Embrace Design Thinking to Create More Relevant Marketing

For strategic advantage and breakthrough innovation, build diverse teams that take an empathetic view of the customer experience.

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By Alexander Handcock

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Apple's iPad, Nike's Flyknit sneakers, Hint Water. Creative design delivered the breakthrough success of all of these products. Instead of starting with an existing formula already in the market, the designers focused on an unmet need: to work and surf the web on a portable screen that's less cumbersome than a computer, to have a lighter shoe that leaves a smaller carbon footprint or to get a flavorful drink that isn't full of sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Consumers want more than ever to interact with companies on their own terms. Innovations from smartphones to one-click shopping give consumers a broader set of choices and more control. A brand's interactions with its consumers cannot be driven by company goals alone. They must be designed to fit consumers' ever-expanding and ever-changing needs.

Design your team.

Design thinking is a multi-step method for understanding your consumers' needs better, creating innovative solutions for them and iterating quickly to get it just right. Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO defined design thinking as "a discipline that fuses the designer's sensibility and ideas with what is technically feasible and what a viable business strategy can convert into customer value and market opportunity."

Design thinking can't be done with a homogeneous team in a closed room. A diverse set of talents and opinions need to be involved. Teams that have worked together too long, teams made up of a single focus or skill set such as email marketing or customer experience, all have a similar point of view. Design thinking encourages these groups to diversify. Include someone from engineering, finance and sales. These people view the world differently and can bring in non-intuitive ideas and ensure that ideas can be fully realized.

Verizon shifted its marketing strategy to become more consumer-centric with design thinking. The company combines customer experience, design, marketing and IT into teams that focus on extensive journey mapping to inform marketing and product. The new approach has led marketing to make several changes including a reduced focus on paid search and an increase in organic consumer engagement.

Related: 4 Ways Diverse Teams Can Boost an Employer's Brand

Design a better experience.

Design thinking starts by empathizing with a specific need, then learning about it until everyone truly understands it. The approach helps to properly define the focus or problem. Consumers have unprecedented choice. They can make purchase and brand loyalty decisions based on very specific preferences. Some may care about price, while for others convenience or customer experience matters most. As a marketer, you can't promise that your company will offer the best of everything, but you can give them the best of something. Do you know what elements matter most to your specific consumers?

Design teams are realizing they may need to leave the comforts of their office to learn about their consumers. In a design thinking exercise to improve the in-store purchase process, Discount Tire worked on a full day store-simulation exercise to imagine how mobility could improve wait times and other problems related to a trying purchase process. The exercise was so successful that the company implemented a full time design thinking workshop room at its headquarters.

From product to purchase, across all channels, each consumer interaction can be (re-) examined for improvements. One goal could be to strive for a seamless customer experience by eliminating pain points. Apple is famously the first company to deliver its smartphones pre-charged, following the realization that the consumer experience was broken by the need to charge the phone before it could be used. Its pre-charge practice is now industry standard.

Do you know where your brand's consumer experience is breaking down?

Related: How to Create an Amazing Customer Experience

Prepare for feedback.

Generally, allowing consumers to interact with your solutions and observing the results will get you the most accurate feedback. Different members of your team will interpret the forthcoming insights differently based on their expertise, and that's the point.

Imagine that your customers really do care about speed and convenience, and have come to expect it from Amazon and Google. Can you compete purely on technical capabilities? Maybe not, but here is where design thinking comes in. There are other elements of your consumer interactions that can be faster and more convenient. It's up to design team members identify them.

You might want to tell consumers about a discount code in an email, but they might want to be able to click directly on that code without cutting and pasting. This element might require both technical and design expertise. You may have 250 products on sale, but an individual consumer might not feel like combing through them all. Merchandising and customer experience team members could combine past purchase history with current trends to create personalized suggestions.

Pepsi's first Chief Design Officer, Mauro Porcini, was hired to spread design thinking throughout the company. He found that many of these new projects stalled because the initial idea wasn't perfect, although there might be potential in it. He encouraged teams to start iterating with prototypes, getting feedback and quickly making improvements. This new approach increased the number of projects that succeeded, creating efficiency, but also increasing the agility of teams and their understanding of their consumers.

Design thinking isn't merely a process or framework -- it's a new, more agile mindset that increases your understanding of your consumers' needs and is particularly powerful with a diverse team. With design thinking in place, the freedom to learn about your consumers, test and improve upon your ideas quickly, will ensure that your company can react in time to meet shifting consumer expectations.

Alexander Handcock

Alex is the Director of Global Brand Strategy at Selligent

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