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Ask A Senior: Doodle Brands And The Road To Design Thinking Brand Innovation

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As Saigon becomes more globalized and diverse, so too does competition grow. Brands find it harder today to build a name for themselves than ever before; they are struggling to either reach consumers or to reconnect with consumers.

Hence, Doodle Brands is a Branding and Design Thinking company that answers said clients’ needs. With design thinking implementation, the agency is one of the first to apply a new kind of innovative branding to the market. By helping clients define why they exist, what they stand for, and how best to bring themselves to life, the agency can see what the customers really need, co-create a vision of how brands can move forward, and make the future customer experience all the more delightful.

“Doodle Brands is a Branding and Design Thinking company that answers said clients’ needs. With design thinking implementation, the agency is one of the first to apply a new kind of innovative branding to the market.” | Source: Doodle Brands

How did Doodle Brands become one of the first agencies to apply design thinking to branding successfully? Our team at Vietcetera meets with Doodle Brands’ founders, Chris Elkin and Nhu Vo, to learn more about their team and work with clients.

Doodle Brands
Co-founders Chris Elkin and Nhu Vo | Source: Doodle Brands.

What do you two do at Doodle Brands? How would you introduce yourselves when meeting a client or new contact?

We are the co-founders of Doodle Brands, a design thinking brand innovation company using a unique and first of its kind human-centered approach to creative problem framing and problem solving.

What keeps you two here in Vietnam? Why open a business in the field of design thinking and branding?

We see all the faster-than-ever change and complexity in the world as a disruptive opportunity, both from the client and the agency point of view. Clients need the mindset and methods to help them innovate and transform, outside-in, while agencies need a fresh new perspective to apply ‘science’ or true human insights into their usual creativity. We are one of the first in Vietnam who can do this well using Design Thinking (also known as human-centered design). We like to call ourselves ‘the disruptor enabler’ in a way.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Nhu: Personally, it’s the people we meet through our projects. Beside our core team, our company is based on the ‘network economy.’ We constantly reach out to people in the same field and eventually they become our good friends. So yes, it is the ‘doodlers’ that make our job rewarding.

Chris: For me, it’s a belief that we can empower everyone to change – to be more creative and innovate more often in their everyday lives. Both at work and at home, I want people to make brands, experiences, services, products, systems and all kinds of things better in all kinds of ways. It’s the ‘a-ha’ moment when people realise that they really can each contribute to this positive change.

“It is the ‘doodlers’ that make our job rewarding.” | Source: Doodle Brands

What attributes of your professional life have you been able to apply to your personal life?

Nhu: To me, it’s the other way around. As a new mom caring for a baby and running a business at the same time, I’ve learned a great deal from taking care of a baby and applying that experience to a new business. I also recently read an article written by Richard Brason about a similar topic, which I really related to. He mentions about ‘delegation’ in raising a family and running a business. I think if there is one thing I could share about the common lessons of the two roles, that is: “Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Seek for help. Delegate. Enjoy the journey and be in the moment.”

Chris: For me, perhaps it’s a male thing, but too often I’d like to be the hero and jump into sharing solutions as quickly as possible at home. Actually, a real super-power I’ve learned from Design Thinking is to try not to fall into that trap of rushing to solutions. By being more human-centered, I try to teach myself to spend much more time framing the real underlying human problems first. As the saying goes, “A well framed problem is half solved.”

“By being more human-centered, I try to teach myself to spend much more time framing the real underlying human problems first.” | Source: Doodle Brands

How do you keep yourself fresh and reinvent yourself in the field?

Nhu: Getting out. Take the path less travelled. Meeting new people. Always ask why and what’s next.

Chris: Without doubt: staying curious, keeping an open-mind, suspending judgement, questioning the question, being down-to-earth and collaborative, empathizing with people. I also like to travel. Both mentally and physically, through what I read, view, listen, and of course wherever I go. It’s fun to see what you bring back that can spark your next ideas.

What is Doodle Brands’s proudest project to date?

We love working with clients whose ‘mindsets’ just click with us. For instance, with chocolate maker Puratos Grand Place Vietnam, not only do we help them innovate better, shift their culture to innovation and become more customer-first led, but we also developed a great synergy of thought leadership in Design Thinking with this organization. “The universe is aligned,” as we call it in a fun way. When we shift the mindset, the rest will follow, and we can do transformative and impactful things together.

“When we shift the mindset, the rest will follow, and we can do transformative and impactful things together.” | Source: Doodle Brands

Another project we are proud of is our work with Pizza Hut Vietnam. We supported their work in more innovative areas of their brand experience, such as reinventing the experience of children coming with their parents for a party. For this, we used a number of innovation sprint factory tactics and series of Test Labs that led to the development of more effective communications and point-of-sale materials. We worked across all teams, including involving the CEO directly.

How do you explain the concept of Design Thinking to someone who’s never heard of it? And why is it important to apply Design Thinking to Branding?

It’s a science or a discipline – the human-centered approach to framing and solving customers problems. That’s why it’s ‘design’ and ‘thinking.’ Let’s just say in simple terms: problem solving in a creative way to delight customers. Design thinking is important in brand innovation because a brand needs not only the ‘look’ but also the ‘meaning’ and ‘ways’ to delight customers. Design Thinking is not new. Brand Innovation is not new either. But marrying the two together is a powerful and disruptive way to create new value for customers and create winning brands.

“Design thinking is important in brand innovation because a brand needs not only the ‘look’ but also the ‘meaning’ and ‘ways’ to delight customers.” | Source: Doodle Brands

As one of the pioneers in this market, what challenges do you encounter at work when you see your clients?

The challenge lies mainly in the mindset. Design Thinking methods sometimes work like a roller coaster. We diverge then converge. Sometimes, it is the art of imagination, and sometimes, it is the science of looking into details, to make sure decisions are suitable for the brands and the consumers. Those with ‘set-mindset’ will find this method ‘uncomfortable’ as they want to jump to results too quickly. While ‘growth mindset’ clients find this fascinating, rewarding, and most importantly empowered.

In short, people ask us which companies is Design Thinking for? We say: Any categories. Any companies with the right mindset that wants to get closer to their customers to uncover their real problems so we can create the ultimate solution.

“Sometimes, it is the art of imagination, and sometimes, it is the science of looking into details, to make sure decisions are suitable for the brands and the consumers.” | Source: Doodle Brands

What are some recent changes in the industry that have affected or will affect your job? In your opinion, what do we need to do in order to keep up with the world?

Everyone talks about AI taking over, so we thought of this as well for our industry. When will the next brand strategy, messages or ads campaign be crafted and run on big data and machine learning? It could be imminent, but one thing we know isn’t replicable is the human ‘think’ part – the way we think, frame, and solve people’s real problems creatively. This is why we are doing what we do now by using Design Thinking, and we can see that business or future leaders of the world will need this important mindset and skill set. It is what we teach the future generation as well.

Therefore, to keep up with the world, we should not forget to innovate. Because the world will always be full of problems, and the pace of change is faster than ever. And instead of complaining, we should embrace it, act upon it and seek out solutions to solve it. It’s the way to survive and thrive!

Related Content:
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[Article] The Steady Modernization of Vietnamese Brands

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