Design: The Not-So-Secret Strategic Weapon

While the transition to design-centric thinking may feel awkward and fleeting at first, the rewards are tangible and can result in long-term, satisfying, and profitable relationships with your customers.

Design: The Not-So-Secret Strategic Weapon

Imagine, for a moment, that everybody in your organisation from CEO downwards gets the job title of a designer. Unless you consider yourself to be a part of the brethren of designers, this will be a very difficult thing to imagine for most of you. Designer, the skill set, and design, the thing that they do, has a certain connotation in the world of business, usually associated with aesthetics at best case or with inconsequential look and feel at worst.

However, in the words of Steve Jobs, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. It is how it works.” Now, from the perspective of Jobs, if you imagine everyone in your organisation to be a designer, it might be easier to comprehend that every role, no matter where they sit in the organisation and no matter what their job description says, is designing experiences for internal and/or external customers and partners. And the sum total of those experiences, as delivered to your employees, customers, and partners, is what your brand stands for.

While design-centric thinking was first applied to the creation of physical objects, it is now increasingly common for leading organisations to apply it to the more intangible aspects—for example, how a customer feels about their experience with their brand across the entire decision journey consisting of awareness, purchase, delivery, service, returns, and loyalty.

Remember, businesses create, operate, and optimise processes, but customers, employees, and partners consume experiences.

The focus on designing experiences forces organisations to think beyond the traditional business process reengineering levers for improving organisational performance. Does this design-centric thinking pay off in terms of improving operational performance of organisations? Studies say yes. After a decade of observations, it is clear that companies that focused on design and have consistently won the International Design Excellence Award outperformed the S&P 500 index by over 6.5% annually. Top-tier venture capital firms in Silicon Valley are employing design partners to help companies in their portfolio to develop design-centric organisations.

What does this mean for a marketer in a digital world?

Today’s digital-savvy customer expects–whether or not they explicitly articulate this–highly personalised, relevant, and near real-time experiences. These personalised experiences need to be designed and delivered, usually by the marketer. In fact, research shows:

Organisation are fast realising that it is extremely challenging to create the desired experiences, at scale and in a sustainable manner, without first adopting design-centric thinking throughout the company. This shift may, at first, be challenging for some departments to accept. The finance department, for example, might design and mandate a payment process based on what is operationally efficient internally. However, payment systems touch points can completely shape a customer’s perceptions about the company. Customers have little tolerance for cumbersome payment processes, and unless designed from the perspective of delivering frictionless commerce in today’s digital world, this process can impact customer experience and consequently brand perception significantly.

Marketing has a pivotal role to play in making other parts of the organisation aware of such a consequence, as well as a key role to play in leading the charge for embedding a design-centric mindset.

Design-centric organisations focus on the hard problem of making their customers’ lives easier rather than theirs.

Today’s customers want their brand interactions to be simple, intuitive, and pleasurable. To accomplish that, the entire organisation will need to start using the vocabulary that embraces the emotional elements of a user’s experience through every phase of their journey with your brand. Thinking in terms of engagement, experience, desire, and delight is needed to empathise with your customers.

While the transition to design-centric thinking may feel awkward and fleeting at first, the rewards are tangible and can result in long-term, satisfying, and profitable relationships with your customers.