Is design thinking the answer for the next generation of marketing?

Merryn Olifent

Merryn Olifent is a senior consultant at innovation and design thinking firm, G2 Innovation. She is a leader in marketing and communications for digital and financial services and is passionate about bridging the gap between marketing, technology and design to create meaningful customer experiences.


The speed and pace of change will never be slower than we’re experiencing today. It took 75 years for the telephone to reach 50 million users and one quarter for iPhone X to be shipped to 12.7 million.

So in this era of unprecedented change, how can brands meet soaring consumer expectations, stay relevant and deliver differentiated and connected experiences?

Design thinking, human-centred design and design sprints have entered the professional vernacular in response. But more than being the latest buzzwords, they do offer real opportunity for marketers to accelerate innovation.

From campaign to customer-led

Marketers are now expected to not just to grow the business, but to change the business. Increasingly, this has seen CMOs step up to take on the role of leading customer experience and driving innovation. In fact, one-third of Australian CMOs now consider disruptive innovation one of their top three priorities.  

Disruptive innovation takes leadership courage and conviction. It means blurring the lines between marketing, product, sales and digital technology, focusing on delivering real customer value, and having the mindset and tools to make it reality.  

So what key elements of design thinking are required in order for this to happen?

1. Start with problems

Look at some of the biggest marketing disrupters of recent years – Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Alibaba – and you’ll find the foundation of success is the same. They understood customer frustrations and pain points with the incumbents in market and solved them in a way no one else had before.

Dollar Shave Club built its business on solving problems that category leaders of the day were happy to keep. They were good for profit margins, but not for customers. Dollar Shave’s launch video is pure gold in brand authenticity, too.

In marketing, we often focus on new product features as the pathway to acquire and retain customers and often forget just exactly what problem we are there to solve. The key to tapping into real customer problems is empathy: The ability to listen, observe and become immersed in the experience.

This means getting out from behind the glass panel at a focus group, ditching the online survey and engaging directly with customers and frontline teams. By using design thinking tools such as empathy mapping, customer personas and journey maps, marketers can uncover pain points and opportunities, then prioritise budget and resources in a way which can systematically shift the customer experience.

2. Unleash your inner creatives

By 2020, creativity is predicted to be the third most in-demand skill, so don’t outsource it. Coupled with insight, creativity is the cornerstone of successful innovation.

Building this muscle with your in-house team brings the agility that’s needed to imagine the possibilities of emerging technology and data. Most disrupters didn’t invent the tech that made them a success; they simply found a new and creative way to solve a human problem.

3. Experiment to learn and keep moving

Traditional marketing processes don’t lend themselves to speed. And when you’ve already invested time and dollars in an idea, it’s hard to walk away. Get faster by taking a ‘no regrets’ approach experiments. Ideas are cheap so your goal is to break them, find the problems and iterate to improve.

Design sprints can lend a hand here by ring-fencing time spent on idea creation and quickly moving you forward into test, learn and iteration. Plus you save time researching, briefing and pursuing ideas that don’t resonate with your customers.

Go to market with pilots, soft launches and beta offerings, and test and learn to gather more insight to fuel growth and scale. This also creates new opportunities.

Some brands have turned early adopters into exclusive member experiences. Take wireless speaker and sound system manufacturer, Sonos, which has turned it invitation-only private beta program into a badge of honour as a customer.

The world is not slowing down anytime soon. Design thinking offers marketers a way to keep pace with the expectations of their increasingly savvy consumer. Because brand loyalty will be forgotten if a simpler, faster and more convenient way to solve your customers’ problems emerges.

Tags: design thinking, customer experience management, brand strategy, human-centred design, sprints

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

More whitepapers

Latest Videos

More Videos

Well done, team at Larsen. Fantastic story of how to continually invest in customer experience.

Adam Frank

A designer jewellery brand's take on customer relations

Read more

Great piece Katja. It will be fascinating to see how the shift in people's perception of value will affect design, products and services ...

Paul Scott

How to design for a speculative future - Customer Design - CMO Australia

Read more

Google collects as much data as it can about you. It would be foolish to believe Google cares about your privacy. I did cut off Google fr...

Phil Davis

ACCC launches fresh legal challenge against Google's consumer data practices for advertising

Read more

“This new logo has been noticed and it replaces a logo no one really knew existed so I’d say it’s abided by the ‘rule’ of brand equity - ...

Lawrence

Brand Australia misses the mark

Read more

IMHO a logo that needs to be explained really doesn't achieve it's purpose.I admit coming to the debate a little late, but has anyone els...

JV_at_lAttitude_in_Cairns

Brand Australia misses the mark

Read more

Blog Posts

How to design for a speculative future

For a while now, I have been following a fabulous design strategy and research colleague, Tatiana Toutikian, a speculative designer. This is someone specialising in calling out near future phenomena, what the various aspects of our future will be, and how the design we create will support it.

Katja Forbes

Managing director of Designit, Australia and New Zealand

The obvious reason Covidsafe failed to get majority takeup

Online identity is a hot topic as more consumers are waking up to how their data is being used. So what does the marketing industry need to do to avoid a complete loss of public trust, in instances such as the COVID-19 tracing app?

Dan Richardson

Head of data, Verizon Media

Brand or product placement?

CMOs are looking to ensure investment decisions in marketing initiatives are good value for money. Yet they are frustrated in understanding the value of product placements within this mix for a very simple reason: Product placements are broadly defined and as a result, mean very different things to different people.

Michael Neale and Dr David Corkindale

University of Adelaide Business School and University of South Australia

Sign in