A few months ago I published a story “Why Data isn’t enough — Confessions of a Digital Marketeer” where I began to highlight the shortcomings (from personal experience) I see in the field of Digital Marketing and how user-centred principles could help with these blindspots. Today my opinion hasn’t changed, but it has become more refined after encountering new challenges where a Design Thinking approach has been my solar-powered torch through the chaotic jungles of online marketing.
“Marketing” today is under pressure.
Humans are overloaded with content, options and solutions. This is not new. You probably feel the same when you open your Email, Facebook, LinkedIN or even Medium account. One reaction to this is an even bigger filter to information and ads. Another is the growth of more specific, smaller, intimate connections to companies and brands. That means “marketeers” jobs are changing — again. Finding a way to not only reach people but also be seen has become more of an art than ever, especially in the online (marketing) field. In my opinion, taking on a design thinking hat can give that competitive edge or at least enrich you with a vision on which new ways to go.
What is Design Thinking?
As Design Thinking is in itself an ongoing discussion to what it exactly is.., I will start with a brief introduction to what I personally mean by it and how I have used this mental approach to solve some complex marketing and strategic questions.
Design Thinking, in essence, is an approach to solve sticky, challenging questions or if you want it bluntly: problems. Although, there are many frameworks and steps; it is a fluid and agile approach that fundamentally pushes you to ask Why and keep asking Why. Meaning: testing your assumptions, getting into the skin of your users (a.k.a humans, target group) and discovering fresh solutions and ideas. These solutions are the most interesting when they seamlessly balance business/economic needs, technical limitations and the needs of the user.
2 Steps of the Design Thinking process I use to solve complex Digital Marketing problems.
The introduction before might have already sparked a new, broader way to approach your business or marketing questions (or maybe not). In any case, here are two concrete steps from the Design Thinking process I use to approach and solve complex questions.
Nr. 1: Empathise with your users.
Whether it is an underperforming website, Facebook campaign, email or all-of-the-above (yes, it happens), the starting point for me is always to emphasise with those on the receiver side. The business goal of more leads, sales or donations is secondary as in this case, the message itself did not come across in a way that it is convincing for users. As there are always budget and time constraints in marketing, doing a full, in-depth research with users is usually not available. However, growing a sense of empathy can help in highlighting what is missing.
How do you empathise?
- Become extremely curious. Place yourself into the shoes of someone who has never seen or heard about the campaign before but could be interested. What kind of person is it? In what kind of state do they come into contact with your campaign or website? You could look at is as a quick role-play and your role is being the most relevant but critical end user you can think of.
- Sketch their journey. I personally like to use UXPressia for this as I go through each step. I write down all the questions or uncertainties I could come across while interacting with the company/brand/campaign touch-points and see what fundamental questions are not answered. You can also do this on paper and involve colleagues outside of your team to this process to check your own outcomes.
- Listen to your followers. Read the comments on a Facebook post (sometimes shocking but can be revealing), talk to your comms. team/community managers/customer service department on any incoming feedback or questions from the users. Use this as input for the possible solutions. Especially when there are reoccurring complaints or uncertainties. I experience that although people don’t really know what they want, they are very good in knowing what they don’t want which serves as a pointer to what would make them happy.
Nr. 2: Prioritise and Prototype.
Once you have compiled all the incoming insights and found the similarities either on your own or preferably together with some team members, it is important to prioritise and prototype.
- Prioritise & Prototype
In this phase, naturally some questions will arise leading you to the next step. Which solution of which insight will make the difference? And which possible solution or new angle should you implement first? For this, I like to start off with the previously mentioned “3 circle model” where you place each solution onto the spectrum of budget, resources and technical limitations. At this point, it’s important to involve the stakeholders in your line of thinking to get them on board in the process. This always feeds into the next step which is “prototyping” the solutions in the most easiest but visual way you can. For example:
- Is the solution to your challenge improvements to the user-experience of the website? Sketch your ideas on paper, cut-and-paste screenshots together or use a fancy tool if you must to visualise your ideas for your stakeholders and for any agencies that you might need to get on board to build your solution.
- Is the solution related to more clear, convincing communication or marketing content? Then write a short storyline, create a mood-board or some images and copy to pitch and test the new ideas internally with those who will help you create it.
By creating these visual prototypes of your solution you are ultimately also:
- getting internal stakeholders on board
- creating shareable documents (briefings) for team members/agencies
- testing and refining your solutions as you go along.
A much more risk-free and agile approach than blindly following your assumptions or the previously “it worked well last time” solutions.
Design Thinking is ultimately a mindset in which you don’t jump to solutions too quickly. It’s a framework to allow yourself to take a step back and find the usually not so obvious solutions or ideas to a challenge. As the master Jedi of Design Thinking (DT), Don Norman, put it:
“Designers have developed a number of techniques to avoid being captured by too facile a solution. They take the original problem as a suggestion, not as a final statement, then think broadly about what the real issues underlying this problem statement might really be. Most important of all, is that the process is iterative and expansive. Designers resist the temptation to jump immediately to a solution to the stated problem.”
Have your doubts? Well, in the name of all things digital: Test It. :-)