsing a tolerance for failure. Now, before you drop out thinking this is all a recipe for disappointment, the inherent benefit of design thinking is that it focuses on user experience, with a goal of establishing empathy with the brand. Ultimately, design thinking is about finding creative solutions to business challenges.
Purin Phanichphant, a lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation, suggests design thinking is “more of a mindset.” Instead of focusing on the technological innovation (e.g. “we’ve just built a faster computer chip, let’s make a product out of it’”) or business-driven decisions (e.g. “we can make money from selling X”) design thinkers start out focusing on “the hearts and minds of potential users.”
Bring Design Thinking to Your Marketing
If marketing is all about connecting to the audience’s aforementioned hearts and minds, then by applying design thinking to campaign creation, the marketer’s focus is able to shift to empathizing with potential customers. By emphasizing specific needs and pain points, this approach is better geared to explaining why someone might want the product or service at the core of the campaign.
Know Your Audience.
Yes, there’s value in all of the data we can access today. But, design thinking is more in tune with the qualitative attributes. Phanichphant suggests we ought to “be curious about [customers’] feelings, hopes, fears and the unique stories they have to share.”
To truly get to know the people you are marketing to, you’ll probably want to start by actually talking to them. Face-to-face interactions are going to give you deeper insights than social listening and customer surveys (not that you should abandon those tactics, but you’ll want to add real conversations as well).
Ultimately, you want to tell a story that resonates with those audiences. Instead of crafting a campaign about the cost of something, the design thinker crafts the message around the human need the product or service addresses.
Go Big Before You Go Small.
Many of our clients often want us to quickly narrow down our offerings and press forward with a campaign. Yet design thinking encourages ample brainstorming beforehand:
- Research widely
- Embrace quantity
- Defer judgment
- Be open to new ideas and opportunities.
While it remains essential to keep in mind the brand’s budget and time constraints, don’t waste an opportunity to try and encourage the flow of creative juices and a deeper understanding of the brand audience before buckling down to focus on a single theme or campaign concept.
The embrace of brainstorming above is obviously intended to encourage new ideas, but you might also consider creating an innovation lab internally.
Discount Tire, an independent tire retailer in the United States with more than 875 stores, decided to shift its own approach to customer experience with design thinking. The company hired a vendor to run a two-day Design Thinking workshop “dedicated to a more open-ended problem finding” and “generating ideas for their business in the future.” On the heels of that successful initiative, Discount Tire execs attended a boot camp at Stanford Institute of Design before establishing their own Design Thinking office onsite. The company’s Chief Customer Officer Steve Fournier noted, “it causes us to slow down and think just a little bit more about how to do it better.”
To prioritize design thinking at your brand, assemble a diverse team of your people with a mix of perspectives, expertise and approaches. The key here is to break up teams that have worked together too long and encourage people with varied perspectives to take a fresh approach to the business challenge. Working a brand that already has experienced creatives and strategists can also help you overcome the marketing talent gap.
In design there’s a prototype or beta stage to identify any potential flaws and anticipate costly failures down the road. Usability testing is also common among product designers and web developers. Just consider the MIT Media Lab’s motto: “Demo or die.”
Marketing, likewise, could incorporate an early stage in which it solicits user feedback and responses before rolling out an entire campaign. Waiting to discover that the marketing campaign doesn’t resonate is an expensive error to make. As SYZYGY’s Katie Fiore professes, “The point is to fail fast and keep moving.”
While you’re talking to customers, exploring ideas, encouraging diverse approaches and testing out ideas, you also want to remain abreast of top trends in your client’s environment and in marketing overall. Design thinking wants to be fresh and unique, so you need to know what’s happening. For instance, Shutterstock’s 2018 Creative Trends Report identified several top trends marketers need to know about:
- Fantasy — Unicorns, mermaids and the like are cool again.
- New minimalism — More than “crisp, clean lines,” this new minimalism features continuous lines and neon circles.
- Space — “Awe-inspiring” images of “galactic beauty” with a “darker, more dystopian feel” are increasingly common.
Ultimately, the shift to design thinking reflects a greater awareness among marketers that campaigns aren’t only about the content or visuals. We need to understand the intended outcome and use that to shape our target audience’s behavior before, during, and after the engagement with our efforts.
Looking to learn more about design thinking or refresh your campaign efforts? UNION has insights to share of course. Contact us to discuss how design thinking and deeper strategy can help reboot your brand online.