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7 ways to use design thinking for innovative marketing now

The concept of “design thinking” has become more than just a buzzword, according to Melissa Rancourt, Academic Director, Global Executive Master’s in Strategic Design & Management at Parsons School of Design. Instead of focusing on what it is, she said the trend has shifted to focusing on how to do it—and she provided some insights to accomplish that during an American Marketing Association webinar sponsored by OpenText Hightail.

If you’re a marketing professional and wondering how design thinking might apply to your projects, Rancourt said marketers are in a good position for it, because they’re able to “pull on the design of the creative side, but do it within a business construct.” She outlined seven ideas to help drive innovative marketing using design thinking:

1. Use your superpower: empathy and customer profiles – Rancourt said marketers understand how to look at customer markets and how to effectively reach people and identify profiles. The challenge, though, is to take things even further to really understand what the individuals are being affected by—and that can give great insight into designing something very specific to address that need.

2. (Re)define the problem and keep doing so – Sometimes marketers are handed a solution, rather than information about what the problem is, according to Rancourt. “When we go through this using a design thinking methodology or strategic design thinking, we need to come back to the why. … What particular need or pain point or situation are we trying to design for? In doing so, we’re often redefining it along the way.” Think about this the next time you hear someone say, “We need a new website.” Is that really the problem, or is that a suggested solution that you’re starting with?

3. Invite “unusual suspects” to collaborate – Marketing can often be siloed, working mostly with people in similar roles. That lack of diversity in discussing the problem could mean missing out on some different perspectives and different approaches to solving it. She added that it’s important to ask: “Who can we welcome to our circle who’s not normally invited, and how might that change how we approach things?”

4. Use (and create) collaboration tools to bring people together – The word “tools” in this situation can describe anything that can facilitate the conversations. “You need tools that are available to you to create that feeling of collaboration and getting things done and being organized.” She added that sticky notes are often used in the realm of design thinking. “But it’s not the Post-it per se, it’s the visual aspect. It’s important to be able to look at something at the same time together—and see where the ideas emerge from it.”

5. Don’t be afraid to play – “I work in a lot of serious industries,” Rancourt said. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to play with the team.” She added, “That element of letting go is important for coming up with something that is different than what we’ve ever come up with before.” This also can be particularly helpful for bridging a connection with other roles in the organization. “Wherever you’re working, that element of playing together can help to make that bridge a lot easier.”

6. Prototype – “This is a very typical idea to talk about when we talk about design thinking, and it’s going back to that visual aspect. It helps to actually see what we’re talking about.” She added that it’s important to go through iterations before building a web page or app, because it can help save money over a finished product that doesn’t deliver what it needs to. And while prototyping works for putting a product or website together, it can also be used for a process or something intangible like designing a customer experience. She shared an example of a group that drew web pages on paper to show how the pages could be “radically different,” and how that brought up more ideas that needed to be explored.

7. Just do it – Design thinking often means focusing more on that “superpower” of empathizing than you would in a typical project management process—to the point where it’s “almost uncomfortable,” according to Rancourt. “That said, even though you’re doing that, you can jump also to ‘let’s come up with ideas and let’s iterate and let’s prototype’ and let’s come back to it again’ … So these are designed to go back and forth and get to things very quickly.” She added, “Just because a process exists as it does or as it could, doesn’t mean it has to take a long time, which is important for a marketing element, because the expectation is whatever needs to be done needs to be done today.”

For more on design thinking for innovative marketing, watch the webinar on demand.


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