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October 5, 2018

Design Thinking in Marketing and Why It Works

Marketing & Innovation

Design Thinking is Not Just for Design Teams
As a career marketer with a great passion for innovation, I was very excited by and curious about the concept of Design Thinking when I first started to read about it. At the same time, I was a bit skeptical. It seemed to be perfect and logical for developing new and innovative products, but I wasn’t convinced that it could be used beyond this application.

Therefore, when I had the opportunity to be involved with a weeklong Design Thinking session to support its facilitator, I took the chance to see this process at work.

I loved it!

It was about getting out of your office and talking to and listening to people, specifically, the end consumer. It meant that you weren’t just making assumptions based on data. Design Thinking combined data usage with people’s experiences. It meant a deeper connection with consumers and more collaboration with co-workers.

With my interest into consumer behaviors, the training went so well that I began to help facilitate Design Thinking workshops on a regular basis. Through this experience, I saw firsthand how truly powerful Design Thinking is and how far reaching its impact can be to drive real business growth. I also realized that as long as you have consumer curiosity, and you're a good facilitator, a good listener, and a good collaborator, you can become skilled in this approach and use it effectively for marketing purposes.

Design Thinking Framework

Design Thinking in Marketing


What is Design Thinking?

At its core, Design Thinking is a consumer-centric approach to solving any type of problem or addressing a new opportunity. It is also referred to as 'human-centered innovation,' because it keeps your customer at the heart of all you do and can be applied beyond developing new products and services.

It is practical, actionable, and drives alignment, helping you solve the right problems and ensuring the use of creative thinking to generate solutions that are non-traditional and non-obvious.

I have seen it help complex businesses uncover their true business issue and address it with a unique solution to save time and money. Design Thinking can also help a brand develop a set of customer solutions to fill their innovation pipeline. To show the breadth of opportunities available, I have used Design Thinking in the following ways:

  • Marketing plan development

  • Launch planning

  • Brand relaunch

  • New business model development

  • Solving internal business challenges

  • Identifying new innovation territories and/or platforms

  • Development of brand experience

  • Competitive scenario planning repositioning


Three Core Elements of Design Thinking in Marketing

The process of Design Thinking has at three key elements at its center:

  1. Empathy with users / customers.

  2. Engaging multiple perspectives.

  3. Collaborating to design, test, and learn about a solution.

These three elements are important when trying to capitalize on a new business opportunity, address a competitive challenge or solve a complex business challenge.


Empathize to Deeply Understand Your Customer

Customer empathy is probably the most well-known element of Design Thinking. Spending time with your customer or the end user of your product, service, or solution is key. Empathy requires getting out of the office and sitting down to talk, in-person, face-to-face with people, shopping with them, interacting with them, and observing them - things you cannot do from behind your desk and computer. This involves rolling up your sleeves and engaging the consumer by asking questions and, most importantly, listening and observing.

Often with business problems, your customer is someone inside your business. These people are consumers, and thus, can be talked with, observed, and listened to! You need to identify both your ultimate customer and others who might influence their decisions. Talking to multiple customers, stakeholders, and influencers helps you to see the full context, allowing you to discover underlying needs and influences.


Engage Others with Perspectives and Expertise Different than Your Own

No big problem is ever solved alone. It takes different areas of expertise with various perspectives to uncover the root of a problem, discover an untapped opportunity, and develop the optimal solution. It is often easier to work alone or to only talk to people like you or in your department. In the long run, this seems like it would save time, however, it's a dangerous habit to get into. This closed-mindedness will often take up more time, as additional mistakes will be made and it will take longer to gain alignment because only one perspective is engaged. It is an important step to garner input from various experts, as you will also gain buy-in along the way.


Collaborate for Total Engagement

It often takes a group of people with different areas of expertise, through discovering the customer needs, uncovering the true problem to solve, and brainstorming together, to come up with the best solutions. This collaboration also ensures that various areas of the company are involved in Design Thinking; all areas have ownership and are “in it together,” making alignment and approvals often easier and shorter. Engaging various key stakeholders together early and often makes a difference in quickly getting solutions from an organization and championing it through to completion.

Fill out the form below if you would like to engage with our team to discuss further!

Michele is Aspirant's Director of Marketing & Innovation, and is a senior marketer and facilitator with 25 years of extensive experience in brand management, strategy development, Design Thinking, and innovation. She works with various corporations and non-profit businesses as a consultant to help them grow their business through strong strategy, marketing plans, and skills development. She has worked with companies in the Fortune 100 and Global 1000 as well as mid-sized companies in a range of industries, with a focus on healthcare.

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