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Thinking differently: How design can fuel human-centric brand strategy

Irene Serafica

Strategic Design Lead

CBA Italy




Today we live in the “Age of the Customer”. For centuries, both production and product information were under the control of manufacturers. With the emergence of the disruptive power of mobile and connectivity, however, product and service information control is no longer the exclusive domain of companies. Informal brand conversations are often seen as more credible than targeted advertising campaigns, and social circles have become a greater influence on consumer choice. This new era creates a crucial shift in the balance between a company and its customers’ power – and it is all in the customer’s favor.


Today, companies create their customers through product design and social media, customers create brands through purchase and advocacy, and brands support the company by fostering customer loyalty. We have shifted from a top-down dynamic to a horizontal approach.


In the Age of the Customer, companies and users co-create complex and meaningful experiences through a constant dialogue.


So, what does it mean to design brands in the Age of the Customer?


Branding is shaping a strong identity: uncovering opportunities to define the purpose

Today we are immersed in an unprecedented flow of information, and this inevitably creates a deafening noise. In a world where rational choice has become almost impossible, brands represent clarity, reassurance, consistency, status and membership. Successful brands have a strong and engaging identity that enables human beings to help define themselves in a changing environment.


Branding is building engaging relationship: mapping out the strategy to shape the process Technology is redefining the boundaries of all industries, enabling the emergence of new business models. These market movements contribute to great shifts in consumer expectations. We have become more aware and more demanding. The brands that win in this arena are those that can take into account our expectations as consumers, and build an engaging and horizontal relationship with us. Successful brands know how to talk and listen to us, and react promptly to our conversations.


Branding is designing coherent interactions: bringing the concept to the market to frame the solution

There are 7.5 billion mobile phones in the world, and the accessibility of distribution channels has not just mulitplied touchpoints but also reduced barriers to entry in many industries. Nowadays, we estimate that about 7 billion brands worldwide can communicate with us through an average of six to eight touchpoints each. Consumers travel between platforms and channels, experiencing brands through different languages ​​and spaces in a complex interactive stream. Successful brands are those that are able to best exploit each contact point, experimenting with the peculiarities of each channel and building a consistent and organic experience through each interaction.


How do brands design a strong identity, relationships and interactions?


We need an approach that helps us to put the consumer at the core of everything, drawing on the power of both strategic analysis and creative thinking to manage complex problems in a changing environment.


Business schools tend to focus on inductive thinking (based on directly observable facts) and deductive thinking (logic and analysis, typically based on previous evidence). These approaches have a limited effect, however, on stimulating creativity and innovation. Design schools embrace abductive thinking, imagining what could be possible starting from a defined starting point.


Design Thinking as an approach to problem solving can help us to shape meaningful and effective brand experiences.


How does it work?


Design Thinking, as a human-centered approach, puts unexpressed consumer needs at its core. To discover market opportunities and innovation spaces, we need to match these insights about the desirability of the brand offer with sustainable and scalable solutions for the company, in line with its vision and capabilities. Starting from there, taking an abductive approach, it helps also to make the key stakeholders part of the the ideation process, stimulating co-creation thanks to an holistic view of the problems teams are seeking to solve.


Designing brand strategies today means shaping identities that can relate to users' needs. It means building engaging business relationships and ensuring consistency in consumer-brand interactions across all channels. Design Thinking focuses on the user, and drives us to design innovative experiences by combining strategy and creativity.


It’s not a magic formula for innovation, but a strategic, human-centered approach to branding.