Empathy and insight

What do Design Thinking and Marketing have in common?

Saswata Das, co-founder and director at WOW Design is an expert in marketing and design strategy and has almost a decade of experience of nurturing brands and help them grow

Branding consultancies and agencies use design as a strategic tool to achieve their marketing objectives. Marketing and design go hand in hand to create the best branding solutions, says Saswata Das of WOW Design.

The creative juices of design flow seamlessly into marketing strategy to carve out the future course of the brand. No doubt, that for us marketing and design is inseparable. However, there is one more emerging arena, that is being much talked about nowadays in every organization, as a powerhouse to nurture innovation, and that is Design Thinking. It is essentially a creative problem solving technique, which uses the way designers think, to solve complex problems. It’s a combination of both analysis and imagination. While it initially evolved out of the product design sphere, it’s now being used across sectors, from HR to finance, to fill a gap or to improve an existing experience.

As a Design Thinking enthusiast, I am fascinated with the similarities between the design thinking process and marketing, so much so that I can draw a parallel between the two. The more I delve deep into understanding the former, more I get reminded of the fundamentals taught in my marketing classrooms, and I feel that they both are essentially saying the same thing.

The Design Thinking process consists of five steps. It focusses on need finding, understanding, creating, thinking and doing. There is an emphasis on creation and action. It is believed that by actually creating and testing something, we can continue to learn and improvise on our original idea.

Empathy and insight 1

I think the most important similarity in both the processes, is that they are human-centered. In marketing, the customer is the king. The intent is to identify and then meet the consumer’s need – essentially to provide value to the consumer.

A very important step in marketing is segmenting, targeting and positioning the brand to the right target consumer. And marketers have started appreciating the fact that the consumers are humans and not a number in the excel sheet. They think, feel and act in a certain way and understanding their cultural and anthropological backgrounds is essential to connect or engage with them. Since brand building is all about establishing an emotional connect with the consumer, marketers are increasingly basing their marketing plans on strong cultural consumer insights.

Design Thinking also puts the user, his needs and expectations, his culture and background at the centre of the design process. The very first step of Design Thinking is empathy. Design thinkers are solving problems, which are rarely their own, but of those of a particular group of people. To create anything meaningful for them, it becomes extremely important to gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. Observing and engaging with the user group helps them to learn about what they do, how they interact with their environment, how they think and feel, what problems they face leading to what they need.

So the starting point for both marketing and design thinking is the consumer or the user – to understand them and their environment. Both believe that if we base our creation on strong consumer insights, the product or service will be fulfilling an important or unmet need of theirs, will be useful to them and hence automatically become an object of desire.

Both emphasize a clear definition of the problem statement. Until a clear marketing objective is defined, there are high chances of a marketing campaign being ineffective.

In Design Thinking it’s essential to create a prototype – a working model of sorts of the product/service and elicit feedback from the target user. Similarly you will find marketers Test Marketing a product within a certain market before a full-fledged launch. They may conduct focus groups earlier in the cycle to test a particular product idea, concept or even a campaign thought.

Saswata Das, co-founder and director at WOW Design is an expert in marketing and design strategy and has almost a decade of experience of nurturing brands and help them grow

Both are iterative processes. Both require the steps to be repeated in order to better the experience of the user. There are differences too. A critical one is the outlook towards market research. While some marketers are still holding onto traditional ways of research, Design Thinkers appreciate that most consumers won’t be able to express their thoughts if they are questioned about products that do not yet exist. This is the same thought process which prevented Steve Jobs from spending money on market research. Design Thinking involves a very different kind of research which is more observational, ethnographic and in-context.

Even though these differences exist, I believe the basics remain the same – Put the consumer at the heart of everything, fulfil one of his needs, solve a problem and eventually make the world a better place to live in.

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