What is ‘design thinking’ and how does it work?

Richard Beedell explains how ‘design thinking’ will help your business to understand your customers’ needs, as well as how to use this technique to achieve the best possible results.

Over the last 15 years I have worked as an e-commerce and digital marketing consultant to brands big and small. My conversations with clients nearly always start with them asking me: ‘How can I sell more online?’

I have discovered that one of the best ways to answer this is to ask: ‘How do you measure customer engagement and test theories?’ And unless I’m in a room with a fairly street-wise marketing team, I usually get the following response ‘we don’t’ or possibly ‘I’m not sure we have ever tried.’

You may have heard of ‘design thinking’ which was a phrase coined by Herbert Simon in 1969. Basically, design thinking is a process that puts people at the centre of a problem solving exercise.

In marketing terms, ‘what problem does the customer have?’ Or perhaps, ‘what do they need help with?’ All marketing analysis should start with those types of questions, and make certain that the customer is the focal point of the question.

Design thinking is likely to deliver solutions for brands that are based on real-person interaction, insights and testing. The big difference in adopting this approach, to any other that businesses may have used, is that it starts by looking at the challenge presented. It is a learning process with the data ultimately creating hypotheses. There needs to be a satisfactory conclusion.

There should be three pillars to this way of thinking, with regards to business marketing. ‘Is it desirable to the customer?’ ‘Is the new product or service attractive to those people whose problems you wish to solve? And, finally, ‘Is it feasible?’ Don’t forget, the process has to work for those people who have hired a consultant to help solve a problem.

The bottom line is that any investigative process needs to be financially viable, while delivering a return on investment. When conducting ‘design thinking’ in relation to customer engagement and marketing strategy, first consider the commercial challenge. This is the challenge to the business, not the customer. For example: ‘Why don’t customers buy through my website?’

Observe and track data. Accumulate as much data as you can, both quantitative and qualitative. And this means from every stage of the buying process or customer journey. Try to understand why customers are reacting in a certain why and making their decisions and choices.

Develop insights and hypothesis. Google Analytics is great but so are other data insights. Try to form a hypothesis as to why. Insights can help to create a hypothesis that you may choose to act on, or test later. 

Prioritise distinct areas. Once you have identified a potential problem that needs solving, and especially if it’s something that might generate great returns for the business, act on it.

However, always consider ‘value v revenue’. It may be that by fixing one problem, it might cause an issue somewhere else along the chain. It is not uncommon that by fixing one issue, which may require a significant increase in manpower, this will lead to a problem somewhere else. Therefore, you may need to prioritise other areas first in order to accommodate any imminent change to another part of the overall process.

Develop test ideas. This is where innovation meets creativity. Now that you have identified a problem, we need to solve it. This stage demands creativity, followed by a process determining whether it is A) desirable, B) feasible and C) viable.

It’s time to test our theories. Having compiled an order of priority, we must test them against pre-defined criteria to showcase success or failure

It’s all about achieving commercial success, such as increased revenue per order or conversion uplift of marketing or an improvement in the number of online clicks or return on advertising spend. Tests with a positive outcome should be rolled out to customers as soon as possible to ensure greater commercial returns.

Richard Beedell is a management consultant and Head of Marketing, Community and Content at small business tech and tools platform Moblox. The company specialise in re-engineering technology, communications and connectivity services making them better, simpler and cheaper.

Richard Beedell
Richard Beedell

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