Econsultancy has covered design thinking a number of times.

And while these posts offer a great introduction to the whatswhys, and hows of the topic, it often helps to get the perspective of a practitioner in order to put all the pieces in order.

At a recent Econsultancy event, Digital Outlook 2017 Part 2 hosted by NTUC, Nicholas Kontopoulos, Global VP of Fast Growth Markets, SAP Hybris, offered just that. In his presenation, Nicholas told attendees why we need design thinking, what its goals are, and how to get started.

Why we need design thinking

Engaging consumers is hard

It almost goes without saying that it has never been more difficult for brands to engage with consumers. 

Consumers don't trust brands

In addition to struggling to reach potential customers, brands are also finding that consumers don't trust brands either.

A B2B survey by SiruusDecisions found that fewer than half (42%) favor brand-initiated trials and demos whereas nearly two in three (64%) prefer independent white papers.

Even more revealing, reported by the CMO council, is that two in three (67%) consumers say that professional groups are highly trusted but fewer that one in ten (9%) say the same about vendors.

The marketing funnel has gone haywire

Finally, even when brands are in touch with the consumer, they find that the marketing funnel is not what it was.

Instead of being able to tie each step of the customer journey with a particular channel (e.g. TV = 'awareness'), customers now 'choose their own adventure' by connecting with the brand through a wide variety of mediums in their own way and at their own pace.

So, Nicholas explained, we need a new way to reach consumers, build trust, and provide better guidance through the customer journey.

Paving the way for design thinking

The reason why marketers have ended up in this situation is that brands are out of touch with their customers.

So, Nicholas pointed out, marketers must step away from their product, brief, or day-to-day tasks and, instead, think deeply about their customers.

Why? Because consumers pay attention to innovation and avoid the mundane. Innovation is one of the best ways to break through the consumer 'bubble' but it requires both creativity and execution.

Brand marketers, however, tend to be excellent in execution but lack creativity, and that's where design thinking comes in. Design thinking helps marketers be more creative so that their execution, their daily work, matters to customers.

How to get started with design thinking

So having established why we need design thinking, a vexing issue remains. How can marketers get started? Nicholas offered a step-by-step guide:

1) Start by listening to your customers

First and foremost, marketers should seek genuine customer feedback about the product or service they provide. This will help them elicit genuine problems which the customer finds painful.

For the process to be effective, design thinking must be human-centred and empathy needs to be at the heart of it.

Once a problem is identified, marketers can then work on a solution with the aim of engineering engaged customers.

2) Iterate through solutions

There are a number of design thinking methodologies, but each is based on the idea that design teams should take risks, test new ideas, and be willing to sacrifice those which only deliver incremental value to customers.  

Here are the steps provided by Nicholas for finding truly innovative solutions.

i) Scope the problem space

With the customer problem in mind, marketers should thoroughly research the problem space with an open mind. Only when a problem area is well-scoped will new approaches emerge. 

Personas, customer journey maps, touchpoint analysis and user stories are all produced at this stage.

ii) Ideate

While it may sound like obscure business-speak, ideation simply requires marketers to synthesize the various elements of the customer's problem and think of ways to solve the problem.

Ideas should be unconstrained at first but the team should end up with a prioritized list of solutions.

iii) Prototype

The next step is to turn the idea into an actual product or system, the prototype.

Prototypes will probably not be finished products or solutions, but they need to deliver feedback which helps the team understand whether the new approach will have significant impact on the problem.

Prototypes can be low or high-fidelity. Low-fidelity prototypes, such as storyboards or UI sketches, are quick and easy but may not generate enough feedback to make changes. High-fidelity prototypes, such as models and working systems, are more time-consuming to produce but will deliver more valid data.

The process of building a prototype can also help spark new ideas.

iv) Test

The best prototypes should then be given to actual users without prompting to see whether the new idea solves the problem in an intuitive way. 

Having multiple solutions at this stage helps as users can then compare alternatives and provide better feedback.

Note that the whole design thinking process is iterative and non-linear. At any point the team may drop back a step to rethink the problem or even use test results to re-examine the problem area.

3) Deliver balanced solutions

Once an innovation emerges from the design thinking process, marketers should then think realistically about delivery. 

Every solution should follow the three key principles of design thinking. The solution should be:

  • Desirable: The solution should be what you and your customers want to see happen.
  • Feasible: It should be possible with new or existing technology.
  • Viable: It should be something which your organisation can sustain and something customers are willing to pay for.

Nicholas's closing advice is for design thinking teams to go very broad in thinking what is desirable but to spend extra effort identifying what solutions are feasible and viable.

The end point of design thinking is the delivery of a new, innovative product or service which solves the customers problem and satisfies the three principles of desirability, feasibility, and viability.

A word of thanks

Econsultancy would like to thank Nicholas Kontopoulos, Global VP of Fast Growth Markets, SAP Hybris for his presentation as well as the delegates who took time out of their busy schedules to attend.

We hope to see you all at future Singapore Econsultancy events!

Jeff Rajeck

Published 4 July, 2017 by Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck is the APAC Research Analyst for Econsultancy . You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.  

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Comments (2)

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wes herzik, founder at ikonicmedia.com

"Brand marketers, however, tend to be excellent in execution but lack creativity."

I'd argue brand marketers are not really good at either. I agree companies spend too much time looking at their product/service from their perspective, not the consumers.

3 months ago

Jeff Rajeck

Jeff Rajeck, Research Analyst at EconsultancySmall Business

On review, I don't think I should have characterized such a diverse group of people on skills. Many are very creative and execute with aplomb. My mistake.

Instead of 'excellent at execution' and 'lack creativity', I should have said that brand marketers are encouraged, with incentives, to continuously improve execution often at the expense of creativity.

Design thinking, then, is a way for creativity to return to the table.

3 months ago

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