How unique! Everyone has a differentiator

Screen Shot 2016-05-09 at 3.01.29 pmYOU have set up a new business or a new practice within your existing business.

You think you have something unique to offer.

You find out that:

EVERYONE ELSE has a “differentiator”. And almost everyone has proof points.

YOUR PROSPECTS do not look at your offering as unique.

THE CHALLENGE IS NOT about getting initial customer attention.

THE CHALLENGE IS about breaking their resistance to buy into your story.

IT’S WHERE sales and marketing folks struggle most – to be seen, and to be heard.

“I’ll see it when I believe it”

The battleground for getting customer / investor attention has shifted. It’s at a treacherous paradigm called “I’ll see it when I believe it”.

Clients/prospects/investors on the other side are surveying hundreds of offerings, promises and differentiators.

To them everything looks the same. That’s the single biggest reason for the stubborn mindset – “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

Communication managers have a real opportunity here to take control and change the filters through which the narrative is being viewed. And it goes beyond clever headlines, enthralling graphics and creative content.

Design thinking for communication

We can have the best innovation designed in our labs.

But how do we get our prospects to have a conversation about it?

It’s only logical that innovation in communication follows innovation in product and process.

When applied to communication, design thinking will transform the way we navigate and get in front of the customers; to get their attention and to get their active participation in our narrative.

Five key attributes of design thinking for communication

Listening is everything

“I remind myself every morning: Nothing I say this day will teach me anything. So if I’m going to learn, I must do it by listening.”  – Larry King

It’s not a new rule and it will never go away.

Executive interviews, client questions, prospect objections, conversations, data, analytics, observations – everything contributes to valuable insights. Teams should place themselves at the intersection of their organisation and the client and listen keenly to both ends of the spectrum – the client end and the organisation end. Design thinking begins here.

“Your problem”, “your customers”, “your outcomes”

Despite all the focus, when it comes to communication, most websites, emails, presentations and collateral will reveal a routine disregard for customer centricity.

Clients may not come knocking on the door, asking for a solution. But the truth is they are looking for answers to their problems.

Nothing can change the deep cynicism that sets in when the communication landscape continues to be littered with stereotype phrases like “our solution”, “our methodology”, “our process”, “our differentiator”, “our success” and “why us”.

Customer-centricity needs to move from being the rhetoric of an annual strategy meet to real action in every sphere of the business.

It takes immense courage and conviction to break away from the focus on “us” to “you”.

In marketing, we hear the oft-repeated phrase “does it resonate?” In design thinking, the first principle is empathy.

When there is empathy, communication will resonate. Empathy also means deep customisation of the communication plan that endeavours to address the client concerns.

Ask the right questions

The process of design thinking requires us to ask questions that will evoke compelling answers leading to a persuasive and well-founded communication plan. Examples:

  • Question: What information do we have about the client/prospect
    Change to: What is the prospect mindset?
  • Question: How do we showcase our value proposition?
    Change to: What is the client’s biggest problem?
  • Question: What communication channels do we use?
    Change to: Where, when and how will the client want to see the communication?
  • Question: What call for action should we include?
    Change to: How can we get the client to be excited to have meaningful conversations?

Don’t tell. Show

That golden rule is not just for book writers. It’s where social media has already gone – Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Pinterest and even Twitter.

Visual, tactile and tangible outputs have an incredible impact on storytelling.

Watch the Volvo Trucks video of the Epic Split Feat by Van Damme, Live Test here  and see how spectacular cinematography, a minimal but powerful narrative and haunting music come together in a riveting video that demonstrates the stability and precision of Volvo dynamic steering.

So little said; but so much conveyed in just one minute and 17 seconds.

It went viral on YouTube with nearly 68 million views.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Volvo Truck sales rose 31 percent in November 2013. An email or a page on the website wouldn’t have done that.

Communication teams will need to work with design, engineering, analytics, technology, operations and digital marketing teams to integrate message with channel and create narratives that will defy stubborn mindsets.

White boarding with simple sketches and patterns to design the communication journey is a great place to start.

Call to converse – A different kind of call to action

A call to action can no longer be asking the client to reply with an appointment, download a brochure, make a call, view a film, fill a form or scan a QR code.

Design thinking requires ‘call to action’ to evolve to ‘call to converse’.

It’s about getting the customer to participate in the uniqueness of your innovation and getting them to engage with your solution and having meaningful conversations.

Not a department function, but an organisational strategy

Design thinking for communication will have to be deployed as an organisational strategy. It can work for marketing and communication only when it works for the organisation as a whole.

When done well, the communication plan can break new ground to overcome the existing mindset “I’ll see when I believe it.”


Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” —Tim Brown, President and CEO, IDEO. For more, please read here.

“In its simplest form, design thinking is a process—applicable to all walks of life—of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems. It is not limited to a specific industry or area of expertise.” – Kaan Turnali, Global Senior Director, Enterprise Analytics, SAP. For more, please read this Forbes article here.