Design Thinking in Digital – Part 3

First Published on Clickz Asia November 2013

Following on from my first two pieces focusing on the consumer [link] and the use of technology, I’d like to end this series by talking about Design Thinking’s third tenet – business viability.  In the world of digital advertising, business viability sits firmly in the results section.

Design-Thinking-for-B2B-Marketing-01-1024x818In digital advertising the viability has to be linked to measurable results. I realize that that statement may be seen as controversial to some.  The recent missives from various sources about the death of social media ROI hint, at least, that some people may have given up on measurement.  And we all know people for whom the focus on results is seen as an awkward and uncomfortable distraction from their ‘brilliant idea’ or that ‘strong execution of the concept’.  Both these creative drivers of course play hugely into getting results but those results must be the end game unless you’re in advertising as a hobby and your clients don’t mind wasting their money.

And yes, there are softer ambitions for some initiatives – creating some buzz or some equally ambiguous awareness-type of thing.  Both are difficult to measure but we should not confuse difficult to measure with it doesn’t really have to have any results.

Any credible results must tie back (even if the route is rather tortuous) to some bottom line indicator – increased profit or reduced costs.  The reason why we’re all happy to create ‘awareness’ is because we know deep down that it should lead to something tied to the bottom line.  Anyone prepared to accept awareness or anything fuzzy in the absence of something more tangible down the line probably shouldn’t be in business.


In my first piece on this series I talked about understanding consumers.  Creating Personas is fantastic way of achieving that and, in addition to providing insights; the process itself is powerful in its ability to get people thinking differently – getting them to think from the customer’s position.  It is my experience that even the creation of just one persona can leverage valuable insights.  In using personas when I was working with a high street hardware chain in Singapore, it wasn’t long before the senior management team realized they were selling nails and tools whereas their customers wanted solutions and beautiful homes.  This realisation led to considerations of bundling products to provide a solution focused sell.  Taking this step further, it’s not hard to imagine some simple but effective cross and up-selling opportunities working in an online arena.

Persona creation also forces us to think about the daily lives and activities of people – their context.  For the same retail chain, simply understanding that people became high value potential customers when getting married and buying an apartment opened up all sorts of possibilities and physical and online opportunities to connect cheaply with a highly motivated audience.

In my second piece I talked about The Appropriate use of Technology specifically as it relates to connecting with the customer through the most appropriate channel.

Taking the time to create Customer Journeys through the various touch points and brand engagement cycle can be a relatively straightforward way of identifying the pain points and focuses the attention on experience developers on when that journey may, for example, force users to change media or device causing people to drop off.  Any single online engagement via a web channel or via an app is only one small part of a broader journey someone has with a brand.  It’s vital that we look at the whole engagement experience and consider the appropriateness of each stage.

Creating the ideal journey scenario – imagining what the best possible journey could be – is often a great starting point.  There’s a beautiful example of this kind of thinking from Mick Mountz who, when thinking about creating the best warehouse pick and pack system asked himself what would be the best possible situation.  Imagining a huge warehouse with thousands of workers each responsible for holding one product SKU was the start.  That they would each, when required, approach the packer with their specific product and then go back to their place was the inspiration for Kiva systems, a system that very much resembles his ‘ideal dream’.  Anyone looking to understand how to approach innovation and see how using some simple thinking processes can help should watch Mountz’s Ted Presentation.

Design Thinking as a concept has been over analyzed in recent years and some people have worked very hard discredit it.  I’m suspicious, too, that both designers and creative people in advertising can be reluctant to embrace a thinking approach that attaches as much importance to business results as the ‘big idea’ and the creative execution. I would go so far as to say that some designers are Design Thinking’s worst enemy but that’s another story.

The three core tenets Design Thinking within the realm of digital engagement for me can be summed up very simply.  Do we really understand who we are looking to engage? Are we going to deliver the engagement through the most appropriate and effective channels and do we know, from a business perspective, why we are doing it?   

Call it Design Thinking or not but I’m prepared to be challenged on those tenets as they relate to digital advertising or indeed as they relate to an approach in most industries.


Why having everything on Spotify sucks

collectionsThe other day I was hiking with a very good friend of mine. An industrial designer by training and someone who’s fascinated by new technology and its implications, I was keen to understand what he now used to listen to music – another passion of his.

His answer was brusque and bordering on defensive – CDs. And he still buys them. I told him that I hadn’t bought a CD for years and was right into Spotify. “I can understand that”, he said, “but I’m still doing the CD thing.”

Why would anyone still be buying CDs? The same could be said for DVDs in some segments of society and perhaps even books?

There are a number of subtle reasons why some are not embracing the likes of Spotify and Netflix:

Curation: Let’s get that one out of the way to start with. It’s a word I know a lot of people don’t like but it still makes sense. I had a girlfriend years ago whose brother had a huge record collection in a separate room of the house. He was the coolest guy on the planet as far as I was concerned. He’d built that up over the years, perhaps even stolen a few of the records and certainly gone without other things in his life. And there it was – a physical manifestation – a collection defined, earned and realized by him.

I probably have access to all of that music via my Spotify account, right? Millions of others do too. I earned that right with a small monthly subscription. There’s nothing of me in it – no stories, no effort, no sacrifice and nothing defining me in my vast collection.


Ceremony: When I lived with a friend back in the UK we used to listen to music in the evening – listen to vinyl records. And, like many others, we used to cue music up. This was done by someone sitting on the floor next to the line of albums that were stacked on their ends on the floor and going through them one by one until we collectively identified another track on we wanted to listen to. This album was then lifted up and left poking above the rest as we continued looking for the next track.

What was going on with activity? Well it was a shared experience – a specific ceremony around choosing and listening to music. Although not quite the same with CDs, something similar exists and you can point your dinner guest over to the CD rack, for example, and ask them to choose some music to put on.

Readers-007Status: Closely related to the above but perhaps more specifically about books is the idea of our displaying our tastes – something that was (and still is) manifested in our reading books in public typically on public transport. I know several people who happily admit that they miss this aspect of the behavior when holding up a faceless and ‘coverless’ kindle or phone.


In ‘digitizing’ services and media distribution we’d do well to not lose track of some of the emotional drivers and peripheral activities that give and have given so much meaning and to people.

Doing digital must not simply be about efficiency of distribution and availability and giving everything to everyone.

It must also be about struggle, about self and about it somehow being a manifestation of ourselves for others to see. There’s something too easy about having access to everything on Spotify – the effort to build something – the struggle – is missing.

Social Media – too much media, not enough Social

First published July 2013 Singapore

On my Facebook feed the other day I saw a comment from someone which read, ‘Social Media – too much media, not enough Social’.

thumbs-downIt triggered some thoughts I’ve been having recently about the evolution of this whole ‘Social Media/ Social Marketing’ space.  Now, I’ve been around a while – to give you a clue I remember quite distinctly the first time someone used the word ‘internet’ with me.

So it doesn’t feel that long ago that I heard the first mutterings around Social Media.   I remember too the advertising industry’s desperate attempts to dismiss it and try and protect their own back yard. Unfortunately I also lived through the times when we had Social Media ‘experts’ and ‘gurus’ – a few of whom I think are still around in various guises.  You may know one or two.

I think the notion of expert and guru grew out of the perceived fluffiness of the space – a sentiment very prevalent in the early days.  Some people were keen to elevate themselves above all the talk of consumer engagement and consumer dialogue and inject some veneer of science or method into that fluffy new world.  Calling themselves ‘expert’ was their way of trying to get some visibility – some credibility.

The newly self-appointed experts and gurus for a while got away with things hiding behind perceived knowledge that, in some cases, didn’t extend much beyond being able to talk confidently about what a Twitter ‘re-tweet’ was.  Numbers were part of the game then but only in the sense that more was better.  This party was brought to a premature end when pesky people started to ask them if they could generate ROI and, even more scarily, if they could measure it.

Since then I’ve seen things evolve considerably with agencies proposing very detailed ROI models and even linking these models to things like those awfuly boring business things like revenue and profit.  My oh my!, how far we’ve come and in such a short time.

But we should be mindful that we are all still basking in the infancy of something the shape of which in ten years’ time few of us can possibly imagine let alone be even remotely confident of guessing.

And I do wonder if, in our current phase of talking numbers and returns, we’re perhaps forgetting some of those important fluffy roots.  I recently heard a very successful CEO, whose current business is heavily integrated with Facebook, dismissing tweets from people who talk about what they had for breakfast.  “I don’t have time for those people who take pictures of their lunch and tweet things like, “I just got out of bed’” he said disparagingly.  Those were not his exact words but I think I’ve pretty much nailed the sentiment.

Hang on though – isn’t it exactly the fact that people want to share things like that that means social media platforms exist?  Whilst most of us might be a lot less banal we’re all coming essentially from the same place.  It’s about being recognized for who we are.  In dismissing the ‘what I had for lunch’ tweets, I distinctly remember that same CEO saying that he used Twitter as a way to curate his news intake.

To me the fact that someone is sharing his or her lunch with their friends is far more interesting – far more social and truly indicative of what drives Social Media than the person who simply subscribes to feeds to get their news.  (I’m talking about the behavior of course and not the actual details of the lunch being the interesting thing!)

We have now moved from our obsession with the fluffy world of dialogue and engagement and “It’s a 2-way medium, you know” to a position that I think is an overreaction and over compensation to that fluffiness. There is a worrying tendency now towards too much focus on all the numbers and a danger to look at Social Media, indeed the whole social space, as just another aspect of marketing that can be subject to the kind of rigor and reporting that other business activities.

With the new obsession around click streams and the various Digital Engagement measuring algorithms we must not forget the roots and foundations to which all social media platforms owe their popularity.

It is precisely because people want to tell other people what they had for lunch that Social Media is what it is.  Whilst measuring the success of our initiatives and those that we do on behalf of our clients is very important we must be mindful that those numbers that mean we’re able to report success and show nice graphs on presentation decks only happen because of those fluffy sentiments that have existed long before anyone said ‘internet’ let alone ‘re-tweet’.

When you’re gleefully reporting on a fan uptake of X or a TAT (Talking about This) figure of Y don’t forget that however much you might be excited about your ROI the reason you have your ROI is because people wanted to share, to be recognized or to further define their virtual selves.

These fluffy things have been true for millennia and don’t look like they’re disappearing anytime soon.  So, in planning your next digital engagement do think about what the client’s business objectives are and thy they’re probably interested in something to do with money rather than ‘view’s or ‘like’s.

But most importantly think about those people you’re hoping to engage.  They’re not interested in your client’s business objectives.  They don’t even see themselves as video ‘viewers’ or page ‘likers’.  They do, however, sometimes like to share the most banal of things.  They like to laugh and smile too.  You need to understand all this and suck it up.

I’d like to conclude by letting you all know that I had rice, some vegetables and sweet and sour pork. How I lost my iPhone on 30th December 2011

Dropped my iPhone recently in a cab and found out how difficult it is to search for information on the go. It was the 2nd last day of 2011, and we were in a premier taxi when we decided to alight at cineleisure in a hurry because the traffic was so jammed. Paid, and got out of cab, only to realize I dropped the phone on the taxi's floor (because my sister checked the seat when she got out). I patted my shorts, checked my bag for the phone, and meanwhile the taxi got further and further away. Called premier taxi, and my phone which rang (but it was at vol 1) and tried chasing the cab down (too late). Premier taxi service said they would page their drivers after getting all the necessary details – but I have no cab number, nor do they have gps tracking on their taxis so even if I know where my phone was at they can't contact the driver. It was then that I realized I've the "Find my iPhone" service in my phone so after a good 15 minutes of initial flustering figuring out how to access that service – I need to go to or install the Find my iPhone app on another iPhone, enter your apple ID and password, I realized that the phone was tracked to Dorset Road.. and I quickly managed to remote lock the phone with a passcode. After that I decided to send a message that will play along a sound at full volume – on hindsight perhaps that's what alerted the passenger to the phone and to steal it. The message included my sister's phone number asking for the person to contact the owner of the phone, and it got sent as well.


vowe dot net :: Replacing a Mac



Wire up new Mac. Start Migration Assistant. Enter six digits. Walk away.

Update: In the morning, there were three files to manually copy, deactivate Creative Suite on the old and activate on the new iMac. That’s all Charly Brown.

Who thinks PCs are cheaper than Macs?