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Campaign Ideation with Design Thinking

22 min read

Campaign Ideation with Design Thinking

You are going to launch a new product and the only thing you can think of is to mention it in your Newsletter? Holiday season is coming and a web-shop banner with a discount is the only special you came up with? Your customer base is static, but you have no idea how to push growth.

Sounds familiar? If yes, we have good news for you. You are not alone and we can help unleash your creative spirit.

In this article we are going to show you how to give your Campaign Ideation process another spin by applying Design Thinking techniques. You will learn how to setup and run your own Campaign Ideation workshop.

Table of Contents

Motivation and focus

Coming up with new campaign ideas or improvements is not always easy, when you are stuck in a daily routine between emails and meetings. A break from routines is sometimes the best way to regain focus and Design Thinking is a fine approach that can help you. It is widely known in the information technology industry, but it does not stop there and can be used across the board. We at SAP usually break it down into three iterative steps: discover, design and deliver (see also: image one).

image one: design thinking steps

The discovery is heavily focused on identifying the actual problem you want to solve. It comes with research effort to answer two fundamental questions: the who and why. Especially in marketing, we highly recommend you work with Customer Journey Maps to visualize and share the outcome of your discovery.

The design is where the ideation, prototyping and validation happens. This is where we solve the questions around: the how and what.

The delivery is the step that is focused on bringing your products and services to your customers. 

If you are interested in learning more about the theory and practice of Design Thinking, there are several good articles, videos, and books available on-line.

As you might have guessed by the title of this article, we want to focus on the design phase and ideation. Similar to the Discovery phase with its Customer Journey Maps, it is important to articulate and visualize your ideas. Only then can you talk the same language, share, dispute, contribute and re-use your campaigns. For this purpose we are going to define the campaigns by using Campaign Briefings as described in the article Business Scenarios - Learn How to Articulate Tangible Campaigns.

image two: simplified campaign process

To stay focused it is relevant to understand what campaign ideation is about and what it is not. It helps to write down your campaign process steps. We usually work with six steps as indicated in image two. During the ideation it is all about generating ideas and defining them. Statements like "We do not have the budget to ..." or "Our tech stack does not allow us to..." are a clear indication that people are not focused on the ideation and limit their creativity by design. During a Campaign Ideation workshop based on Design Thinking principles, we should not limit ourselves. Otherwise we will never challenge the status quo.

Prepare yourself before you start

Workshop - isn't that an interactive meeting format where the heavy lifting is done by the participants? Right? Unfortunately this is only partly true, since our Campaign Ideation workshop needs thorough preparation to deliver good or even any results. We need to prepare four topics ahead of time as shown in image three below.

image threepreparation

Let us briefly look into the four preparation topics before we go into more detail in the chapters below.

  1. Context: Set the stage β€“ The ideation will need a starting point. Therefore you need clarity on your strategy, buyer's journey stages and customer typology. Remember us talking in the chapter above about the who and why? This is it.
  2. People: Find the right participants β€“ Without participants you are not able to run a workshop, but it is not about simply filling the room with bodies. The "who?" is key.
  3. Environment: Build an agenda and environment that works for your people β€“ The physical environment as well as some fundamental communication rules are essential and often underestimated.
  4. Instructions:Unleash and guide the creative spirit β€“The basic instructions will guide your workshop participant and make sure that at the end of the day you will have tangible results. You will find detailed instructions in this article that worked really well for us in the past.

Now, let us go through each of the above in more detail in the following chapters.

Context - Set the stage

image fourcontext

Your workshop participants will need guidance to steer their thoughts and ideas into the right direction. However, you have to be very careful to not get into a dictation mode. You only want to provide guidance in the form of "who and why", but never "what and how."

The who and why can be addressed by preparing and presenting the following three topics to your workshop participants:

  • Strategy and targets: The marketing strategy and the derived targets need to be clearly articulated. Targets might be as high-level as "conversions and sales", but you should be able to break it down one level deeper, for example the number of net new contacts needs to increase by 7% in 2020 or ratio of known C-Level per account needs to grow from 60 to 80%.

  • Buyer's journey stages: A common understanding of your buyer's journey will help to focus during the workshop. You could for example try to only focus on "retention and advocacy" campaigns. This will heavily help to work result-oriented. Please do not confuse the buyer's journey  with "Customer Journey Maps." If you do not have your buyer's journey stages sorted out yet, you might want to use the four stages as described in our article Business Scenarios - Learn How to Articulate Tangible Campaigns.

  • Segments or buyer's persona: Knowing your basic segments or buyer's persona is essential. It will give your workshop participants an indication about the persona's typical problems that could be addressed with your products and campaigns. Don't overdo it, but instead keep it simple. You might want to use Customer Journey Maps to visualize your segments, but try to prevent having dozens of journeys.

If your workshop includes improvements and extensions in addition to net new campaign ideas, you also want to show the as-is status. Showing the past campaign calendar and few performance stats is usually enough detail for the as-is status. There is no need to conduct an academical and detailed analysis. Keep it simple and limit yourself to a 15-20 minute overview.

People - Find the right participants

image fivepeople

Identifying the right people for your Campaign Ideation Workshop will decide about success or failure. We usually start by identifying the workshop roles and then map the corporate roles and individuals against them:


Having a dedicated moderator might sound quite obvious, but the importance of this role is often forgotten. You should try to prevent this mistake and simply nominate a regular participants for this role. The moderation is a dedicated task and will need the full attention of the person fulfilling this role. Often external people are taking on this role. Especially, if you run the workshop for the first time it makes sense to go with an external party. The moderator needs to:

  • be objective and unbiased
  • be open minded and not limited by the day-to-day thoughts of your campaigns
  • ask "stupid" questions
  • enforce the agenda and instructions
  • support the participants with experience and know-how

In particular the last point, experience and know-how, makes it difficult to find a good moderator. You want somebody who is familiar with Design Thinking, but is also an expert in digital marketing tactics. Ideally, you work with two moderators to guarantee a good support of the group. Depending on your group size you might want to adapt the number of moderators. We will talk more about the quantity of people below.

Campaign Contributor

The contributor role makes up the biggest group within your workshop participants. You should try to keep this group as diverse as possible. Usually, you will have many functions represented from your Campaign Process focusing on ideation, definition and build (see also image two above). The job functions within your organization may sound similar to the below:

  • Audience selection responsible
  • Creative content responsible
  • Campaign flow and channel responsible
  • Customer/buyer's journey responsible
  • Marketing executive in charge of the objectives

Next to your own staff, you might also reach out to your agency and recruit from there for your workshop. Ideally you can also add people who represent your buyer's persona (see chapter "Context") or a proxy for this persona, for example, Sales Account Executives.

Campaign Owner

The campaign owner is nominated at the beginning of the workshop and also serves as a contributor. The ideal owner is already in charge of campaigns from an end-to-end process perspective (see image two above for the process example). During the workshop the owner has the same rights and responsibilities as the contributor does. All roles are equal. After the workshop the owner needs to do the heavy lifting including homework, next steps and materializing the ideas to bring them to the build & execute phase.

Executive Sponsor

The executive sponsor does not usually play an active role in the workshop but may attend the full session.  Typically, the sponsor attends the introduction, and most importantly, the recap session. Usually the results of the workshops are very visual, tangible and easy to consume. Executives tend to like that their teams are making cross-efforts to improve their business. Get them into the room, let them feel the spirit, show them how you have mapped your campaign ideas against the corporate marketing objectives to convince them that is worth to invest further in your ideas.

Now you know who you will need, but how many? To answer this question we need to do a sneak peak into the instructions chapter below. As part of the workshop you will need to split into groups. Each group needs at least three and max six contributors, one of them also serving as owner. The total number of contributors and owners should not exceed twelve. 

One moderator can support two groups at a time. As mentioned above, in our workshops we try to work with a minimum of two moderators to guarantee a good support of the groups.

Environment - Make it work for your people

image six: environment

The right setting and expectations will improve the happiness of your participants as well as the results. You need to create an environment that motivates the people and allows them to focus on the workshop results. As indicated in the image above we recommend you to take care of the following four topics:

  • Room: A bright room with enough space for two or more groups to break out and discuss their campaigns without disturbing each other should be available. Potentially additional break-out rooms are needed. You will need to decide depending on the number of participants.
  • Material & equipment: This usually goes hand in hand with the room. You will need flip chart paper, regular size sticky notes in four to five different colors, smaller sticky notes in the same color as the regular ones, a dozen black flip chart markers, tape, one scissors and one big-size screen or projector. Furthermore you will need a lot of space on the walls in the main room to pin and tape your flip-charts and sticky notes.
    In addition you will need two assets that are very specific to this workshop format: A campaign brief template and an example that illustrates the result of the workshop. You will find both, if you look at our article Business Scenarios - Learn How to Articulate Tangible Campaigns and Campaign Example - Personal Trade Fair Experience.
  • Communication rules: No laptops nor phones are needed during the workshop. The only exception is the moderator and the executive sponsor to run the session related to "Context - Set the stage". Note taking will be done within the groups and is a fundamental part of the interactive workshop. Although it's not always easy to ask people to put their laptops and phones away, using this technology while in the workshop can be very distracting and can impact the flow in the room.  The moderator should be strict about this rule.
  • Agenda: The agenda should be communicated to the participants ahead of time. This will allow them to adapt their schedules. We made the experience that a Campaign Ideation workshop day should never be longer than seven hours including the breaks. The net working time per day on the actual ideation should not exceed five hours. Anything beyond usually does not provide good results as the participants will likely lose concentration.
  • Please find below a template for an agenda including some additional hints.

Day Duration in hours Topic



  • Introduction to the workshop, agenda, logistics and the approach.
  • Introduction of the participants in an interactive format with sticky notes:
    • Each participant needs to write down their:

      name, role & mandate, example of daily activities, campaign definition or build ownership, quantified ownership, expectation for the workshop and draw what they like to do in their free time

    • The notes are are kept visible at one of the room walls during the workshop

Try to make sure that the executive sponsor is present during this workshop slot.


Context - Set the stage

As described in the chapter above, one participant or executive is going to introduce the strategy and targets, buyer's journey stages and customer segments. Important to remember: keep it simple.

It is mandatory to have the executives in the room to have a fully aligned picture. Often enough this is the time where you can see question-marks in the faces of people or a high need for discussions. Make sure to not derail the workshop and let the executive re-confirm the strategy, buyer's journey and segments (problem statements). If needed, make working assumptions and use a 'open item parking lot' to move on.

At the end of the slot, we need to agree on our focus for the ideation. For example, "We want to focus on Consideration and Conversion campaigns" or "We want to focus our campaign ideas on our targets around lead qualification." Usually the moderator will need to steer this discussion to keep it short. Make sure to mention that this can be adjusted later, if really needed.


Target result

We always show a result as an example and explain the campaign briefings while doing so. Basically we tell the participants how to visualize their ideas and what kind of questions they need to answer to qualify them. For this purpose we actually use the same workshop material as they need to use: flip chart papers, sticky notes, ...

You can use one of our examples; Campaign Example - Personal Trade Fair Experience



Introduce the group to the instructions as shown in the chapter below.


Round One

Follow the instructions in the chapter below and do one round. Usually the first round is the longest, since the participants need to get used to the exercise. Chances are high that 90 minutes will not work for you. If that is the case, move the Presentation of results per group' to the next day and leave the first part of the round as open end for day one.



Lunch, coffee, email and phone breaks. We made the experience that it is hardly impossible to set them ahead of time. Depending on the flow of the group, I would do them flexible.

two 0.5


Get everybody into the same room and recap on the results of the first round. The moderator might want to give some hints for the next round. For example, "Group A try to be more detailed in the content section, and Group B your flows do not include any exits. Your customer will be penetrated by your campaigns forever"


Round two to many

Start the second round and increase the time pressure slightly with every new round. 10 minutes less in each round until you reach 60 minutes are usually a good benchmark. If you feel that your groups are overwhelmed by the pressure or are not delivering all items, give them time back again.

1.5 Breaks
three 1.5

Last round

Last, but not least. Use the fresh spirit in the morning hours to get the most out of your groups. This last round is very strict on timing to allow the executive summary to start on time.


Executive summary, priorities and wrap-up

Get everybody back into the room and recap briefly on the results the groups have created. Start a very simple prioritization process. Depending on the number of campaigns and participants this could be a single-vote or three-votes-weighted method. The votes should be independent from the potential complexity and only focus on the value. The value is determined in a subjective manner by the individual voter. Once done, give the executive a chance to comment and open a brief discussion within the workshop team.

The moderator will present a template and suggestion for the next steps including a timeline. The next steps are focused on how to materialize the ideas into executable campaigns. This is not about a detailed blue-print, but rather a rough plan. The most important in the plan is that people get directly assigned to the most important tasks and that the executive sponsor agrees to invest their time into it.

Do a speed feedback round. Guiding questions might be:

  • Would you recommend the workshop to your peers/other teams?
  • Would you like to run this kind of workshop (focus on optimization and shorter duration) on a regular basis?
  • What would you skip or improve?
  • What would you like to do more?

Detailed next steps for campaign owner

Discuss with the campaign owners a detailed timeline and expectations. Define a cadence to follow-up with them to support the finalization of the definition and how to move the definition into the build & execute phase. For this 30 minute session you can release the executive sponsor and the campaign contributors.

Instructions - Unleash and guide the creative spirit

image seven: instructions

Finally we get down to the core of the Campaign Ideation workshop. The instructions will get you through the majority of the workshop. As described in previous chapters it is important to work with a pre-defined flow of actions. This also includes a strict time management. The moderator is the one who needs to make sure that everybody follows the instructions by gentle push and support. Depending on the maturity of the group the moderator will need to use more or less of her/his digital marketing tactic experience. By applying own thoughts and ideas it is important to keep the balance. Do not dictate the group what they should do, but give them hints to improve or help them to be pragmatic. The group will get stuck in arguments. Latest by then, the moderator needs to provide solutions to move on. This can be achieved in multiple ways, for example, ask "stupid" questions, go one step back and summarize the current state and problem, use a parking lot, simplify the argument, make working assumptions, lead the group into another direction.

The steps one to eight as shown in image seven are pretty obvious. Let us focus on step nine "Qualify and prioritize the campaigns." Once you get to step nine, you should have a wall full of sticky-notes and flip-charts in front of you. Both representing multiple campaigns and the corresponding tactics. Do one final walk-through to explain each campaign and potentially add important information on each. Once done, start to prioritize the campaigns. Depending on the number of campaigns and participants this could be a single-vote or three-votes-weighted method. The votes should be independent from the potential "build" complexity and only focus on the value. The value is defined in a subjective manner by the individual voter. Make sure that the votes are posted as independently as possible. 

Homework - It does not stop with the workshop

The immediate homework after the workshop is fairly simple, but time critical. The workshop results need to be shared with all participants in a raw format. The easiest way is to take pictures and share them centrally. This can be done on the next day of the workshop.

In addition the campaign owners are in charge of further digitizing and qualifying the results. Usually they will be supported by the moderator, but they need to be in charge. The raw results need to be transferred into a format that can be easily consumed and shared within the organization, for example, spreadsheet and flow-chart tool. The transfer exercise also serves the purpose of a further qualification the campaign characteristics. During the workshop, the main goal is to get ideas onto paper and articulated well enough that they can be presented and understood within a small group of people. The final result of the workshop needs to be shareable even outside of the group. All ideas, thoughts and rationale need to be captured. Ideally a third party can understand the campaign brief with minimal or no additional explanation.

Please use the following example to better understand the needed level of detail: Campaign Example - Personal Trade Fair Experience

Usually the transfer into the digital format will need some cross-checks with the participants. Therefore it is super critical to do the transfer as soon as possible after the workshop. Latest the week after it should be done. Otherwise you will run into the risk that people will forget and the good work goes partly to waste.

Done. What is next?

We already talked about the homework in the chapter above. This will give you your new ideas well articulated, written down, easy to consume and ready for the next steps. There are multiple paths you can take with your workshop results. This depends on why you actually did the workshop in the first place and how mature your operations and technology is.

The first step of your path, right after or while your homework is done, is the validation. This includes that the campaign owner does a feasibility check against your processes, operations and technology capabilities. Potentially this will lead to changes of your campaigns to either make them work at all, before a certain deadline or in a certain budget.

In some cases the feasibility check might trigger additional work around change management or technology. This is usually where the executive sponsor comes back into play to provide guidance.

In most cases the validation will return a green light and lead to the hand-over to the day-to-day marketing operation process.


In this article you were introduced to the art of campaign ideation.  You learned how you could use our workshop template based on campaign briefs and design thinking to unleash your creative spirit.

Please check the example to get a feeling on the final result of this workshop: