Why marketers need design thinking

Typically, marketers care about UX design insofar as it applies to SEO. But if you ask Cliff Seal, UX Lead at Pardot, and Andrew Malcolm, CMO of Evernote, marketers can be more creative and effective when they harness design thinking.

Design thinking: What it is and how it works in real life

In this simplest sense, design thinking is really just creative problem solving. According to human-centered design firm IDEO, design thinking has 3 essential components: empathy, ideation, and experimentation. Empathy allows you to see things from the user or customer’s perspective instead of getting caught up in your own head. Ideation means there’s no bad ideas—the more the merrier. And experimentation allows you to try new things, fail quickly, and pivot as necessary.

This approach is quite different from what many marketers experience. Seal explained this at Digital Summit Atlanta in a session aptly titled “Death to Boring B2B Marketing: Driving Innovation with Design Thinking.” As a marketer turned UX designer, Seal knows how difficult B2B marketing, in particular, can be—selling to vaguely defined groups while immersed in red tape and data is by no means easy. It can also be incredibly boring.

Enter, design thinking.

According to Seal, approaching marketing problem-solving with a designer’s mindset will help you know when to use data, when to ignore trends, and when to take risks.

He cited IBM’s revamp of trade show booths. Originally, the IBM team wanted to find a way for “trade shows to better demonstrate the depth and breadth of IBM’s expertise, strengthen customer relationships, and drive revenue growth.” After applying design thinking, however, the goal became a question: “how do human beings engage and learn?”

By framing the problem this way, IBM pinpointed how people like to communicate. They found that people like to feel comfortable and not rushed, so they developed a one-on-one model for booth visitors. Each visitor got paired with an IBM employee to discuss their needs—while sitting on a comfy sofa, instead of standing. Their pilot trade show with the revamped strategy generated 78 percent more leads, and lead quality and revenue increased upon scaling to other trade shows.

Similarly, Malcolm’s successes at Skype and Evernote further demonstrate the power of design thinking. During his keynote, he gave an example of how simply adding a phone dial pad in the Skype app caused a significant increase in phone calls. A purely marketing-minded solution to this problem would have been an ad or email campaign, but approaching the problem with design thinking allowed Malcolm and his team to generate business results for a grand total of $0.

At Evernote, revamping pricing structure and paywalls became necessary to save the company from decline. Instead of just running a marketing campaign notifying users of the change, Malcolm and his team conducted user research to develop a pricing structure that users would actually welcome. They also updated app design and copy to facilitate a seamless user experience with the new paywalls in place. As a result, users happily received the price changes and Evernote soon regained its place in the SaaS world.

You may be thinking: are these examples of marketing success stories or product design success stories? To paraphrase Malcolm, who cares? It worked!

Marketing and design thinking: Making it happen

As these examples demonstrate, marketers can benefit immensely from applying design thinking to their work. But actually finding a way to introduce this approach in a consistent, effective way can be a challenge.

CallRail’s UX Lead, Kara Kelley, believes that humility for designers and curiosity for marketers can be a winning combination. When designers are totally open to questions and critique—even from non-designers—you create more diversity of thought. This allows designers to hear perspectives they may not have considered while enabling non-designers to incorporate more design thinking into their departments. It’s a win-win all around!

This collaboration can take many forms. For example, your UX team could host monthly office hours where members of other departments can consult them for design thinking advice. Or, you could even make cross-departmental brainstorming a part of the planning process for large marketing initiatives. And if your UX team doesn’t have the bandwidth, allocating resources for the marketing team to learn design thinking fundamentals works well, too.

Marketers and UX designers are both in the business of balancing art and science, so it makes sense that we overlap more than we may realize. By combining marketing and design thinking, we can get better at thinking outside the box to create marketing strategies that stand out.