Apply Design Thinking to Email Strategy For Better Experiences >


Design Thinking is an important component of software development with immediate application to the building of marketing communication messages – especially email campaigns. Any effort to move people through a set of distinct experiences (software, marketing, etc.) can benefit, which is why Design Thinking is finding application beyond the limited world of software development. At its core, Design Thinking seeks to meet two critical expectations of users:

  1. Solving a Problem
  2. Providing Convenience

Before Design Thinking evolved as a concept, developers had a problem with what they called the Democratization of IT. This is a scenario whereby software users side-step low usability systems and use their own systems. We’ve all been there – you work around clunky functionality in order to get what you want, right?

Just like with software, a marketing environment increasingly tied to data must show how a product or service can solve a problem and demonstrate convenience to the end consumer. This isn’t limited to the brand’s offering or message within the ad or email. The actual method in which the message is delivered can also benefit from Design Thinking. For example, an email sent from a financial institution seeking to better guide a customer to the right loan options can now include data capture directly in the email itself – as opposed to forcing the customer to visit a subsequent landing page. In this way, Design Thinking affects the brand message and the media itself by making the email a tool for providing convenience.


Example: Busch Gardens Food & Wine Festival



The use of an interactive map inside the email itself allows the recipient to explore areas of the park, increasing user engagement and removing incremental steps needed to gather knowledge normally reserved for the website.





Accordion menus expand and contract inside the email itself, allowing the user to more efficiently gather information – making the process of learning about the Food & Wine Festival more efficient.


Check Your Mental Models Before You Put In the Hard Work

Batch-and-blast isn’t quite dead, but it’s certainly in hospice care. This is where mental modeling, an important element of Design Thinking, comes into play. Instead of simply pushing marketing offers, a modern marketing campaign must solve a customer’s problem. So, logically speaking, in order for a brand to earn the right to sell something, that brand must understand what the customers’ problems actually are.

Brands must also understand what “convenience” means to customers. Ask yourself an honest question. In the process of developing your current marketing calendar, how much need-finding went into the development of the message matrix? Are campaign themes and individual messages based on your customers’ mental model or your own as the marketer?


Don’t Forget the Context

We must also understand the context (another important pillar of Design Thinking) of customers’ mental models. This means we have to step outside the world of perfectly aligned, academic whiteboard sessions and poke holes in our assumptions of the customer, motivations and actions. Context is an important part of understanding the customer’s decision-making or buying process. A message that may be appealing to a customer at 2pm might not be as interesting at 8AM.


Apply the BXT Model to Email:

When applied to software development, Design Thinking dictates that any successful offering must check the boxes of the BXT Model. BXT stands for Business viability, User eXperience design desirability, and Technical feasibility.

B: Business Viability (aka. Customer Viability)

The solution must be relevant. While seemingly obvious, anyone taking a serious look at their history of communications to opt-in customer groups might find a surprising lack of viability to the message recipient. A world recently evolved from volume-focused marketing to customer experience-driven personalization needs to take a second look at the messages being shoved in customers’ faces. Business Viability doesn’t mean that the solution is viable to the brand’s business. Instead, it begs the question, “how does what I’m saying in this message help who I’m sending this to?”

X: User Experience Design Desirability

The solution must be appealing. This concept goes beyond how visually appealing an email may be or how well written an SMS message might appear. Understanding the latest evolution of heuristics associated with mobile, desktop or even app-based media will help the designer work with content strategists to develop the most appropriate presentation of content to the customer. Designs that work for promoting restaurant specials don’t always mirror those for a clothing retailer. Having the context of whether the customer is exploring a first-time purchase versus one approaching a bulk or seasonal purchase for the fourth time can also affect how the customer perceives how easy or hard it is to get the information needed to make a purchase.  

T: Technical Feasibility

The solution must be real. It is important that solutions can be implemented technically and realistically. Technical Feasibility is something that will be dictated by a combination of the tools in place and the people available to operate them. A brand’s chosen marketing platform and various orbiting point solutions make up the technical environment. But the feasible deployment of a technical solution is dictated by how these tools have been set up and connected to each other – as well as the capabilities of the personnel available to move information and media through these systems.


It’s important that there is a healthy separation between the roles advocating for each of the BXT model’s requirements. For example: someone tasked with implementing a technical solution may have a harder time uncovering a strategy that delivers an intuitive user experience because the technical resource’s thinking may be constrained by what her or she knows is or isn’t possible with the current software platform.

The increasing confluence of eCRM, email, adtech and other digital media present an unparalleled opportunity to up marketing’s collective game. We can be more meaningful to consumers and make our brands increasingly important long-term – so long as we keep pace with how new technologies affect our tactics and overall thinking. Simply rinsing and repeating methodologies from the last decade simply won’t cut it. We as marketers must continue to strive for relevance, and the concept of Design Thinking has immediate application to achieving this goal.

What do you think? Has your brand experimented with Design Thinking in email? Tell us how it’s worked or what other challenges you’ve faced.

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