Has your marketing lost its fun? It doesn’t have to be boring. All it takes is a little design thinking to create a better marketing experience for both the marketer and the receiver.

So, what is design thinking? It is really just about thinking innovatively and creatively to find new solutions to old problems. It involves asking questions that haven’t been asked before and seeing connections between things many people would normally discard.

According to Daniel Pink’s book A Whole New Mind, the six essential senses to design thinking are:

  • Design – Moving beyond function to create more beautiful, emotionally engaging experiences.
  • Story – The narrative behind our institution. What is our brand’s story and how does it connect to our audience?
  • Symphony – Seeing the big picture and making connections across boundaries.
  • Empathy – Building relationships, understanding and relating to others.
  • Play – Bringing laughter, games, and humor to the workplace. Having fun.
  • Meaning – The purpose and significance of our institution.

Each of these senses has a role in the marketing mix and how we communicate with our audience. It starts by identifying all of the touch points within your institution from brand messaging to the website, from the admissions and recruitment process to the classroom experience. This process can be dubbed experience marketing. But what experiences are audiences having not only with your institution, but also with your message?

Guerilla marketing and social media interactions provide engaging opportunities to design our marketing mix. For example, we spend thousands of dollars on “logo’d tchotchkes” in order to increase awareness or recall—buttons, pens, and highlighters, oh my—but put very little thought into the distribution. You’ve seen it before, a bunch of printed pens on the edge of a table at a college fair, and voila, you’ve got awareness! Right? Wrong. Marketing is a strategy, not a tactic. Why not create an experience out of it?

A university once poured 2,000 printed superballs over a fourth floor balcony like a waterfall to land and bounce rapidly against the concrete below. Onlookers could then grab and keep a superball for a memorable promo item. Of course, this was hyped up via social media the week prior with funny, little buzz generating posts like “How high do superballs bounce? Find out at [insert time and location].” Interactions with our audience create memorable experiences over simply being handed printed flair.

Design thinking can also be applied to traditional channels to create an experience. When a student, donor, or parent receives a direct mail piece for instance, the senses of touch, smell, see, and possibly even taste, can all be manipulated. From the paper it is printed on, to the visual design, and how it opens, should all be considered to create an experience with the piece.

The mix is constantly changing and design thinkers need to change with it. Think about how you can incorporate the six design senses into your next marketing strategy. Tell your story, build empathy with your audience, create meaning, and find new connections through symphony and humor. But most of all, start having fun again.

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