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How To Infuse Design Thinking Into Your Marketing And Storytelling

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From the iPhone to everyday furniture, design thinking has enabled some of the world’s most beloved brands like Apple and Ikea to develop intentional and human-centric products. Often used in product and experience development, more marketers and startups are now incorporating design thinking in the way they approach marketing and branding initiatives.

Design thinking encourages marketers to be more empathetic in their approach in communicating with customers.  In other words, putting themselves in customer shoes to understand their needs, desires, and potentially problems. Rather than selling features, we should be emphatic and tell stories.

Today, I am joined by Purin Phanichphant to break down the why and what behind design thinking. And more importantly, how marketers can apply design thinking in their work to tell more authentic stories. Purin is currently a lecturer at the UC Berkeley’s Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation where he teaches Visual Communication Design. Prior to teaching at UC Berkeley, he also taught storytelling and design thinking at Stanford’s d.school and Graduate School of Business. Purin was a principal designer at the leading design firm IDEO, along with tech companies like Pulse News (acquired by LinkedIn) and Microsoft.

Why And What Behind Design Thinking

Tai Tran: At its core, what is design thinking?

Purin Phanichphant: Design thinking is one of the many tools you can use to solve difficult, complicated problems. It is less of a linear process, but more of a mindset. Being conscious and mindful of what methods you can use to help get you unstuck and move along is more important than religiously following the prescribed process.

Instead of starting from technological innovations, say, “we’ve just built a faster computer chip, let’s make a product out of it!” or business-driven decisions like “we can make lots of money from selling X” or “we’ve figured out an innovative business model to sell Y,” design thinking start from getting to the hearts and minds of potential users, uncovering latent needs and using those to spawn off product and/or service ideas.

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TT: Why should marketers care about design thinking?

PP: Marketing is less about money and more about connecting to humans on the receiving end. Successful marketing campaigns touch the hearts and souls of the audience. Instead of purely going by quantitative market research numbers, imagine if you get qualitative data from design research that lets you empathize with potential customers. Imagine if you can understand not only how much they would pay for something, but why they buy something.

Another big component of design thinking is storytelling. Being able to craft your message around human needs on top of product features allows you to connect to your audiences at a more personal level. Ads that make the audience laugh or cry are much more powerful compared to ones that only talk about product features and cost savings.

How Marketers Can Apply Design Thinking To Their Work

TT: How can marketers, especially CMOs, apply design thinking to their work?

PP: Here are a few strategies you can employ in your work. Again, these are more like mindsets to be in, rather than prescriptive steps to follow:

  1. Human First: Think of your customers beyond just numbers. Be curious about their feelings, hopes, fears, and the unique stories they have to share with you. Once you get to know and empathize with them, you may think of your product and how you market it in a completely different light. Combine qualitative design research with quantitative market research, and your intuition for marketing decisions will be much better informed.
  2. Flare-Before-Focus: In design thinking, we use divergent thinking, or “flaring,” methods to discover opportunities and explore ideas. This includes gathering a wide range of user stories to better understand the opportunity space, as well as going for quantity and deferring judgement when brainstorming. Once you have a myriad of themes or concepts in front of you, use convergent thinking or “focusing,” methods to narrow down choices and make informed decisions. Knowing when to flare and focus will certainly get your creative juices flowing while getting the project done within time and resource constraints.
  3. Make-To-Think: Imagine investing in a big campaign push, only to discover that it didn’t resonate with your customers after having spent so much time and resources on it. In product design, we have a similar problem, where the cost of failure significantly increases further along the process. One of the ways to lower these risks is by constantly testing our hypotheses, by making our concepts tangible and testable with users from the early stages until the very end. Knowing how to give and receive feedback, using “I like…” and “I wish…” statements together, leads to a culture of openness and constant improvement.

How Coca-Cola and Volkswagen Incorporated Design Thinking Into Their Storytelling

TT: Can you name a few brands that have successfully incorporated design thinking into their creative and marketing efforts?

PP: One campaign that sticks out in my mind is Coca-Cola’s Happiness Machine campaign. There’s something very human and authentic about it. The Coke machine is something very familiar to most people, and to use it in a candid, unexpected, yet scrappy way is quite ingenious. The candid camera angles capture the joy and happiness of those in the video, which in turn, connect to my emotions as an audience watching the video.

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