What is Design Thinking and Why is it Marketing’s Best Tool?

Don’t be fooled by the name. Design thinking is not the sole preserve of designers.

But the term does refer to the work processes that designers use to apply human-centered methods to fix problems, improve products and services, create and innovate. When looked at through that lens, design thinking has been used by visionaries across disciplines for centuries.

Design thinking puts the user first

Design thinking begins with the end user. As such, it’s a marketer’s dream approach when looking at any kind of business challenge. More on that later.

You and your team may be incorporating design thinking principles into your organisation without realising that you are doing so. If you work in an iterative way, focusing on insights, asking numerous members of your team to contribute their ideas and feedback on better ways of doing things, and challenging the status quo, then you’re already somewhat of a design thinker.

At the same time, thanks to the relentless focus design thinking has on the people who’ll use your product or service, design thinking prioritises finding solutions for problems. It’s not only a feedback loop.

Allison Leeds Bucchere, VP of Creative at LIFT Agency in San Francisco and New York, provides an excellent illustration of the above theory in practise in her HubSpot post.

She highlights how a SEO team was failing to meet its targets two quarters in a row, but was largely trying to improve matters by following hunches and trying every SEO method in the book. Nothing was sticking.

“So I suggested that our design team partner closely with the SEO division to lead a concentrated session to solve the problem. During our focused five-day session, we collaborated with our SEO cohorts to make several strategic adjustments based on design thinking exercises,” explains Allison.

The result? Double-digit growth that exceeded the quarterly goal.

Why design thinking is marketing’s best tool

We’re all busy and when deadlines loom, it’s easy to fall back on familiar ways of doing things. Secondly, all of us are creatures of habit. Often we do things purely because it is the way we’ve always done things.

Design Thinking helps us bring a fresh mind to a challenge. Remember when “thinking outside of the box” was the phrase du jour? Well, design thinking really is thinking outside of the box!

Although design thinking principles may vary, they mostly follow the following stages:

1 Empathise – place yourself firmly on the side of your users. Don’t assume you know what they think or want, or how they do things. Speak to them and gather deep insights into the people using your products and services

2 Define – take all of the research you’ve done and distil it down to your users’ needs and problems.

3 Ideate – throw out the old rule book and brainstorm solutions. Question every assumption and evaluate every idea through the lens of the people your product or service is for.
4 Prototype – begin to define your solutions.

5 Test – put your solutions to the test one at a time. Gather insights from each test and add them to the next test. This way you’ll create a master solution that you can scale.

The steps above must seem familiar. After all, isn’t the modern day marketing mantra test, test, test? But following the steps honestly, (i.e. not thinking you know your customers but actually throwing out the assumptions and drilling down until you find illuminating insights) will help you approach people in a more human-centered way.

Design thinking and storytelling

Storytelling is as old as the human race. And it has certainly been central to marketing for decades.

Interestingly, design thinking and storytelling have a lot in common.

Stories engage people to ask questions and questions lead us to new places of discovery. New ideas and thoughts can arise from stories. People can add to stories and feedback can be included in the narrative. People are at the centre of stories and we follow their actions and thoughts with interest.

It’s easy to see how a design thinker can use storytelling to focus on their customer. Suddenly, we’re not speaking about “users”, “products” and “services”, but real people and their daily lives. New ways of doing things become easier to identify when we start to tell our customers’ stories.

Just think of Apple’s marketing for the iPhone and Coca-Cola’s happiness campaign and you’ll get the idea.

Implement design thinking on your organisation

Design thinking is a vast topic and a checklist of bullet points won’t suffice in guiding you through implementing a design thinking process in your company.

However, you can begin by implementing design thinking principles in your own thinking and your own job. Simply focusing on your customer’s pain points, be they an internal or external customer, is the gateway to being a design thinker.

And don’t forget the stories!

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lorraine_fretwellAuthor: Lorraine Fretwell

Lorraine has partnered with some of the biggest names in the UK & Ireland, delivering key talent for the most challenging roles. She has built and developed large teams in several agencies and has a proven track record at finding the unfindable when presented with the quirkiest of job briefs.


Tel: +35316344883

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