Marketing vs Design Thinking: Lessons Learned

Published on:

In today's post we explore the differences between design thinking and marketing; their approaches, goals & techniques. Are they that different after all? Let's find out!

What I’ve learned from “This is Service Design Thinking” book.

The Five Principles Of Service Design Thinking

As Marc Stickdorn emphasizes, if you ask ten people what service design is, you would end up with eleven different answers – at least. Here are the couple of them for you to grasp the idea of the Service Design.

“Service Design helps (create new) or improve (existing) service to make them more useful, usable, desirable, for clients and efficient as well as effective for organizations. It’s a new holistic, multi-disciplinary, integrative field.” by Stefan Moritz

“Service Design is all about making the service you deliver useful, usable, efficient, effective, and desirable.” by the UK Design Council

“Service Design is a holistic way for a business to gain a comprehensive, empathic understanding of customer needs.” by Frontier Service Design

Truly, it’s not a rocket science with well-accepted definitions, criteria, frameworks and rules. It’s only an approach that covers various methods, techniques and tools from different disciplines into one. So let’s investigate whether this approach is worth studying and implementing by startups.
Service Design speaks a dynamic language with no common definitions only five principles required to understand it.

#1 Principle: Be User-Centred.

The inherent intention of a service is to meet the customer’s needs and, consequently, to be used frequently and recommended heartily. If you put your user, his pains and gains, needs and expectations, his language and knowledge into the centre of the design process, do you really need to have a well-accepted terms and definitions? Most probably not. However, even when the startup states that its customer is a King, it doesn’t mean that it always implements that principle to its full extent.

#2 Principle: Be Co-Creative.

Putting the customer into the centre implies that a startup will take into account all the potential customers as well as the different service stakeholders. Consequently, it will be challenging but compulsory for the startup to integrate the stakeholders as well as customers and all together create a service.

#3 Principle: Preserve Sequence.

Service is a dynamic process happening over some period of time. It’s crucial to preserve the rhythm and sequence of the service flow to be up to the user’s mood. Service Design Thinking teaches startups to decompose the service flow into the single customer touchpoints, interactions and recompose them into the right service moments. Every service flow consists of three major stages such as pre-service (when the customer gets in touch with a service), the service (when the customer experiences it) and post-service period (when customer uses it repeatedly and recommends heartedly).

#4 Principle: Keep The Customer Aware.

Keep the customer aware of the intangible value the service provides. Taking into account that the services stay unnoticed in the background, it’s a primary task of the service designer to build and implement the specific memory triggers into the service flow (for ex. souvenirs from the service provider) so that he can enhance the customer’s positive perception and prolong his experience beyond the time of the service.

#5 Principle: Keep The Service Design Holistic.

Nevertheless, the service is intangible but it happens in a physical reality and may even have the real physical deliverables. Hence, the designers shall ensure that the customer gets the great experience through all his senses.

Design principles by Marc Stickdorn

Design principles by Marc Stickdorn

How Does Service Design Work?

The service design thinking is iterative process. It’s rather easy to imagine the design process of the physical product but not the intangible and ephemeral service. The following Figure 2 illustrates well the framework of the service design. Even though the design process is nonlinear, the presented structure manages to decompose it on four major tasks of exploration, creation, reflection, and implementation in constant iterative relations.


On the first stage Exploration the primary goal is to perform the ethnographic research, gain a clear picture and understand the needs, expectations, pains and gains of the potential/current clients, analyze the competitors and figure out the crucial points and constraints of the service.


On the stage Creation it’s highly valuable to investigate the mistakes of all the service stakeholders and co-create with them the possible service touchpoints in a sequence that will relieve the client’s pains and boost his gains.


On the stage Reflection the primary intent is to evaluate the ideas and service touchpoints generated on the previous stage. Service design stands for testing and retesting the service “prototypes” with the experts and potential/current clients in reality or close to reality environment.


On the stage Implementation it takes the most suitable and well-verified service concept and implements it in the daily business.

Design process by Marc Stickdorn

Design process by Marc Stickdorn

AT-ONE Approach

Service design thinking also stands for the AT-ONE approach, which focuses exclusively on the user. AT-ONE is an abbreviation of the keys pillars.

  • A is for actors collaborating in value networks. The basic idea is to see the potential value in the constellation of different actors/stakeholders, their relationships and roles to better fit the network’s competences with the customers’ needs.
  • T is for integrating the touchpoints in one great customer experience.
  • O is for making the service offering personalized and branded. The primary intent is to create the service personality.
  • N is for the satisfaction of customer’s needs, wants, and desires.
  • E is for the surprising and delightful experience.

Marketing vs. Service Design Thinking

Are they really different? The service marketing covers every point from the customer identification, initiation and maintenance of relationships with them to value creation. Indeed it is very difficult to define the differences between marketing, which covers everything, and the service design, which focuses primarily on the customer. In my humble opinion, they are not. The basis for my opinion is the summary of the key characteristics of the fields of marketing and design. As you can see in the table below marketing covers most of the design ones.

table design thinking vs marketing

However, we, marketers, don’t really have the competitive advantage of pure experimentation for the sake of improving the customer’s situation. That’s what makes the design thinking so attractive and its iterative design tools and techniques valuable for the marketers as well as product/service developers. Let’s explore this topic in the follow-up article!



Sharing is caring so please share this post. Thank you!