Marketing takeaways from design thinking

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by Mandeep Grover

As marketers, it’s easy to get stuck in campaign cycles and budgets, which is why a design thinking mindset can offer new ways of combatting marketing challenges.

At times we can lose track of the consumer and their ever-changing needs. This is why I believe marketers can learn a lot from the art of design thinking: the method of thinking in the design process.

Design thinking offers marketers an approach to generate a deeper understanding of the consumer based on the principles of ethnographic research, and puts the customer at the center. It’s the first step in finding innovative solutions to a given problem.

So, what can marketers learn from this approach? A lot if you ask me. Here are a few points to get started.

1. Clarify marketing objectives

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A clear definition of the problem is the first step in design thinking, and the same should be true for every marketing campaign. To create an effective campaign, spend time up front to crystallize key insights and business objectives. This will not only help clarify the campaign metrics, but it will also highlight the key questions that consumer research needs to answer.

2. Reconsider market research

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Apple’s Steve Jobs was known for not spending money on market research. The rationale being that most people have a tough time talking about products or services that do not yet exist. Market research provides information about incremental improvements in existing products. However, to drive a breakthrough in innovation, we need deep insights which can be generated via ethnographic or in-context research.

For example, a few years ago I was trying to figure out ways to get men to switch from glasses to contact lenses. Conventional research showed that men found their glasses inconvenient when they participated in sports, since glasses tend to fog up or fall off. Hence, we enrolled a few runners into our ethnographic research, and I discovered that most glasses wearers had found a way to prevent their glasses falling off. This is the sort of insight that I probably would not have discovered through conventional research.

3. Co-create

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In my opinion, the quest for perfection is a marketer’s biggest enemy. We want our designs and materials to be finalized and approved before we show them to our target audience.

Design thinking encourages select consumers in the creation process to develop the idea together. If we wait until the product or service design is final before sharing with consumers for their feedback, we have lost a valuable opportunity to incorporate the voice of the customer. Therefore, getting potential users involved early in the process via a focus group or advisory board is the way to go.

4. Fail early, fail often

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The fear of failure can often paralyze us. Design thinking encourages us to leverage failure as a learning tool to improve the end product or campaign. It takes a lot of iterations – or failures – to create true innovation. Developing prototypes quickly to obtain customer feedback, execute rapid prototyping, then going back after each refinement increases speed to market and reduces errors.

In conclusion, design thinking is so much more that an approach – it’s a mindset. It gives marketers a chance to break the shackles of how they think about the customer and linear communication. A culture of tireless, redundant prototyping may take time to build. Nevertheless, the payoff can be in the form of a significant competitive advantage for the organization.