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  • The Craftsman

How Design Thinking Helps Create Brilliant Brand Strategies

Our designers approach each project with fresh eyes, aiming to strike a balance between what’s possible, what’s in the brief, and what works best for the audience at hand. They search far and wide for inspiration, bounce ideas off the larger team, refine those ideas and test them out, and then try again if they haven’t reached their aim.

But they’re not the only ones.

Our strategy team discovered long ago that thinking like a designer can have a transformative effect on the way they work through creative challenges. How? To find out, we sat down with a few members of our strategy team: CEO and Executive Creative Director Gina Michnowicz, Director of Strategy Kim Park, and Senior Manager of Strategy Jeanmarie Steele.

Here’s what they had to say.


Thanks for sitting down with us! To start off: What role does design thinking play in crafting a marketing strategy that delivers great results?

Gina: Design thinking is all about considering the end user first. That’s key to creating a great marketing strategy that truly delivers for our clients. So when we develop our strategies, we first work to get in the mind and spirit of the target audience. Then we focus on the who, what, where, why, and how to build out a successful campaign or program.

Kim: Exactly—our grounding idea is that we’re marketing as humans to humans. That means that as we come up with ideas from campaign headlines to tactics, we keep that “human connection” piece in mind. You can’t achieve success if you build a strategy that doesn’t resonate with the target audience, even if it has all the right beats or messaging.

Jeanmarie: Basically, design thinking provides a powerful framework that allows us to stay focused on the most important variable in a strategy: the customer.

Jeanmarie, where do you get started? Is there a “step 1” of design thinking?

Jeanmarie: Yes and no! I’ll explain: Design thinking starts with a period of observation to develop empathy for the audience you want to reach. This is the moment you take to research their needs and problems without judgment. What’s really important in the first step is setting aside your own assumptions so you can gain deeper insights into the audience’s needs. But because design thinking is a nonlinear, iterative process, you may end up repeating this step at some point.

Let’s talk about what ideation looks like at The Craftsman Agency. Is there a defined process?

Kim: It depends on the project! But no matter what we’re working on, we try to collaborate as a cross-functional team. Hearing from a range of voices—strategists, designers, copywriters, editors—helps inspire brilliant work. And not just because more people means more ideas. When you work cross-functionally, you and your team can build on each other’s work. For example, if a team member has an idea for a pitch or proposal but they’re not sure how to make it come to life for the audience, another team member can go in and add a reference or weigh in with an alternative. It’s always exciting and fun to see the team come together to ideate and refine concepts.

Gina: What I’ve found is that group ideation usually works best when the team comes to the table prepared with ideas, with each team member individually going through a research process based on the target audience and our client’s objective. This helps center the ideation process around the audience, which is critical for successful ideas and campaigns.

Kim: And a lot of the time, we work as extensions of our clients’ teams, especially for more strategy-based projects. We like to start off by connecting with key stakeholders across a variety of functions. Understanding their perspectives on challenges and goals helps us learn about their business and better understand how to get them where they want to go. As an example, for KinderCare, a client in early childhood education, we asked to first interview their SEO/website specialist, social media manager, and head of communication as well as a curriculum creator. We then held an in-person workshop to bounce ideas off each other in order to develop a solid content strategy with a true north star. The whole process really provided us all the ability to think bigger.

So after ideation, what happens next?

Jeanmarie: First, we check the client’s goals and objectives once again to confirm we’re providing the best concepts possible.

Kim: And when we’re ready, we share our work and hear what the client has to say, really listening in to understand where they’re coming from. Getting the client’s feedback after this first round is really critical, as it helps us further refine and add additional insights.

Jeanmarie: And when we’re good to go, we move on to testing so we can see what works and what doesn’t. We try to test early and test often. For example, we recently performed an A/B test on two variations of campaign messaging for a client in a niche industry to determine which version to build a go-to-market plan for. The results were insightful and helped us make an objective decision.

Testing is definitely so important! OK, Gina, this last one’s for you. Agree or disagree: Bringing in an outside expert can be an essential part of our design thinking methodology.

Gina: Absolutely agree. As organizations, we get too close to our products and services. Outside experts can help us see the bigger picture and also push the envelope. When we prepare for a client workshop, we’ll consider bringing in an external expert. In other cases, we are the external expert. External perspectives, especially those from field experts and customers, can provide the balanced view you need to create the best strategies. We also love to bring in an artist when appropriate. For ideation exercises that are more art-focused, bringing in an artist can be inspiring. It can also be effective to have an artist create a mural or visuals on a whiteboard to capture what’s happening in the room.

That definitely sounds inspiring. Thanks again for your time, everyone!


Thinking of bringing design thinking to your team? Try unlocking your creative potential with one (or several!) of these 12 valuable exercises.

And of course, send us a note if you’re curious what design thinking could do for your brand strategy work. We’d love to chat.


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