5 Steps of Design Thinking for Marketing


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Recently, I came across this concept called design thinking. Reports suggest that using it can give an ROI of over 85%. Therefore, as a curious professional, I thought, ‘how can I employ this concept in my line of work, i.e., marketing?’ And this article is a summation of everything I found + my understanding of the profession.

Before jumping into the meat of the article, let me first define design thinking. According to Interaction Design Foundation, “Design thinking is a non-linear, iterative process that teams use to understand users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems and create innovative solutions to prototype and test.” In other words, it is a process to solve problems creatively whilst keeping the end-user/human at the core.

Source: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/design-thinking

From a broader perspective, design thinking involves five stages: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Indeed, it can be divided into more steps like you can see in this Customer Think article, but, in general, the mentioned five stages are considered, and I will use the same.

5 Steps of Design Thinking for Marketing

1. Empathize: Stepping yourself in the customer’s shoes is the first step. What are their problems? Why would they choose your product/service to solve that problem? How would they come across you? Such are the essential questions for this step.

As a marketer, it helps understand the pain point of the customer. Once that is understood ⁠— whether they think the price is high, the convenience-factor is low, etc. ⁠— marketing messages & campaigns can be ran targeting that point. Research has found 62% of customers want marketing content that speaks to pain points. Meaning, your customer/client will even like your ad if you empathize.

2. Define: Once you think from your customer’s/client’s perspective, it is time to define the actual problem. Once you define the problem, your mindset changes to solving the problem rather than focusing on the problem.

For marketers, here is an example: The ideal customer is visiting the site & the price is also fair in their viewpoint; still, the conversion rate is low. Here, the main problem is the low conversion rate despite the customer actually finding the price & product ideal; this narrows things down to something’s wrong with the website- whether the copy is poorly written, the site isn’t well-optimized, the CTA isn’t attractive enough, etc.

3. Ideate: Now that the problem is well in front of you, start looking for solutions. Brainstorm. Ask all the people you know. If needed, hire a focus group.

Let us continue the previous example. Some ideas for the problem are changing the CTA button size, changing the CTA text, changing the heading of the page, etc.

4. Prototype: The brainstorming session is over. Everyone has their ways to solve problems. Some are good, some are bad. How do you know which one will work? Answer: Prototype. Make a minimal viable solution and get feedback.

E.g., Say, all decided that CTA is the main problem. Therefore, create multiple versions of CTA design & text, and share it internally or with a minimum group of people. Collect all the feedback you can to make it better or choose from multiple versions.

5. Test: It is time to get it to the real audience. Depending on prototyping results, use the solution on the actual product/service/website/landing page/whatever.

Continuing the same example, change the current CTA to decided-upon-after-feedback CTA on the main website. Be patient and collect data.

The data will answer all your questions: Did the CTA perform well or did the conversions decrease? If it did work better, how well did it? Is there room for growth? Or the CTA was not the actual problem?!

Design thinking is an iterative process, so the answers will decide which stage to go to next. Perhaps you will have to empathize again or just test out a new CTA.

Final Words

What I showed here is a very fundamental usage of design thinking for marketing. In the real world, the problems can be more complex, and hence keeping track of all the stages for all the related team members can be difficult. In such a case, either use well-working & traditional methods like Google sheets/docs or use any of the design thinking tools for a more visual and immersive experience.

Either way, do employ design thinking. Almost all the top companies in the world use it. In fact, it’s the main reason why companies/companies’ product like Airbnb, PillPack, IBM, etc. are successful.

Vinod Janapala
Vinod Janapala - Product (SaaS) Marketing & Customer Analytics Lead. Vinod is keen on such topics as Marketing, Customer Experience, SaaS Challenges, and Personal Growth.


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