Design & transformation

Some more thoughts about design + transformation while I am at it. I think that for this approach to be applicable and useful for digital marketing, the first question to ask when developing & marketing a product is what do we want people to do differently and how to inspire them to make that change [to make people do something differently has to have a lot of actual and perceived benefits for them. so it’s a given that the marketing effort has to be about people and not about the product/service/brand]. In short, we are not really in the business of communication, but in the business of transforming behaviors. Which kinda puts a slightly different perspective on our client projects.

First, for a design to transform a habit/behavior or an experience, it first needs to develop an understanding of that behavior. Design methodology uses empathy to develop insights about people’s behavior. Empathy is an approach to problem-solving focused on getting situated and holistic understanding of the problem situation. It exploits innate human ability to understand things about others, and it goes beyond what they can articulate. In that, empathy as a research method is geared towards detecting people’s needs and motivations, and working towards solutions that are sensitive to those needs. Unlike traditional market research methods (survey, interview, or focus group), which reduce complexity by isolating and codifying specific actions, design research (ethnography, moodboards, storytelling) embraces complexity and unpredictability of human behavior. Primarily, it is concerned with how a solution fits in the already existing setting of activities. As a consequence, design methodology develops solutions that address the entire setting and/or experience as a whole.

Second, design research questions how a solution transforms this setting – does it change a routine, tactic, and/or habit that constitute that particular activity? As a result, the output of the design process is such that inevitably builds upon an already existing situation or experience. A solution amplifies, enhances, extends, enables, or in some other way transforms the already existing setting. Design approach is focused on providing a situated and tangible impact on people’s behavior. It is oriented towards solving people’s problems, helping them, and/or transforming their experiences. Design communicates through the change it evoke in the experience. It is in fact this transformation, rather than specific product or service, that is the focus of design efforts. In this context, to design is to transform action.

To apply design methodology in marketing means to start thinking of it as a practice of solving problems and transforming action. Specifically, it means to start a marketing campaign from the insights on people’s experience, rather than from selection of brand attributes that need to be communicated. This calls for alternative methods of researching and creating accounts of action. Further, the experience is always situated, so campaigns need to adopt a systemic approach. Systemic approaches are long-term and generative, and launching a campaign is the beginning, rather than the end of agences’ relationship with a company and its customers. Marketing becomes less about communicating product properties and more about designing and managing systems of activity between products, people, and brands. This requires thinking about products in the context of action, not independently from it. It also calls for a redistribution of the campaign budget, and shift of the strategic and creative efforts in the campaign development process towards the period after its launch.

Finally, a desired outcome of marketing is to create a tangible transformation. Success of marketing campaigns today depends on their ability to transform: to design solutions that do something, rather than messages that communicate something. This goal directs the attention from the product itself to transforming a system of activity that surrounds it. Instead of exploiting strategies of successful communication, advertising and branding efforts shift toward strategies of creating meaningful and useful things that people will be attracted to interact with. This calls for alternative visions of marketing, along with the redefinition of the roles and capabilities of digital marketing agencies.

This post was first published on I [Love] Marketing on January 10, 2009