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Design thinking, empathy and understanding allow brands to Innovate without risk

December 16, 2015

By Neal Moore, Co-Founder

Giles Day is Director of Innovation for Landor’s innovation agency North & South and he recently joined Click2View’s Neal Moore for a conversation about innovation.  What is it?  How do you do it?  And does it apply to content marketing?  Here’s what he had to say:

Watch the full interview here

He summarises the process like this:

The best designs evolve to accommodate changing customer desires

For many of us the process stops with so-called ‘solutions’ but Giles claims this is a mistake.

“I’m wary of thing like ‘solutions’ because as a design thinker I know nothing is perfect, that’s a very linear way of thinking that says if you have enough data and you’ve done enough due diligence you will come down to the perfect answer,” he said.

“Design thinking doesn’t work like that.”

He says that every product needs to be based on an empathy-driven idea followed by constant iteration and improvement, not just during the design phase but also after launch.

The same is true of content marketing.  Only by truly understanding your customer can you have an idea about what content they need and will respond to.

Those needs are constantly changing, which means your content needs to as well, be it to accommodating different media, platforms and devices, or shifts in your industry, or even your own business.

Every content marketing organisation should constantly be refining, iterating and culling their content to keep it as fresh, relevant and usable as possible, it’s the only way to remain at the cutting edge, where innovation truly lives.

Full interview:

What is an innovation agency?

I began by asking Giles to define exactly what an innovation agency is, they seem to be everywhere these days but what do they do?  Giles has had 15 years since starting North & South to mull over that question and described the difference between his agency and the competition as “innovation doers” as opposed to “innovation talkers”.

“We are creative people but we’re also practical people so we actually make things,” the industrial designer said.

He says they apply a design thinking model to their innovation process. This starts with gathering insights.

“We want to know what people want, what they desire, what they would hope for,” he said.

North & South then use that information to create something, a product, which is shown repeatedly to prospective buyers before being properly prototyped and launched into the market place.

Design thinking breaks risk into manageable processes

Giles says it’s the actual making of things that makes the difference.

“You’ve got externalise, you’ve got to get things out of your head and into the real world so people can react to them,” he told Click2View.

Typically, his approach is to try to provoke a response, good or bad so they can constantly refine and improve.  His life has been made easier in this regard by 3D printing but he’s not beyond breaking out the cardboard and the craft knife if they’re the right tools for the job.

“We are still monkeys and we still respond to a three-dimensional world,” he said of his belief that product designers who work in 3D have much to offer brands in terms of innovation.

I first met Giles at a Wake Up With Landor event about innovation. I went in a cynic, having seen too many speakers stand in front of Steve Jobs quotes and pictures of Dysons spouting platitudes about ‘failing fast’, but Giles’s design thinking approach made the subject matter tangible and relevant.

The point, he says, is that brands need to think big but often don’t dare because of the risk.  But they counter that by breaking the risk down into a process. That process begins with understanding the customer, by going into homes, offices and wherever to observe first hand how people interact with products, services and systems.

But, what has all this got to do with content marketing?

The power of Content Marketing comes from empathy and understanding

Giles believes design thinking can work for any business problem or creative opportunity.

“Our ideas need to be desirable, they need to get attention and mean something the consumer actually wants and I don’t think that can be done by accident,” he said.

“You don’t get that by asking them, you get that by understanding them and that’s the empathy component.

Empathy is a recurring them throughout our conversation.  Only by empathising with your customer, be they a beer-drinking bloke or a pregnant woman, can you truly know their hopes, fears and dreams and then address them with products or, indeed, content.