Design Thinking: How To Innovate New Marketing Solutions


Rapid changes in business require that marketers respond in time and innovate quickly to maintain high revenue. When you begin to notice a decline in sales, you might think about quick fixes that in reality are only effective in the short term. However, a design thinking approach to marketing can help you identify the real problems, and create innovative solutions by following an effective framework.

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is an ideation process that helps marketers understand what customers need and implement that knowledge in the development of innovative solutions. It stems from a design methodology that is used to solve human-related problems, and it uses an empathetic, problem-solving approach to explore and create new and exciting ideas that represent the needs of customers.

Marketers use design thinking to understand real problems and their scope before looking for solutions. It works much better than using instincts or past experiences to build sales and marketing strategies. While marketing and data trends are important, asking direct questions from customers can prove to be more effective in identifying pain points that will lead to creating better solutions.

Design thinking helps to streamline the business problem-solving process to find and implement new business solutions. It also aims at developing engagement programs and brand experiences that are consumer-centered.

The Design Thinking Process


Design thinking is a complex, multi-step process that requires a diverse set of talent and perspective to bring about innovative concepts. Five stages are involved in this process and they don’t necessarily follow sequentially. Sometimes, a process might have to be repeated to reach the desired solutions. Here are the five stages of the Design Thinking Strategy:

  1. Empathize with customers in different situations.

  2. Approach a problem-solving mindset by defining the core problems.

  3. Ideate by generating better solutions to the existing problems

  4. Imagine ideal user experiences from the customer's perspective and create prototypes of the product.

  5. Test the complete product to rule out any possible problem.

Let’s dive in to understand the design thinking process and how it applies to marketing.

Step 1 - Empathize with customers in different situations

The first step in the process is trying to identify with the customers’ pain points. Relate to your customers in a personalized way, understand their needs, and create innovative solutions that match their real problems.

To empathize with customers, you will need to conduct qualitative customer research. This is to know what your customers want, how they want it, and what their biggest challenges are using certain products and services. Here are some useful suggestions for gathering information from customers.

Survey existing clients or focus groups: Create a survey and send it to some of your clients or a section of your target audience, and ask them about their experience on a particular product or service.

Talk to real people: You may not get real answers from survey responses, therefore you might also need to talk directly with your customers. Ask them questions about their experience and get their responses.

After you have gathered information from your customers, think along with your customers and accept that those needs are genuine. Then your team can learn everything about that need until you all understand them very well to focus on the right problems.


A typical example of this was demonstrated by Wordstream when they invited 11 of their customers to spend some time at their office to share their experiences (both good and bad) and identify some of their biggest problems as online advertisers. According to Wordstream, this process unraveled a wide range of problems customers are experiencing:

"We learned things about our customers' problems that even the most detailed questionnaire could never unearth, and it gave us the opportunity to discuss those issues within the context of wider problems that our customers are experiencing."

Such an inclusive exercise can help you get more information from customers that would be useful in the innovative process.

Step 2 - Approach a problem-solving mindset by defining the core problems

The next thing is to use a problem-solving mindset to gather useful information from the responses you’ve got from your qualitative customer research. This information will help you in defining the core problems customers face. Your team should be able to identify, define, and prioritize problems, and also segment and analyze opportunities for innovation. That will require understanding your customers’ frustrations and fears.

There are four kinds of frustrations to look out for to help you define the core problems. These include:

Financial: Are customers spending too much on current solutions?

Productivity: Is the use of current solutions tasking and time-consuming?

Process: Do they require an improved internal process? For example, does the lead retrieval and nurturing process require automation?

Support: Are clients getting the necessary support at the critical stages of the customers’ journey?

Use these gauges to determine the real problems and then attempt creating one or more problem statements which your team will set out to innovatively generate ideas to solve.

Your problem statement must be human-centered. This means that it should describe the customers’ situation and explain the problems from the customer’s perspective. That implies that your problem statement will be solution-oriented, aimed at helping customers to alleviate certain pains.


A common challenge with online advertising is low conversion rates which might be due to many factors including bad CTA, poor page copy, intrusive elements, and other factors. The problem statement might be to "help small companies increase conversion rates by optimizing the conversion process.” A whole lot is embedded in that statement and this will lead to analyzing the conversion process to identify areas that need improvements.

Step 3 - Ideate by generating better solutions to the existing problems

Brainstorm with your team or a focus group to explore effective solutions to the problem that has been identified. This is not the time to start thinking about quick and familiar fixes. Rather, approach this with a different level of thinking and creativity. Innovate in new directions and think outside the box.

The ideation process requires sketching, brainstorming, and brainwriting to generate new ideas and solutions. Ideation aims to generate a large number of ideas (including worst ideas) that can be filtered and reduced to the best, practicable ones that will inspire better design solutions.

Turn your team into an innovation hub and allow members to come up with as many ideas as possible. After the ideation, you can select the best ideas that will move on to the next stage.


From our low conversion example which can be linked to bad CTA and the presence of intrusive pop-ups and flow blockers on the landing page, your ideation process might include identifying a new set of low friction words or phrases to use as CTA, different ideas of designs and placement of CTA on the landing page to improve visibility, and ideas for non-intrusive pop-up designs on landing pages.

Step 4 - Imagine ideal user experiences from the customers’ perspective and create prototypes of the product

This is where you create prototypes of the solutions. They are always in the form of minimal viable solutions that are based on ideal user experiences. From the ideas selected after the ideation process, develop prototypes, and share with your team internally or a small group of trusted clients that won’t let the cat out of the bag.

They are to use the prototype solutions and provide feedback to further narrow down to the best choices. Example You can create multiple versions of dummy landing pages with different CTA formats, page copy, pop-up designs and share them internally or with few clients and collect feedback so you can choose from the most acceptable ones and make improvements where necessary.

Step 5 - Test the complete product to rule out any possible problem

After improving on your prototypes and selecting the best candidates, it's time to test the actual solution where they are intended to be used. That can be on a client’s website or in a product or service.


Develop new conversion-optimized pages and use them as the landing pages for your ads. Then collect data over some time and see if there is an improvement.

If you notice considerable improvement, then it means you’ve been able to solve the problem. However, you might still find some areas that need improvement. But if there are no improvements in what customers have complained about then it means your solutions are not effective. Therefore, you might need to go back to the drawing board.


Approach the design process with an open mind to identify and solve real marketing problems. Also. remember that the design thinking process stages are not meant to be followed in any particular order. The process is iterative so just follow whatever sequence that helps you to innovate the best solutions for your customers.


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Rebecca Yu

Rebecca is a writer, blogger, and educator. She writes about mass media, lifestyle, creativity and any topics that inspire new ideas and actions.

6 min read

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