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Roadmap for Recovery:  Five Ways to Come Out on Top

In my last post, I shared five short-term strategies for surviving the downturn by using design thinking as a roadmap to connect your business with consumers. Once you've weathered the worst of the economic storms, it's time to plan for the future. To survive and thrive into the next upturn, you must innovate now. Innovation fueled by consumer insight will propel your company into the future, empowering you to rocket past your competition.

Here are five ways you can position your company to thrive as the economy recovers.

  1. essentialsReduce Costs and Fortify Branding Through Design: Structural engineering can be used to maintain or increase strength while reducing material costs. Smart badge redesign can decrease costs while increasing perceived value. Intelligent engineering and design that ensures a common design language across product lines can increase the use of common parts in a way that both minimizes tooling costs and fortifies your brand.
  2. Make Every Shot Count: When resources are limited, you can't afford a shotgun approach to innovation. Instead of developing a half-dozen new products, you have to focus on one or two. This makes it even more essential to laser-focus the product development process. Design thinking can crystalize insights from consumer research and develop strategies that minimize risks and maximize returns.
  3. Collaborate: Don't have the cash to launch an entire design program? Shop around. In this climate, companies must think creatively about partnerships and royalty deals. And if fees are even partially royalty-based, your partners have that much more incentive to make sure your new product or brand strategy is a home run.
  4. Find The Greener Side of Green: Some businesses look at environmental issues and see dollar signs—ones they'll have to spend to "go green." Others look to the increased demand for green products and see opportunity. Take Arm and Hammer's new Essentials line of cleaning products. The starter kit comes with an empty spray bottle and a concentrate. The consumer just adds water to get a powerful, biodegradable cleanser. The refill pack of two concentrates uses 80% less packaging than two pre-filled spray cleaners, and those extra bottles don't end up in the landfill. The company saves transportation costs by shipping empty bottles and refills, the consumer saves money purchasing the refills, and we all reduce our carbon footprint. It's the kind of win/win/win story that makes consumers remember and seek out brands.
  5. Create Emotional Connections: It may be possible for others to knock off the functions your product serves, but you can hold your competitors at bay by creating an emotional connection. Creating a connection by fulfilling an emotional need is what gives your product meaning and resonance. It's what makes people love your brand. This emotional bond between consumer and brand can't be counterfeit. Using design thinking to create this bond is the key to bulletproofing your brand and propelling your company forward.

Just as steel comes out of the firing process tempered and stronger than before, design thinking will empower you to guide your company through the recession to emerge stronger than it was pre-downturn. And when you show consumers you're part of the solution, they'll not only support you, they'll evangelize your brand.

Related Stories:
Roadmap for Recovery: Five Ways to Help Your Company Survive Now
Read more of Ravi Sawhney's Design Reach blog

Ravi Sawhney is the founder and CEO of RKS, a global leader in strategy, innovation, and design.

Since founding RKS nearly 30 years ago, Sawhney has earned a variety of top honors in the design industry, and assembled a client list that includes HP, Intel, LG, Medtronic, Seiko, Sprint, and Zyliss, among many others. In the process, RKS has helped generate more than 150 patents on behalf of their clients.

In 2004 Sawhney was named chairperson of the Industrial Design Excellence Award program, where he created the IDSA/BusinessWeek Catalyst award for products that generate measurable business results. Most recently, he was named Executive Director of Catalyst to direct its evolution into a program to develop case studies illustrating design's power to effect positive change.

Sawhney also invented the popular Psycho-Aesthetics® design strategy, which Harvard adopted as a Business School Case Study. He is a regularly featured lecturer at Harvard Business School, USC's Marshall School of Business, and UCLA's Anderson School of Business, where he teaches this business-driven design tool.

In addition to RKS, Sawhney has played an integral part in the founding of several other businesses, including Intrigo, an innovative computer accessory company; On2 Better Health, a health products company; and RKS Guitars, best known for its reinvention of the electric guitar.