Design Thinking for B2B Marketing : Reflective Design and Marketing



Design thinking is an amalgamation of three aspects of design – Visceral, Behavioral and Reflective. This trifecta comes into immediate play whenever we decide to buy a product or solution, be it for business or personal use.

Human attributes result from three different levels of brain mechanism: the automatic, prewired layer, the visceral level; the part that contains the brain processes that control everyday behavior, the behavioral level; and the contemplative part of the brain, the reflective level.

Donald A. Norman, Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things

The first aspect, Visceral, is all about how an object looks – its colors, contours, and shapes and how we feel it fits into our sense of aesthetics.

An easily recognizable instance of the impact of visceral is when we get that elusive “wow” feeling when we see a product or solution that manages to form an immediate emotional connection with us based on its appearance.

It is that “I see it. I like it. I want to have it,” feeling we have all experienced at one point or other. Visceral design principles also have a consistency across ethnicities and cultures as it is connected to a primal instinct we all share.

Behavioral thinking, on the other hand, is all about usability – how easy is it to use, learn and adapt or integrate it with my other workflows. The four main components of the good behavioral design are functionunderstandabilityusability and physical feel.

Good behavioral design tends to focus on understanding and satisfying the needs of users. While behavioral thinking is an integral part of many design-thinking solutions, for the purposes of marketing it is the visceral and reflective thinking that marketers need to focus on.

Reflective thinking is the most complex of the three aspects. It is about the meaning we give to a product or a service that is a statement about our own self-image to the greater society. Reflective thinking often encompasses the relationship that a brand creates with its users and gains value over long-term associations, and is sensitive to cultural and societal differences across geographies.

This has been understood and its benefits maximized by B2C marketers but are unfortunately often ignored or dismissed by B2B marketers as being irrelevant to marketing.

Just think of the following companies – Apple, Linux, Mercedes, and Volvo. Apple products and their users by extension are perceived to be hip and cool, Linux is for the ‘true’ geeks, Mercedes is classy and Volvo is all about safety first.

How do you harness this for B2B marketing?

Here is an example of a firm that’s doing it well.

37signals‘ creates excellent content marketing apart from creating great tools like Basecamp and Highrise. They are not only a SaaS (Software as a Service) company but also represent a movement involving a certain class of people. By using their project management software, Basecamp, one presents to the world the image that you love minimalism, productivity and that you value effectiveness over efficiency.

The principles 37signals utilized to create their brand identity can be applied by marketers to other B2B products to change how they represent themselves. B2B buying decisions often have many levels and layers but that should not stop marketers from applying design thinking and adding reflective value to their products.

Creating mindshare for your products in a meaningful way with the buyers and users is critical. Building that relationship whereby the reflective value grows and remains a positive for the buyer is also important to maintaining that loyal following.

Ultimately whether in B2B or B2C it all boils down to a personal choice or P2P. It is about a person buying from another person, regardless of whether it’s a purchase on behalf of a company, committee or for personal use.

So how can you use design thinking to enhance your brand, market position, and marketing of your B2B product or service? That’s up to you to figure out. Do keep in mind that every time someone is evaluating your product or service for a purchase decision that three levels of processing are influencing that decision – Visceral, Behavioral and Reflective.


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