Have we forgotten human in communication planning?

Empathy is not a new thing people.

Now, marketers including digital agencies started to see this method as something flashy and sophisticating. By mixing all the jargon “design thinking”, “user experience”, “human centered approach”, they claim that traditional advertising is dead and have forgotten human in the process.

Apparently, according to the latest trend of user experience and product design, everything that we make should be from user point of view. Or, in the marketing language, costumer is the king. From product design point of view, too many investments have been wasted to create product/service no one will use. The trend of user experience is the application of implementing user perspective and provide their needs. The very basic of implementation in user experience is, quoting one of my friends who work as user researcher, “Giving user options is user experience itself.”

Now, marketers including digital agencies started to see this method as something flashy and sophisticating. By mixing all the jargon “design thinking”, “user experience”, “human centered approach”, they claim that traditional advertising is dead and have forgotten human in the approach.

The bold statement isn’t necessarily wrong. Even though digital technology has ramified, the trend in marketing has shifted to marketing and personalization, to the level of creep when a brand suddenly know your name and text you a message when you go to mall. Tacky hyper-personalized marketing also naively assuming that breaching our inbox to do direct marketing message without context/creativity is considered “meaningful reach”.

Marketing strategy that is too driven by media and technology, indicated by forgetting about creativity and human touch, is not human centered at all. However, to really say traditional advertising framework is dead and must be totally replaced with design thinking? Really?

Design thinking framework vs. strategic planning framework

Design thinking and user experience framework or whatever the jargon is, essentially used to create products and services. The place where I work really fancy and worship this new trend, and they have been planning to shift their total business from advertising into “design consultancy agency”. Due to this idealism, we have been testing the design experience framework into communication pitch process.

At first, I was reluctant because product/service design are essentially different with communication planning. Even though the flow structure of design thinking and strategic planning in communication are strikingly similar, the depth of the flow in each phase and output are different.

In communication framework, the process to create the creative brief is also exactly showcased above in the flow chart. Planners do research to identify the problem, same as the “emphatize” phase. After identifying the problem, planners create creative statement question, which in the new era of design thinking is called “How Might We”. The steps are totally the same! However, the contexts are different.

Pretty much the differentation between comms planning and design thinking framework

Product and services are inherently different with communication. In creative briefs, communication planning is inherently function as marketing tool. It’s marketing, which in the broadest sense is to promoting the product/services itself.

That’s why during creating positioning/brand narrative, planners don’t solely rely on user needs because on marketing, we also have obligation that our brand, is delivering the business results. We must consider the brand vision and also limitation, as well as competitors mapping, and finally, decide the role of communication to help the marketing objective.

Forcing “design thinking/human centered design (HCD) approach” in communication planning

Now, where to start? It’s not that communication planning framework and design thinking approach can’t link to one another. On communication planning, planners can create innovation to the level of creating new product category as the solution to the business problem. On design thinking approach, the designers can simply create communication campaign as the solution instead of creating another product. It’s the same because I repeat again, the process is exactly the same using problem solving approach. But the fundamental differences start to appear if we bring this to business context.

How to say this? Most “design consultancy agency” are research based agency. Their core power relies on research capabilities and produce deep insights. Insights are their most valuable billable asset to the client. Now the additional value is they also produce the strategic thinking to make the research become product/service blueprint. As research based agency, they have luxury to work on one project up to 6 months alone, including research, ideation, and prototyping.

Advertising agencies do support marketing on end-to-end level. Their core power relies on creativity capabilities and produce great ideas to support marketing. Ideas and marketing implementation are their most valuable billable asset to the client. 6 months timeline in advertising agency is a period of brand campaign. If, let’s say an advertising based agency, want to force design thinking approach into the process, we don’t have time to exclusively researching for deep insights up to 6 months alone and then translating it into campaign. And anyway, our end goal is not the insights. But the communication and ideas to support client’s marketing platform.

From my experience implementing HCD in my work, I internally scream not just because it’s fundamentally different, but also questioning why on earth this new trend think that advertising is not based on human insight? We do have sharp eyes on human behaviour. But in the end, we craft it again with brand’s point of view, and creativity thus intuition, not just the user perspective.

We can borrow design consultancy agency’s method on digging insight with all flashy and inspiring research tools. We can learn that. But planners think about the “what to say” too, meanwhile design thinking frameworks stops at the product creation only.

On design consultancy agencies, designer work with engineer to make the prototype of the product. On creative based agencies, planner work with creative team. We make creative briefs, crafting problem statement with brand vision and creative context from human insight. The output from the two sides are also different. It might be a challenge for planners to work with engineer because they don’t understand steps of product creation cycle. It is also might be a challenge for designers to work with creative, because now they need to think beyond product and service, but injecting nuance of communication on a brand level.

The conclusion is, no we never forget about human touch in our approach.

It’s just different approach resulting different results for different purposes. It’s funny that we really prioritize human where most of the usage of these approaches are for business and in the context of capitalism, revenue is what matters. From business perspectives, which one will bring the most revenue both for clients and agencies? Only time can tell.

Btw, I kid you not, there is term of Human centered capitalism and it’s being used by apparently political campaign in 2020. Check the website here.

The next trend?

I have experiences in advertising and marketing industries, and desire to learn consumer behavior.