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.


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