Approaching your content strategy as an iterative loop will help you create useful, in-demand information that serves your customers and builds your business.
Out in the business world, this approach is called design thinking. And design thinking is in the news right now. Harvard Business Review ran a cover story on it this past September. The New York Times featured it earlier this month.
The website, Copyblogger, has been talking about design thinking since 2010.
B2B design thinking isn’t difficult — it’s just different. It requires a mindset shift that will change the way you create products, content, and customer experiences.
What is design thinking?
It might be easiest to answer this question by comparing design and design thinking.
Design is about making objects functional and pleasing to the eye. Traditionally, design has been a discipline that was practiced by the small percentage of people who’d studied it or those whose aesthetic sense made them especially qualified.
Design thinking is about developing products and services using a methodology that puts the customer’s needs and experience at the forefront. It’s a different way to approach the development process.
Design thinking is driven primarily by audience needs, and the fruit it bears is based on the challenges and problems they face. It’s about looking at how real people interact with your products and services, and adapting them so they truly meet their needs.
Companies that practice design thinking put an imaginary sticker on everything they produce that says, ‘Designed by our customers.’
IBM bets their future on design thinking
Profits are down at IBM, but I’m not too worried about it.
How many technology companies can boast that they’ve been around for more than 100 years? It’s only through aggressive adaptation that IBM has succeeded despite all the changes in the technology landscape since they started back in 1911.
Their latest adaptation is to incorporate design thinking as an integral part of their business. They’re using design thinking to change their culture and the way they do business.
IBM is in the process of hiring 1,100 designers, with a long-term target of 1,500. They’re training a large portion of their management staff in the principles of design thinking. They’re “embedding” designers inside product development teams throughout the company. To date, 8,000 people company-wide have received some type of design thinking training.
It’s a small percentage of the total employee population, but it represents a significant investment of resources in a new way to look at their business.
They’re banking on design thinking to improve their long-term outlook.
How to apply design thinking to your content and your business
The goal of B2B design thinking is to make your content, your website, and your products and services inherently simple and useful.
Aim for something that is so well designed that people don’t notice the design.
The goal? Design that doesn’t call attention to itself. Design that isn’t ‘precious,’ or even very noticeable.
It all starts with one important question.
“What is a better way to do ___?”
Ask this question of any process, product, or service.
Then grab a physical object — a pad of sticky notes, some pieces of paper, a whiteboard and marker — and map out what your customer experiences now and what you’d like them to experience. Even better, get a customer or two in the room with you to tell you firsthand what they’re experiencing.
Very basic prototyping gives you insights into the important customer touchpoints in your business. It shows you where you can improve their experience either through better content, a streamlined interface, or a more robust solution.
Design thinking. Do. Iterate.
Here’s an example from Copyblogger
A couple of months ago, they launched the Rainmaker Labs feature within their Rainmaker Platform software.
Labs is a place where a select group of users are invited to experiment with features that are currently in development and provide feedback directly to the team that’s working on those features. Below they iterate their design principles:
- Design thinking: We’re thinking about our customers as we develop new features — they’re often a result of direct requests.
- Do: We develop the feature enough to be tested in the real world. It’s the software version of a physical prototype that real end-users can try out.
- Iterate: Based on the feedback we get, we improve and polish the software enough to release it as part of the platform that all users access.
The downside of design thinking
B2B Design thinking sounds great, doesn’t it? What’s not to love?
Here’s the thing: people who live by the rules of design thinking welcome failure. Often. If you’re going to ride the iterative loop, you have to be prepared to fail and learn from that failure. You’ve got to embrace the fact that things will have to be pulled apart and re-done when the best customer experience demands it.
You’ve got to put your ego to one side, and recognize that the customer is king and their experience rules the process.
If you haven’t done business this way, it can be uncomfortable. But when you see the final results, you’ll recognize that it’s worth a little discomfort.
Design thinking makes space for emotion
Traditional design is about functionality and aesthetics. “Does it work?” “Does it look good?” These are the questions you consider.
Design thinking folds in emotion. “How do our customers feel when they use our product or service?”
This might sound a little woo-woo. But B2B design thinking means having deep empathy with your users and producing experiences they’ll remember. Those memories are sealed in with the emotions they experience when interacting with your business.
And those emotions make your business memorable — remarkable, even.
The iterative loop and where to use it
This iterative loop — design thinking — do — iterate — is something you can use to make deep cultural changes within your business, whether it’s a one-person shop or a 412,000-employee corporation.
The iterative loop can touch every single aspect of your business, even down to elements like your shopping cart software and the copy on your invoices.
Adding design thinking to your process leads to products that are simple and human.
Every aspect of your business, from the front end to the back, can be designed around your users’ needs.
Let the iterative loop guide your strategy
One warning: design thinking often makes your future unpredictable. Planning months ahead of time is difficult. You have to be willing to ride the loop wherever it takes you.
Your customers will lead the charge, not you.
You’ll be alongside them, serving up what they need with a dose of memorable emotional appeal.
This article originated as How to Use an Iterative Loop to Dominate Your Niche on the Copy Blogger Website