Your bottom line is bottoming out. Your customers are looking elsewhere. Your well of new ideas has run dry. What can you do?
You could turn to your accountant for money-saving schemes, or hire a lawyer to re-structure your business. You could bring in a salesperson to drum up customers.
I’ll bet you wouldn’t think a technique used by designers could help you out of a bad spot.
The technique I’ll outline here is the secret to creating products and services your customers will buy. It’s a powerful way to keep your well of ideas overflowing.
It’s a three-step process anyone can do. And when it’s done right, you can expect impressive results.
The fountain of youth for your business
When your well of new ideas runs dry, design thinking will get it bubbling up again.
Design thinking is a technique that turns your business challenges on their heads, allowing you to see them from a different angle. It helps you discover new products and service that meet the needs of your market. And when your ideas meet a need, they sell.
The secret to creating stuff your customers will buy
Tim Brown of IDEO gave a lecture on design thinking at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and explained design thinking with a great analogy.
Brown said that most new business ideas come in through one of three doors:
- The technical door, which is led by research and development thinking.
- The business door, which is led by standard value-oriented thinking like return on investment.
- The people door, which is led by design thinking. Design thinking is a human-centered process.
If you focus on your customers when you’re developing new ideas, you’ll create products and services catered to them, and dramatically increase your chances of success.
Inspiration: Design thinking starts here
The first phase of the design thinking process is inspiration, and that comes from your customers.
Find out what their struggles are, and discover what their daily lives are like. You can gather inspiration through:
- Observation: What can you see your customers struggling with? What do they complain about on Twitter and Facebook? What questions do you hear again and again?
- Interviews: Whether face-to-face or on the phone, speaking directly to your customers and asking for candid information about their challenges is invaluable. Speak to users on either extreme: power users and beginners. Your most valuable observations will come from the far ends of the spectrum.
- Role Play: Ask a friend to “mystery shop” your business, going through every interaction as a customer would. What’s their first contact like? How do they perceive the process? What would improve their experience?
- Surveys: Online surveys are easy and fast.
Your goal in this phase is to understand the cognitive, emotional, and physical world your customers live in. Gather this information, and use it in the next step.
Ideation: Brainstorming gone wild
In this phase, Brainstorming Rule Number One applies: no idea is too outlandish to consider.
Use a white board, large paper, or a computer file to field ideas. If you’re a solo entrepreneur, gather colleagues for this process. Feed them the initial data you gathered in the inspiration phase, and set them loose.
Narrow down your ideas and pick the strongest one by prototyping.
I know what you’re thinking: prototyping doesn’t sound like something a small business can afford to do, right?
Prototyping your best ideas can be as simple as:
- Videotaping someone going through the motions of using your idea for a new product or service.
- Building quick models of physical products using cardboard boxes and tape. Create your product to size and see how it might feel in use.
- Build a mini-product that gives a taste of the benefits of the full thing. If you’re thinking of creating a membership site, build out a tiny sliver into a teleseminar or a $7 ebook to test the waters.
- Writing down stories about the journey your customer takes from the moment they realize they have a need, to the moment they discover your new product or service, to their interaction with it, and their post-purchase experience.
Prototyping allows you to visualize what your idea would be like in use. It makes it “real,” and will give you strong clues about whether or not an idea is viable.
Implementation: Make it so
You’ve been inspired by your customers, and you’ve developed a new idea they will love.
The last phase of the design thinking process is about implementation. This is where you will nail down your costs, determine your production needs, and figure out how to execute your best idea.
As you set up a system to deliver your idea, think back on those customer stories you gathered, and the prototyping exercises you did. Use these experiences to develop a marketing story around your product or service that will tap into your customer’s needs. And of course, always focus your marketing around the benefits your customer will experience after purchasing.
A three-part technique that helps businesses soar
Gaining inspiration from your customers, developing ideas based on their needs, and making those ideas a reality are the three phases of design thinking that every business can implement.
Harnessing this creative force will keep your well of ideas overflowing with products and services that connect with your customers needs, and help your business grow.
About the author: Pamela Wilson helps small businesses grow with great design and marketing tips. Learn the basics with her free Design 101 e-course at Big Brand System.