Design Thinking for Your Business

One of the biggest mistakes any business can do when developing a marketing strategy is thinking that they can market to everyone. The reality is that strong marketing contains refined messages, and refined messages speak to specific people. This basic marketing principle holds true in every industry.

A marketing methodology to help a brand define their target audience is design thinking. It is fairly common for a brand to develop their branding, messages, and products then attempt to attract and convince customers to give their business to the brand. Design thinking reverses that process. In the design thinking method, the brand will first identify and research their target audience then create their branding, messages, and products according to that target audience’s needs and wants. 

This is a much more effective way of marketing to your target audience. As a brand, you do not have to continually think of ways to make your brand more appealing to potential customers. Instead, from the launch of your brand, everything is designed to draw that target audience to you organically.

So, what is involved in the design thinking process? There are three phases to this method: discovery, ideation, and testing.

The discovery phase of design thinking is focused on researching and understanding your desired customer. The end goal of this phase is to generate insights into how your desired customer thinks, their motivations, their concerns, their life goals, their values and beliefs, and so much more. The collected data about your desired customer contains standard demographic data like age, gender, living arrangement, and the like, but the data does not stop there. In design thinking, you should strive to understand your customer at a psychological level. This is the key information you will use when developing a marketing plan that feels like it speaks directly to them. You should seek an answer to this question of “why do they do the things that they do?”

This information can be collected from interviews with representatives from your target audience, psychology publications, question and answer websites like Quora, observations, and immersion in the spheres your target customer engages in. At this point, you should be able to synthesize your collected data and identify clear classifications for your ideal customers. With these classifications, you can create customer personas that will act as your marketing guide when generating new marketing initiatives and creative. In a future blog post, I will be breaking down customer personas and what you should make sure to include.

A major identifier you should determine when creating personas is where they fall in the marketing funnel. Are they at the awareness stage or at the retention stage? The stage your ideal customer is at in the marketing funnel is going to play a large role in determining which strategies are going to be most effective when picking marketing strategies after the ideation phase.

Now you know your ideal customers inside and out, hopefully. During the ideation phase of the design thinking process, this is where the brainstorming of marketing ideas begins. Up until this point, you should not spend too much mental energy or time on generating ideas. Take it one phase at a time. The goal of the ideation phase is to brain-dump as many marketing ideas as you and your team possibly can without any judgement. No judgement on whether a given idea is too big, too expensive, or just too ridiculous can be allowed during ideation. All of those crazy or grand ideas can be eventually distilled into more realistic ideas later on. In fact, wild and the-sky-is-the-limit ideas should be encouraged during this phase.

As you and your team are generating ideas, you can begin to cluster and classify the different ideas into marketing categories. Perhaps you want to categorize the ideas by communication channel or perhaps categorizing ideas by inbound or outbound. Maybe categorizing ideas by free and paid is best for your brand. It does not quite matter the method of classification as it matters that ideas are organized period. This is going to make it much simpler to pick and choose marketing strategies later on when developing a well-rounded marketing mix.

At the end of the ideation phase, you should have a large list of marketing ideas that are scaled to the level of marketing effort and spend your brand can accommodate at that time. Notice how I mention scalability? Your marketing plan should always be scalable, meaning that you have programs, people, and systems in place that can work with startup marketing all the way up to enterprise-level marketing without completely changing your marketing plan.

At this point, you know your audience and you have a massive list of ideas, so it is time to see what ideas stick and which ideas should be tabled for another day. In design thinking, the testing phase receives its influence from the growth hacking paradigm of marketing where speed and quantity is key. That is not to say that quality of content is not a factor, but rather if you have executed the discovery and ideation phases properly, you will have all of the information you need to create high-quality marketing materials with efficiency and efficacy.

To begin the testing phase, from your categories, you choose a good mix of branding and marketing ideas and prototype those ideas. During testing, you are continually analyzing ideas, receiving feedback, and adjusting according to the feedback. Testing is a recursive process where you are always reflecting on your marketing’s performance. Through this process, you will find that your brand becomes more and more refined and that your ideal customers are more engaged with what you communicate to them. Not every marketing piece must be earth-shattering right out of the gate. Time and listening to your audience will lead you to a brand that garners goodwill and loyalty with your ideal customers.

I have one tip to make about executing the design thinking method well. The design thinking process is simultaneously iterative and recursive. Design thinking is iterative in that it has three distinct phases that should be more or less followed in order; however, it is also recursive, which means that you can and should continually be going back through the design thinking phases to refine and hone in on your audience more, generate better ideas, and retest old ideas and new ideas. Marketing plans are not meant to be created then never refined. They are meant to be continually evolving. That is why having a professional marketer on your team is absolutely necessary.

Using design thinking can help your brand quickly and effectively find a voice that resonates with the people you want to be using your products. Keep these tips in mind when you are developing your marketing plan.

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