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Why should marketers care for Design Thinking?

Armed with a host of analytical tools to generate timely action, marketing as a function across organizations has come into its own. But in the quest for more data, have today’s marketers lost their ability to actually connect with real consumers? How can Design Thinking help bring the discipline back on track?- Rajesh Kumar, Head of Marketing, Indian Subcontinent, SAP  

We built a bridge – within the budget and the timeline specified by our customer - yet he doesn’t seem satisfied with the end result. What could have gone wrong if we delivered as per our customer’s request? Maybe the need for a bridge in the first place had to be questioned. Why did the customer think he needed a bridge? If it was to transport parcels from one end to another, couldn’t that problem have been addressed through a fleet of ships? Albeit a farfetched example, it does get the point across.

For marketers today, product innovation needs to begin with effective listening- asking the right questions to elicit the right answers from customers. To be honest, sometimes it even means asking stupid questions. There’s a funny anecdote that a many design thinkers mention at the beginning of their sessions: to a question, ‘how many designers does it take to screw in a light bulb?’ one designer responded, ‘why a light bulb?’ Herein lays the fact that a true design thinker will never accept anything without asking another question. In fact, it is this questioning mindset that lays the groundwork for the initial and most important phase of Design Thinking: Scoping.  It includes finding out everything about your challenge and users, going deeper into people’s lives, practicing empathy, observing people and talking to them to generate valuable insights.

As marketers we are all familiar with our target audience, even narrowing this down to a target person who we keep at the focal point of all our communication. We give this person a name, a profession, an educational background, what he/she likes, places frequented etc. However, being completely fictitious, such a persona can in fact take away from the detailed nuances of actual, living, breathing persons. Today, many consumer product companies make the mistake of building their target persons based on empirical data and usage patterns and in the bargain miss out on the real user. However, designing a product experience without understanding your users is like preparing a gourmet meal without knowing anything about your guests. Apart from the fact that you may not know their basic preferences for vegetarian/non vegetarian fare, unfamiliarity with your guests can hamper your creativity and imagination, compelling you to dish out something mundane and ordinary in a best case scenario to letting your guests go hungry in a worst case scenario. Without a doubt, not knowing your users limits your potential to innovate.

Once you’ve got all the information during scoping, next you need to involve as many people from across departments on the creation of relevant solutions. Thus begins the Ideation phase with a couple of methods that are unique to the Design Thinking process, such as co-creation where you get your customers to collaborate with you, and storytelling wherein information is exchanged within the group. In fact, some of the most successful products and campaigns have been those that reach out to the customer. Pepsi used Design Thinking to develop its ‘Do us a Flavor’ campaign for Lays which brought the global brand to a local level by asking people to co-create the next flavor with an award of 1% of revenue.  The company received 8 million submissions across 14 countries since its US launch last July in three months alone! 

On storytelling, the design team at an Oil & Gas company chose to enact a play to bring to light the benefits of a new proposition and ensure better impact and interactivity with other departments. The ‘before’ and ‘after’ scenarios did not merely ensure the success of the new idea but the company’s CIO went a step ahead to request for a recording of the play for the corporate intranet.

Lastly, a crucial phase of the Design Thinking approach is Prototyping. The prototype helps tangibilize the ideas by giving them a physical form and shape. Very simple props like Lego blocks, cardboard boxes, art paper, empty toilet rolls and whatever else can think of – can be used for prototyping.  Take the example of a Design Thinking workshop that SAP helped organize for a global healthcare company – having homed in on the idea of developing a mobile platform to manage a growing number of applications for the customer; SAP got the workshop participants to use cereal boxes as low fidelity mobile prototypes. These boxes were then covered with post-it notes that were filled out with the different kinds of things the team expected from the mobile solution. Such an exercise helped actually visualize the possibilities that mobile solutions could bring and reinforce the need for a single cohesive mobility platform. 

While some of the tactics espoused by Design Thinking seem quite basic in nature, they can go a long way in helping marketers find a real connect with their consumers. As marketers we can all take a page or two from the Design Thinking approach - what’s more it is easily applied into regular brainstorm sessions.  So here’s to making Design Thinking more mainstream! | By Rajesh Kumar, Head - Marketing, Indian Subcontinent, SAP

About the writer:

Rajesh Kumar is the Head of Marketing for SAP in the Indian Subcontinent - with overall Responsibility for Marketing Strategy, Brand stewardship & Customer experience , Demand Generation, Press, Analysts and Employee Communications in India, Srilanka and Bangladesh. Rajesh joined SAP in 2010 and has been a core part of the team instrumental in the significant growth of SAP in India since then.

Rajesh's career spans over two decades, with an enviable depth of experience across Technology & Consumer companies like Seagram, Perfetti, Microsoft , SAP & HCL. His areas of expertise include Startups, Marketing, Sales , Trade & Alliances management, Operations & General Management. Rajesh is adapt at hiring, motivating , coaching high performance teams & Stakeholder management in highly matrixed, multicultural, international environments

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not reflect in any way of Adgully

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