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Why Marketers Should Start Thinking Like Designers

Follow this 5-step process for applying design thinking to your marketing strategy.

7/29/2016 | Marketing | 4 minute read

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Harvard Professional Development

The greatest challenge for marketers today is keeping customers engaged. It's no longer enough to build awareness. You need to build valuable experiences from first impression through purchase—and when you don’t, customers are quick to leave you behind.

In its Micro-Moments Report, Google cites that only 9 percent of users will stay on a mobile site or app if it doesn’t satisfy their needs (for example, to find information or navigate quickly), and 40 percent will be less likely to return to that site.

When it comes to building experiences, marketers can take a few lessons from designers. Incorporating design thinking into your marketing strategy will provide you with a methodology for understanding your customers, developing and testing new strategies, and creating intuitive—and even delightful—experiences.

Try following these design thinking steps to help you optimize the customer experience:

1. Empathize. Get to the heart of your customer’s needs. It’s important to distinguish that from your long-held assumptions of your customer needs, so observation is key in this step. Use a website survey or dig into your analytics to discover trends in preferences and behavior.

2. Define. Identify an area where you notice friction in the customer experience. Look specifically at touch points where improvements would result in the greatest value for your business. Is there a high traffic landing page with a high bounce rate? Are customers regularly abandoning their cart at a specific step in the process?

3. Ideate. Consider what may be causing these points of friction, and propose ways you might remove obstacles and improve the experience. Allow yourself and your team to explore options outside your normal approach.

4. Prototype and test. Build your idea, and put it out in the world. At an early stage, you can test internally with staff or a focus group before expanding to implementation of an A/B or multivariate test on your website. Measure its success or failure (and, yes, you do have to accept that your idea just might fail—that’s part of the design process).

5. Repeat steps 1 through 4. Design thinking is an iterative process. Each time you build upon the knowledge learned in previous stages—gathering new observations, asking new questions, and testing new ideas. And by doing so, you continually strive to create the best experience for your customers.


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