Modern day marketing is a realm overflowing with data and tests aimed at shedding light on your customers’ true desires. Yet marketing teams still tend to prioritize gut instincts over insights. When faced with a big challenge or new initiative, we often rely on past experiences and existing knowledge to determine future actions.
In other words, we do what we think we should do.
I’ve seen groups of intelligent people play a guessing game, shooting from the hip while trying to figure out what will move the dial. They devote their department’s time and resources to a hunch, following it through for months on end — only to realize they were spinning their wheels the whole time.
While some marketing best practices prove to work time and again, we must also meet the unique needs of specific customers in order to drive significant business value. Professing to intuitively know those specifics is shortsighted; only once we go out and try to understand the challenges of our target audience can we truly accommodate their needs. This is what the designers at your company do every day.
They’re in the business of designing relevant experiences for consumers, and they don’t just use their gut to achieve this goal. Instead, they understand the challenge from all angles. They gather a breadth of insights from customers and stakeholders across the company, test their ideas on a small scale, and make sure they’re heading down the right path before making a full investment. The design team lives by a philosophy that can help any marketing or product team achieve desired outcomes: design thinking.
Use Design Thinking to Solve Marketing Problems
Design thinking is a methodology to drive innovation. It brings together what’s alluring to future customers with what’s technically feasible and economically viable for a business. This method inspires new thinking and develops breakthrough ideas, all while remaining realistic.
My background is in user experience design and marketing. For most of my career, I’ve led teams in design thinking to drive business results. Along the way, I’ve seen some incredible outcomes.
Recently, I noticed that the SEO division of a company was struggling to hit its numbers for two quarters in a row. To improve this, the team needed viewers to engage with the content, find value from pages, and ultimately enter the sales funnel.
The team relied on gut instincts from years of past experience and deployed every SEO best practice in its arsenal. Still, nothing stuck. So I suggested that our design team partner closely with the SEO division to lead a concentrated session to solve the problem.
During our focused five-day session, we collaborated with our SEO cohorts to make several strategic adjustments based on design thinking exercises. Ultimately, this resulted in double-digit growth exceeding our quarterly goal.
Here’s how we did it:
Day 1: Rally the Troops
First, we assembled the ideal cross-functional team for the project, which included a UX designer, a UX writer, a product manager, a marketing manager, and an engineer.
With this assorted collection of minds, the team spent the first day focusing on the alignment of ideas and the direction of the project. The team members reviewed the business opportunity, vision, relevant user research, and technical capacities with the executive team. The group then expressed any questions, risks, assumptions, and barriers to the long-term goals. We made a map of how everything fit together and kept all of this information up on the walls of our dedicated space for easy reference over the next four days.
Once all team players were briefed, we began brainstorming solutions. To avoid groupthink and to ensure no voice was left unheard, we distributed pads of sticky notes and asked everyone in the room to write down their initial thoughts on how we might solve our SEO problem. We then put the sticky notes up on the wall and grouped similar ideas into themes.
The two most important themes focused on the concepts of relevance and trust. We agreed that we needed to figure out how to make the site appear immediately credible and relevant to visitors’ interests.
This was a quick, collaborative way to align a diverse set of minds on a common goal and set our strategic direction for the project.
Day 2: Sketch It Out
The next morning, we asked everyone to come armed with examples of relevant, trustworthy sites. Some members offered up competitors’ sites, while others brought examples that had no similarities to our initiative yet offered innovative solutions. The goal was to evaluate how brands across all industries build trust with and offer relevance to consumers.
While keeping the company’s goals and technology constraints in mind, we asked every member of the group to draw a potential experience with all of the key elements. These sketches represented the core functionality and offered innovative approaches toward our goals of building trust and relevance.
By the end of the day, we identified a variety of key elements to integrate into our site. Among other insights, we knew we must spotlight the author’s credentials and ratings, include an introductory top-line summary, show high-quality imagery to increase the speed of comprehension, and employ an effortless user experience across devices.
Day 3: Make a Decision
From there, we posted the sketches on the wall and invited the executives back into the room before voting on what sketch had the potential to drive the biggest success. We also crafted a final storyboard of the user journey.
Afterward, we knew exactly what we needed to explore — and we had a strategic backlog of ideas for our future road map.
Day 4: Prototype and Review
After we agreed on the ideal strategy, our lead designer rapidly created a prototype of the experience. We shared feedback and revised areas to prepare for the next day’s testing. Knowing that our self-validated strategies were in a vacuum for the past three days, it was critical to get insight from real users.
Day 5: Test With Users
As soon as the prototype was ready, we posted it on UserTesting. This allowed us to reach our target audience within a few hours and identify whether we solved the core needs of trust and relevance with users. We gained hard data on what people loved about our solution and the remaining barriers in their experiences.
After addressing the issues found in user testing, it was time to launch our solution on a larger scale. The engineering team incorporated these new elements into the page template, and after the data matured, we saw a motivating lift in engagement.
There was double-digit growth in the number of users who clicked into the conversion path thanks to our new strategy — a result the team was extremely proud to present at the next company-wide meeting. In just five days, design thinking helped a division pull itself out of the red, which I found extremely exciting and rewarding.
Looking back, the key to this success was everyone’s part in our strategic journey. Our team certainly led the effort, yet the implemented ideas originated from our distinct disciplines, so each party played an important role.
When will you use design thinking to drive your next innovation?
I strongly encourage you to try this at your company. If you approach a problem backed with broad perspectives and a deep understanding of what your unique audience needs in specific situations, then you will delight customers and achieve the greatest possible results