Aha! Brandworks 2010 Reveals New Takes on Customer Engagement

photo by Andy Manis

“Don’t drink alone, don’t think alone.”

Bill Winchester stopped short of calling it a company motto, but the creative director of Lindsay Stone & Briggs, after being light-heartedly admonished by his boss, Marsha Lindsay, insisted that it’s an appropriate way of looking at design-thinking, a concept that was explored in depth at this year’s Brandworks University conference in Madison.

In an effort to influence consumer behavior in the digital world, Brandworks 2010 devoted considerable time to the art of persuasive psychology. Design-thinking, which was born out of terms like industrial design, is a methodology that businesses can immediately employ to begin engaging, or continue to engage customers.

The process, both conceptual and strategic, has several steps, but begins with observational research to gain insights into consumer psychology — observing customers and how they use, or ideally would like to use, your product. Design-thinking has become a branded term, but it’s considered a break from the slow, methodical style of market research that often is employed to bring products or technologies to market.

Design-thinking has a structure that varies from what most businesses now do, Winchester noted, but it has been around for awhile. Winchester, who was an industrial designer in a previous work life, believes it energizes the “ideation” process. To do it successfully, “you’ve got to be a real student of life,” he claims. “Designers are real students of life.”

Apple Imagination

While CEO Marsha Lindsay has six steps in her design thinking process, Winchester has synthesized that into four — starting with a phase he calls assimilation. This phase takes in observations about the consumer, how they use your product, and what they need in new product — all of which leads to brainstorming and hypotheses of product breakthroughs that might work.

From there, rapid prototyping demands that the perfect not be the enemy of the good, and eliminates the need to get every ‘I’ dotted and every ‘T’ crossed before feeling comfortable with an idea. Design-thinkers need to create a lot of ideas and rough sketches, find out which ones have most merit, and not be afraid to fail.

“Once you find the Holy Grail, once a winner comes out of there, you have to keep repeating that process,” Winchester asserted. “You have to keep making the product better and better and better.”

While not a specific example of design-thinking, an obvious example of applying continuous improvement comes from the technology giant Apple Computers. Apple quickly brought the iPhone to the market, changed it quickly, and kept repeating the process of adding new features coveted by consumers. “They didn’t wait until they had everything perfect,” he noted. “It was not absolutely perfect. It was good. Then they continued to improve it and repeat that process of observing people using it, and deciding what to add on to it, and they just keep doing that. It makes for a very interactive process.”

Lindsay described design-thinking as a problem-solving process that allows businesses to organize and deal with all the complexities products they offer, including the fact that consumers are in control of communications and there are an “amazing number of touch points by which we get our information.”

According to Lindsay, Apple and Amazon are wonderful examples of companies that examined the following questions — What turns people on? What are their motivations? — and then made something functional, with trademark style, based on what really meets the users’ physical or psychological needs.

“What is particularly terrific about it is the focus on the consumer,” Lindsay added. “What does consumer need, and how can I deliver it to them? That’s an over simplification, but that’s really at the heart of this. Businesses, forever, have thought, ‘I can make this and offer this, but how can I make somebody want this?’ Well, design-thinking is really the reverse.”

To find out what drives purchasing, Apple and Amazon conducted research, including observational research, to gain intuitive and data-driven insights, and then they organized around that.

“The whole concept of iPhone, iPad, iPod, which are beautifully designed, represents a much larger strategy of designing a way for people to have computers in their pockets or the sound track to their lives at every point,” Lindsay said.

Marsha’s Six Steps

Marketing may not be a linear exercise, but there are steps involved with design-thinking. According to Lindsay, the first is having a behavioral hunch. What is the hypothesis of behavior the company believes will really cause the consumer to be loyal and buy its product(s) over and over again?

The second step is where the research, qualitative and quantitative, divulges where and when people are buying. It involves social media maps and other technology tools that identify, for example, who is blogging about you, when they blogged, and what they are saying.

Step three is when people are struck by what Lindsay calls the “Aha! Moment.” This is where the pattern of behavior and preferences and decision-making that is taking place in people’s lives becomes clear, where the light bulb comes on that leads to the prototyping of a new product or a product enhancement.

In step four, businesses begin devising ways to trigger those decisions in their favor over and over again.

In step five, companies are organized to deliver on the resulting brand promise over and over again.

That leads to step six, where organizations create the persuasion tools with which to take advantage of that consumer behavior.

“You cannot separate the creative leap that ‘aha’ of a consumer need or what triggers a behavior, and the creative leap it takes to renew it with fresh, competitive solutions,” Lindsay said. “That is what is at the heart of design-thinking.”

For more details, view the following video:

Amazon Readers

Citing Amazon as a hypothetical example of how a design-thinking process might work, Lindsay recalled how, as a start up, the notion that maybe Amazon could sell books became the behavioral hunch the company used to figure out what would make people buy more books. Since books are not purchased on regular, predictable basis, and since Amazon was an e-commerce site, its brain trust needed to figure that out.

“They had a hunch that they could find what turned people on to buy biographies or mysteries, et cetera,” Lindsay said.

Before their digging uncovered the “Aha moment,” Amazon researched all kinds of things, including how people buy, where they buy, and when they buy. They confirmed that if someone likes to read mysteries, they will read almost all mysteries. If they like to read biographies, they will read almost all biographies.

Today’s computer technology was used to trigger that precise consumer behavior. Just as sites like Match.com try to match customers with a good date. Amazon figured out, with the help of online behavioral data, whether individuals would like this book or that book, and what kinds of mysteries, and by which authors.

Amazon found that it could trigger repeated consumer response with an e-mail delivered a day or two after someone purchased a book, increasing the odds that customers would buy over and over again.

Cross-media strategies also come into play, and they are an illustration of step six, Lindsay indicated. In a recent edition of National Geographic, “lo and behold there is an article about a book chronicling the deep-sea exploration of the late Jacques Cousteau, and right across from the article is a wisely placed advertisement for Amazon’s Kindle. The Kindle in the ad features a page from that book, noting that readers could download the book instantly and start reading it immediately.

“It’s a persuasion technique where Amazon knows so much about folks that like books about deep-sea exploration,” Lindsay said, “and one of the things they know is that they also like National Geographic.”

She noted that media strategy is not, itself, a detailed example of applied design-thinking; the concept of design-thinking is something much larger, more strategic and more complicated.

Video Vendor

The 2010 Brandworks conference featured Vince Voron, senior industrial design director at Coca-Cola, who described his experience with design-thinking and rapid prototyping when creating interactive soda vending machines.

Originally from Apple, Voron lives and breathes this model. One might also say that he drinks it by transforming the vending machines that carry Coca-Cola products. Armed with aesthetic sense and an MBA, he has attempted to connect the dots between data and design in order to zero in on a single behavior that would have the biggest impact on Coca-Cola’s top-line performance. With millions of vending machines around the world, even a few more sales per day at each machine would have a huge impact.

The result, new vending machines with a large-format, LCD touch-screen, high-definition video, Flash technology, motion graphics, and Bluetooth capability, shows that Coca-Cola has come a long way since the New Coke debacle of the mid 1980s, when the company underestimated consumers’ emotional attachment to what is now known as Classic Coke.

Today, Coke is hoping to use the interactive vending concept to create emotional connections for its brands. “They researched in step two to gain proprietary insights for steps three and four, and ultimately they organized a system to create these interactive vending machines, which are vey branded experiences,” Lindsay explained.

That branded, interactive experience includes mixing and matching flavors on the vending machine, she noted.

Cultural Capability

To get the most out of design thinking, it’s essential to have a collaborative organizational culture. Such a culture encourages innovation, even failure, in both process and product development, which just happens to be the mantra of Silicon Valley and the experience of Thomas Edison before it.

Design-thinking is a “fail fast, fail often” exercise, Winchester said, even when people don’t think alone. “I have this vision of bunch of people with their separate observations in separate cubes trying to think of the next big thing,” Winchester said, chuckling. “Yet it’s so valuable to get people thinking together. The collective intelligence of a number of people is worth leveraging. You may need to change environs of your company in order to encourage this.”

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