Design Thinking for Branding

Why Do You Need Design Thinking For A Killer Branding Strategy?

Over the years my work has shifted from the ‘business of design‘ to the ‘design of business’. More that a clever catch-phrase this defines much of the work I do to introduce the principles of design into branding strategies. I believe that the best branding strategies have within their them a DNA that echo the design process.


The Limits of Best Practice

The concept of ‘best practice’ has been challenged over the last number of years. The difficultly arises when what has worked very well in one brand is transferred to another brand and does not work. There is something lost in translation.

This highlights the uniqueness of each context and the need to not only translate best practice but rather to transform best practice. There is a creative aspect needed in every application of best practice.

“We are now called to manage uncertainty, complexity, and change. Indeed standard operating procedure is now defined by these characteristics. Yet all too often strategy is presented as a static thing, rather than a dynamic process. So the most successful brands know that what drives them are Adaptive Strategies, strategies that live, learn, and adapt across time.”

It should be noted that there is a similar challenge in the concept of advice. For when advice is given what is offered is what has worked for one individual, not necessarily what will work for another. We have all received strong advice on what we ‘should’, ‘need’, and ‘must to’. Yet rarely has it been applicable to our unique character, our skill-set, or indeed our context. There is much to be gained in a shift from dictation to facilitation, from advising to coaching.


Design Thinking

We can find some insights to this creative aspect that is needed in the application of best practice in the concept of Design Thinking. The concept of Design Thinking has been around for many years, yet only recently has it come of age. Evidence of this is echoed in the fact that a recent cover of Harvard Business Review was entitled “The Evolution of Design Thinking: It’s no longer just for products. Executives are using this approach to devise strategy and manage change.

The subtitle highlights what I think is one of the reasons that is has taken so long for Design Thinking to come of age: that design is all too often considered to be about products, things. Yet the word design is a noun and a verb. And I believe it is the process of design, not the products of design, that is the most valuable thing that design can offer.


Learning by Doing

The process of design is in essence a process of learning-by-doing. Prototyping, sketching, modeling, version 1.0, etc are all aspects of a design process. Many different names that are given to the same process: a process of learning-by-doing.

The process of learning-by-doing can be understood only by ‘standing under’ it. This ‘humble posture of learning’ allows us to learn from our actions so that every action can become a lesson. Every action is an opportunity to learn. Our task is to be receptive to this feedback.


Adaptive Strategies

If best practice needs to be transformed in its application, if the lessons from Design Thinking highlight a learning-by-doing process, and if understanding comes from standing under our actions, what does all this mean for branding strategy?

Clearly our strategies can no longer be static things, instead they need to be dynamic processes that are sensitive to the feedback of each action we take. As we implement we will make improvements. Our strategies become processes of learning-by-doing. They learn, they live, and they adapt across time: they become Adaptive Strategies.

If we can not predict the future, we can at least predict that we will need to adapt to whatever comes our way. With the road ahead uncertain, complex, and repeatedly changing, how does your branding strategy adapt? How does your strategy learn from each action that is taken?

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