The following is the second in a series of conversations about marketing innovation, with Jeff Janiszewski and Ginger Shimp from SAP North America Marketing. In this blog, they discuss how design thinking leads to innovation, and why marketers need to empathize with customers.
GINGER: In our first blog, we talked about the difference between engineering new ideas and designing innovative solutions. This time, I think we should start by talking about what design thinking is, and how it can be used for marketing innovation.
JEFF: Design thinking is a five-step, iterative process that explores potential new ideas. It’s an approach to innovation that could be applied to virtually any domain. It’s often used to launch a new product or service, but it can also be used to discover new procedures, redesign an organizational chart, look for new markets, develop new regulations, restructure a supply chain, and on and on. In our case, we’re talking about using it to develop new marketing strategies.
GINGER: There are five stages to the design thinking process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. We begin by communicating and empathizing with the end user. Then we narrowly define the problem and consider all possible solutions, regardless of their pragmatism. Then, after selecting the most promising ideas, we move beyond the theoretical to build a prototype. Finally, we test the prototype to help define new problems or develop new ideas.
JEFF: It’s important to point out that this isn’t a one-and-done proposition, though. This is an iterative process. In fact, the various stages can continue simultaneously. We don’t stop empathizing with the end user just because we entered a testing phase; we can ideate while we’re building prototypes, and so on.
GINGER: Some people have compared this to the scientific method, but there are some very important distinctions between the two. The basic steps of the scientific method are: Make an observation, pose a question, create a hypothesis, experiment, and test.
But design thinking doesn’t begin with making an objective observation. Instead, it begins with empathizing and collecting data about the end user. The scientific method then poses a specific question, but design thinking moves to define multiple problems. The scientific method hypothesizes a suitable explanation or solution, but design thinking embraces any possible — or perhaps even improbable — idea.
It’s true that both paradigms enter an experimental prototype testing phase, but the iterative process is very different. When using the scientific method, repeatability is necessary to prove the hypothesis. Scientists look to get the same results over and over to confirm their theory. Designers, on the other hand, aren’t working in a controlled scientific environment and don’t expect to get consistent results. In fact, they use iteration to test how things are changing.
JEFF: For example, a marketer might have great success with a given asset — perhaps an internet ad, but over time things change, and the ad may no longer be effective. However, it could be the impetus, and perhaps inspiration, for a new innovation. Unfortunately, as we said in the last blog, marketers are often under pressure to produce quantifiable results and we default to the more pragmatic scientific method. We shift from empathizing with customers to trying to achieve consistent results.
GINGER: In the B2B world, we get caught up with describing our customer in analytical terms. We’ll say something like “our target audience is comprised of large manufacturing enterprises in the northeast region of the U.S.” That might be accurate, but the first step of the design thinking process is empathy.
JEFF: How do we empathize with something as emotionally detached as a large corporation?
GINGER: Well, we begin by learning about their culture, their purpose, and how they fit within their industry and the broader ecosystem. And ultimately, it’s important to remember that we’re communicating with real people and not a monolithic institution.
JEFF: I think marketers are like bartenders. When a customer comes into their local bar and sidles up on a stool, what does he want? A drink? Maybe. But he could get that anywhere. Does he have a problem he’s wrestling with? Perhaps, but he probably doesn’t anticipate the bartender will have the solution. Does he want some empathy? Almost certainly. He isn’t looking to buy something; he wants to explore his problem.
GINGER: We’re often told as marketers that customers like numbers and bullet points and graphs because they just want to cut to the chase and get the necessary information.
JEFF: Sure, but that’s like the bartender shoving a menu at the customer without so much as saying hello first. If the customer realizes he’s not going to get any empathy, he doesn’t really want a sales pitch or a long-winded discussion about the menu. At that point, he just wants to know what’s on tap and how much it costs.
GINGER: In fact, there’s so much information out there that we marketers know everything about our customers before they walk in the door. We can anticipate what they’ll want to buy. And customers often know what they want. They can easily find the cost, specifications, and reviews of not only our products but our competitors’ products as well. Now, you and I are obviously fans of big data and analytics, but does this mean the role of the marketer can be automated?
JEFF: No, because at first, the customer is only looking for empathy and not a product. In fact, it’s precisely because all that information is readily available that the role of the marketer is so important. The empathetic experience is the competitive advantage. The guy walking into the bar can get that same beer at a thousand different places and maybe even pay less for it, but that’s not why he walks into the bar. He’s there for the experience.
GINGER: This is why we see an increased focus on purpose-led businesses. There’s so much information about products available that it’s nearly impossible to compete on that basis. But customers might be more inclined to do business with a company that’s environmentally conscious, or crates made-in-America products, or supports their favorite charity. That’s one way a marketer can begin to empathize with a customer, but perhaps the easiest thing to do is ask some thought-provoking questions and share our wisdom with them.
JEFF: And just like the guy at the bar, once we begin to empathize, we gain the customer’s trust, and he’ll continue to come back to us to with his problems, and yes, buy our products.
GINGER: Given the wealth of information that’s available, the customer experience is probably the biggest differentiator in business, and the reason the role of the marketer has become so important.
JEFF: Of course, it’s easier to empathize with one guy at a bar than it is to empathize with thousands of customers. So, in the next blog, we’ll explain how we leveraged design thinking to reach customers in 26 different industries. In the meantime, check out design thinking— and thanks for reading.
GINGER: Yes, thank you! Please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.
Read Part 1 of this series: Marketing For The Intelligent Enterprise: Invention Vs. Innovation.