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Is it time to apply strategic design thinking to enhance marketing performance?

Change Makers

Is it time to apply strategic design thinking to enhance marketing performance?


The days when marketers could rely solely on traditional strategy are gone. Marque Kabbaz discusses how the strategic design thinking is great to qualify, and solve, an identified challenge or opportunity. 

Traditional marketing strategy no longer encapsulates the multifaceted nature of customers and their relationship with brands. Instead, applying higher-level strategic design thinking is the key to bringing customer experience management (CXM) into full effect. 

Many major brands and key industry leaders have embraced design thinking. It can encourage innovative ways to tackle problems, do business and measure success. Unarguably, the design thinking boom has been instrumental in helping marketers improve customer experiences. 

Strategic design can take this even further. It helps marketers create transformative experiences that are more predictive. They encapsulate revenue models, go-to-market approaches and ecosystems. Strategic design isn’t exclusive to large businesses; all brands can derive significant value from integrating these principles into their organisation.

From strategy to strategic design


In traditional organisations, there is an ingrained tendency towards implementing ‘tactical strategies’. This is where they see a problem or opportunity and want a strategy to capitalise on it. This strategy may sometimes incorporate holistic organisational considerations. More often, it does not.

The most significant barrier to implementing strategic design lies in an organisation’s mindset to adhere to established strategic thinking and expectations of quantifiable ROI. There needs to be a cultural shift across business. Which can only be driven by people within the business championing strategic design.

Let’s explore CXM as an example. Most Australian chief marketing officers (CMOs) consider business growth and customer experience delivery to be marketing’s primary role. According to dentsu’s 2020 CMO survey, 80 percent of Australian consider their customer base to be among their top three metrics. In comparison, 43 percent say developing customer experience is the marketing team’s primary function for this year. 

CXM involves delighting customers with every brand interaction across all touch points. This can involve multiple teams across an organisation. The various facets that ladder up to a strong CXM offering would benefit from an overarching, high-level perspective to avoid disparate and disconnected customer experiences. Strategic design can deliver more holistic thinking to such layered business problems.  

Scaling strategic design impact through your business 


While it may appear that larger corporations have the time and budget to play with the ‘extra’ steps of considering strategic design, the nimbleness and start-up mentality of smaller brands could mean they are well placed to reap similar rewards. This represents a competitive advantage for them when looking to steal share from established players.

For large organisations, applying strategic design principles can reduce siloed solutions in favour of more system design strategies. These can identify processes or solutions that deliver overlapping value or operate at a financial or competitive loss before strategies are then developed to enable greater shared value across business units and de-risked initiatives.

For SMEs, implementing strategic design thinking can mean a faster validation and adaptation cycle, driving increasing competitive advantage. 

Applying strategic design principles in your own organisation


Here are a few considerations when deciding when and how best to leverage strategic design:

  • Untangling business problems to align on the best path forward: Strategic design combines the best of thought and action to tackle business challenges at their core. When marketers are unsure of where to start, what the problem to solve is, where the broader opportunities lie, or how to unite the whole business for greater efficiency and value, strategic design is the most effective way forward. 
  • Challenging approaches with big problem thinking: Designing excellent customer experiences and building a truly adaptive organisation starts with understanding the impetus behind an organisation’s actions. To do this, the first step is to start with applying big problem thinking – challenging each problem with five ‘whys?’ and challenging beyond the five ‘whys?’ to incorporate a mature system thinking approach that goes beyond the challenge at hand. 
  • Adopting new perspectives to encourage enhanced performance: Thinking outside the box often involves getting fresh perspectives in the room – engaging expert strategic design thinkers throughout the process, regardless of where their area of expertise lies. This can help to facilitate nimble business responses and design holistic approaches to organisational challenges.
  • Navigating your business through environments where change is a constant: Strategic designers thrive in a VUCA world, that is where Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity are now the norm. Certainly, the pandemic has heightened the need for businesses to be prepared to seize opportunities that arise from the unexpected. With customer expectations evolving at an ever-accelerating rate, there is an increasing need for creative ways to maximise shrinking budgets and the challenges of current market conditions. 

Applying strategic design principles to the relationships between a brand and its customers is becoming increasingly imperative for marketing activity. By challenging traditional strategic approaches, marketers will be well placed to future-proof against the ever-shifting landscape. 

Marque Kabbaz is the head of strategic design at Merkle Australia.


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