Design Thinking For Marketing Strategy

September 30, 2019

Evan Pitchie

The term “design thinking” has increasingly been used in conversations across all industries. In fact, in the last 10 years, there’s been a surge of searches on Google for the term “design thinking”.

Google Trends (Sept 30, 2019)

The principles of design thinking are centered around delivering a pleasant human experience. This might imply that only super creative people can do this, but that is not the case. If you are a human that is able to experience emotions, you are able to effectively apply the principles of design thinking in your business. This is very relevant for the marketing industry because according to Dipanjan Chatterjee, Vice-president at Forrester Research, “to be effective as brands, we need to converse with people in a manner that stimulates their emotions". However, before applying design thinking to marketing, we need to understand what design thinking is.

What is design thinking

According to Ideo, design thinking “has a human-centered core. It encourages organizations to focus on the people they’re creating for, which leads to better products, services, and internal processes”.

The Interaction Design Foundation adds that it is “an iterative process in which we seek to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with our initial level of understanding.”

The important thing to note is that it’s not just about solving the problem, it’s about developing a solution that also delivers a more human and pleasant experience.

Applying design thinking principles

In the scientific method, the observers aim to distance themselves from the subject and eliminate any emotions from what’s being studied. When adopting design thinking, the observers aim to do the complete opposite by factoring in human emotions into the experience — after all, one of the things that differentiate humans from machines is the ability to feel emotions.

Ideo describes 3 pillars of design thinking:

  • Empathy: understanding who were trying to help and what their needs are.
  • Ideation: the process of generating ideas.
  • Experimenting: test ideas to see which one solves the problem while delivering the most amount of delight.

In the context of marketing these 3 pillars would look like this:


Creating customer personas that extend beyond demographic and psychographic measures. Anticipating how each persona navigates life on a daily basis and how they might feel after positive and negative encounters with your brand will help you develop a marketing strategy that delivers the emotions you want them to feel.


When ideas need to be generated, there’s often pressure on marketers to do something new or to be innovative. Many take this as a quest to reinvent the wheel, but design thinking is about finding solutions in unlikely places. That means stimulating the mind to uncover ideas that are not obviously clear. Brainstorming is one way of doing so—reading stories, observing animals and nature are other ways that ideas can be generated.

Clint Runge, co-founder of Archrival, believes that Design Thinking is not about thinking outside of the box, but on its edge, its corner, its flap, and under its bar code. It's about using what’s around you and seeing how the same things  can be used—differently.


Thanks to digital marketing, it’s easy to test variations of campaigns, text, images or other marketing materials and has become common knowledge for most marketers. The challenging part is accepting that not all the tested ideas will work. Another key element in this stage is setting relevant metrics. In design thinking, success is not defined solely by objective metrics, but through the combination of objective and subjective metrics. This includes people’s reactions and the impact on their lives.

The design thinking process is iterative. In other words, you can move forward or backwards as often as necessary. As you gain more insights about your consumers, you'll be able to adapt your strategies to reflect their needs and position your brand in the minds of your audience the way you want.