6 Lessons for Marketers from an Unlikely Source

  • Asuthosh

Marketers often view design (and designers) with suspicion. Pixel pushers, flaky, highfalutin – are often the unfortunate terms of endearment for design and designers. But, thanks to a viewing of the acclaimed documentary, Design Thinking, graciously arranged by Pebble Road, B2Bento got a special insight into the world of design.

And, as it turns out, design thinking (originally promulgated by IDEO’s Tim Brown) can teach a thing or two about effective and results-driven marketing.

1. Deal with Wicked Problems

Marketers are more often up against ill-defined, tricky problems (about consumer intentions, behaviour, and a host of other factors) – hence “wicked” – than complex ones. As the film put it, handling complexity is like playing chess – there are a myriad ways things can pan out but we can manage them systematically and are only limited by our mental capacity to ‘plot’ them all out (which is why computers have been beating humans lately). A wicked problem, on the other hand, is like having our in-laws over for dinner. You know who they are but have no idea what they are thinking, what they would do, and what could trigger them off.

That’s where design thinking of being responsive and adaptive helps. Marketers have the tools today to discern almost in real time what’s going on in the minds of their audience, which helps define the problem, respond quickly and adapt our approach to the situation. Think of it like having a fine ear and eye for things unsaid and body language as you navigate through dinner with your in-laws.

2. Understand ‘Human’ Needs

Marketers love abstractions – target market, database, impressions, etc. Abstractions are good – they help deal with complexity and variations. But let’s not forget that we are ultimately selling to people, not droids.

Good designers like to insert the “me” into what they do. Think of how you would react to your own campaign, minus your personal prejudices towards the product. Developing personas is a great way to go about this.

3. Prototype and Iterate

The single biggest rut you can get into in marketing is if you “stick to your guns”. Successful designers learn to prototype early, and iterate quickly. And that’s just what marketers need to do. If you want one good idea, have lots and lots of ideas. But temper that with tacit knowledge and intuition gained through experience. What’s more, in the digital space, this is really easy. Unlike in traditional media (TV, outdoor), where an ad once done can only be changed at great cost, digital marketing allows for almost-real-time performance monitoring, testing and tweaking, usually at nominal incremental cost.

4. Power to the People

Designers call this “referred pain”, where they observe people to ascertain if the problem that their design is meant to solve, is actually the problem their subjects face. Marketing, similarly, has to address the pain that people have, and not one that the management thinks the products address. We do this through measuring everything we can. Track and analyse all your campaigns and observe what’s working and what’s not. Marketing has to In the age of analytics, tools to this are readily available.

5. Love Limits

Designs that succeed are usually those that evolve from constraints. In this “industrial design” mode of working, marketers don’t give free reign to fancies and possibilities. Always devise campaigns within the “business world”, where ROI, timelines and limited budgets prevail.

6. Encourage Hybrid Thinking

Steve Jobs’ much-loved design sense is widely attributed to his diverse tastes and life experiences, which perhaps enabled him to think with multiple hats. In today’s hyper-specialised marketing world, this isn’t easy. Treat marketing as an art, a multi-dimensional, dialogic (or even multi-logic), multi-lateral activity that, at its best, encompasses all touch points with external audiences across all business functions. Marketing is the big integrator, a diplomat within the organisation but the partisan friend of customers (to quote Tim Leberecht of frog). So it helps to have multi-disciplinary people in the marketing team, who consciously blend different fields of thought to discover and develop opportunities that were previously unseen by the status quo.

All this is not to say that Design Thinking guarantees success. But as Raymond Loewy, the famous industrial designer, pointed out: “Design is too important to be left to designers.” So, go ahead. Look at that designer sitting next to you with newfound respect. But more importantly, assimilate design thinking to tap the full potential of your marketing efforts.

How else can design thinking help improve marketing? Chime in!


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