Marketers need to reframe their view of design

Cocreation allows brands to build better relationships with their customers but in order to be most effective marketers and designers need to work together.

When marketers look across the mix of all the services and disciplines available to them, how do they view design? Is it dismissed as the colouring-in department? Do they still see design purely in terms of the look and shape of products and packaging? Is it pretty pictures, new bottle shapes and website navigation? If so, it’s time for a new perspective on design and the significant value it can add to an organisation.

Because for marketers wanting to ensure their products and services best address customer needs and experience across the whole customer journey, an urgent reframing of design is necessary.

Marketers will get more value and quality from design when they think about it in its broadest terms. Putting design in the heart of marketing, working together, adopting ‘design thinking’, designers can cocreate with consumers and problem solve in a more human-centred way, to wrestle to the ground the mystical thing of brand experience creation.

Design deserves the same status as advertising in marketers’ plans

The beauty of cocreation is that it allows brands to build better relationships with their customers and other partners, involving them in product development and customer experience generation. As well as helping push design up the marketing and business agenda, it elevates a brand above its rivals through more innovative products, services and experiences.

Cocreation is human-centred design in action. To develop for consumers, you must first walk in their shoes before mapping and understanding their journeys – only then can you find pain points, the moments of delight or the awkward interactions within their current experience. With that perspective you can improve their experience – no matter what stage of the customer journey – based on real insight and empathy.

This calls for a shift in mindset on the role of design. It’s not about solving individual problems; it requires a different approach to thinking, with interconnected parts – where you alter one thing another moves.

One major advantage of marketers working with designers on design thinking and co-design with consumers is that it pushes companies to think beyond the relatively small areas of consumer interaction they tend to concentrate on.

Today, we run the risk of thinking in terms of channels or, worse still, departments – the digital team, the shopper team, the ecommerce team – but people don’t think like that. Better to start from the perspective of how consumers ‘think, feel, do and sense’ your brand – and then by adopting human-centred design and cocreation, you can deliver and even delight your consumers and hopefully deposition your competition at the same time.

Designers are people-obsessed and by looking at user journeys and collaborating across an organisation – with R&D, marketing, supply, digital, insights – they can design better experiences, better digital, better services, better packaging, better retail and shopper experiences. They address the challenge of bringing brand purpose and experience to life – the Holy Grail in most organisations right now is linking purpose to brand to experience to customer.

Ideas community

Human-centred design being done hand-in-hand with consumers produces brilliant results. For the Danish toy company Lego, cocreation has been an integral part of its innovation, running its Ideas community so customers can help cocreate new designs. Through this website customers can create, vote and add feedback to projects. If a project leads to a product being approved, the originator of the idea gets 1% of the net sales.

Previously, this platform was used for a major dilemma Lego faced. It was seen as a boys’ brand while Playmobile was the leader in the girls’ segment. So, Lego needed to approach design with diversity in mind, using its current building platforms. Following a two-year research journey among parents, educators and children it identified the tensions and barriers and the result was the launch of Lego Friends, one of its most successful.

At GSK we started putting design at the heart of marketing many years ago, seeing the power it brings in helping build strong brands that cut across department silos and we are on a journey towards cocreation – it is ongoing and there is always more to learn – but the results are already proving strong.

For our arthritis pain relief medicine Voltaren we now have an easy open cap, more useable for arthritis sufferers and developed with users as well as voice activated search on the US website – improving the experience for people who might find it harder to type on a computer or mobile keyboard.

There are other examples across industries, from brewing giant Heineken using its global insight programme to connect with clubbers in 12 cities across the world to help create a pop-up nightclub, to Unilever bringing different disciplines together to work in close quarters at its food innovation hub, Hive. For Unilever, the proximity of the experts means ideas go from ideation sessions to prototyping to testing at speed as its workers, suppliers, startups and students can all work together on new products, solving problems collaboratively. Meanwhile sandal brand Birkenstock has spent the past three years collaborating with students from Central Saint Martins design school, which has led to four new shoes in its range.

Ikea built a digital platform called Co-Create Ikea so customers can put forward new product ideas, and collaborations with students and innovation labs are possible. It’s seen thousands of customer suggestions come in and the retailer offers test labs and prototype shops to then improve and develop the suggested ideas.

New ways of thinking

One major advantage of marketers working with designers on design thinking and co-design with consumers is that it pushes companies to think beyond the relatively small areas of consumer interaction they tend to concentrate on – such as the recruitment phase or the buying phase. This rethink means thinking of the end-to-end experience – retaining, nurturing and supporting customers. For the few minutes or hours that a purchase might take, there are hundreds of hours of actual use and the design experience should have equal weight across all stages of the consumer journey.

Cocreation is an iterative process of prototyping and improving with consumers in real time – until you have solutions that are so good, they don’t want to hand them back. It isn’t a perfect process – it is at its best when it’s not overworked or over-finessed, when it’s kept scrappy and spaces are left for consumers to fill in the gaps. This process allows the extremes of the bell curve to be explored – it’s often at the edges and margins where the best work happens, where solutions that cater for the few can be better for the many. Testing and learning means being ready to kill things and move on; to keep prototyping and testing and learning and listening with your eyes as well as your ears.

My guiding principles of cocreation for marketers:

  • Reframe how you see design – this is a human-centred discipline to achieve better customer experiences.
  • Map the end-to-end user journey in all its details, twists, turns and complexities.
  • Understand what consumers think, feel, do and sense across the user journey.
  • Cocreate with users, iterate and prototype to build experience excellence for them.
  • Give space for designers to use design linking to stitch the experience together in a holistic way across all creative.

Andrew Barraclough is vice-president of design at GSK.