Recently I was able to speak to prolific author, speaker and business mentor Ram Castillo. His philosophy on human-centric design and his business ethos generally have helped him to become a successful designer for international giants such as McDonald’s, Audi and Coca-Cola. In our chat he shared both his ideas on business strategy and details from an inspiring personal journey that we can all take notes from.
In a modern business landscape a multifaceted, flexible and adaptable approach is key to staying ahead of the curve and the opposition. Ram was able to share insights on these ideas and more and I found myself wondering where the time had gone when our interview drew to a close.
We started by discussing Ram’s unique role helping businesses, and from the start his response spoke to a multifaceted approach, always coming back to his focus on your brand’s personality and the relationship you build with your customers.
Ram: “From the traditional advertising agencies I’ve worked for through to designing bespoke design work for clients, it comes down to asking yourself a lot of questions as a business and trying to answer those questions through the eyes of the customer you’re attempting to get on board. So, for example, we look at the customer experience and then reverse engineer the touchpoints, technologies, processes, tools, and people that make a successful journey happen.
You’ve got to ask yourself what it is that you have as a business that the world needs, which of course ties directly into branding, whether personal or as an entity. The customer is asking, ‘What is the meaning your business has that will be clear to me by interacting with you?’, ‘what is the personality that you evoke in the world?’ and simply, ‘what reputation do you have?’”.
When designing or advertising, one must look at the human-centred experience. The next point is that we are in a rapidly changing landscape where attitudes and what the customer expects from their businesses is of the utmost importance.
Too many businesses are designing for the customer two years ago, instead of looking forward and designing for the customer two years ahead. By being honest with yourself as a business and asking yourself these difficult questions, you’ll be able to start tapping into what modern, current and future customers will be drawn to with your design and marketing.”
Ram’s questions certainly put a reflective spin on things. He had posed important questions we all should be asking ourselves as businesspeople or whole entities. The burning question that I posed to Ram next was this: why do we find so many businesses designing for the customer of yesteryear? His answer really hit home.
Experiment, don’t just iterate
Ram: “The first thing I believe is that we aren’t being vulnerable enough with the way we design. I know that’s a strange choice of word, but what it means to me is willingness to fail, experiment, then try again until we have something really special. Google does it best in that they allow 20% of their employees’ time to be allocated to experimentation!
Remember, the electric light wasn’t developed by iteration of the candle. The electric light was developed by improving what the candle provided. This solution never would have been achieved by simple iteration, but rather by painstaking experimentation. Another main reason why businesses get stuck in a rut is that they are trying to address the symptoms and features of customer needs. Change is an inevitable factor in business and in order to be innovating we have to be constantly trying new things and looking at the underlying behaviours which drive these needs.”
As Ram spoke I was struck by his confidence and assurance – someone who had certainly put his own business ethos to the test. I wanted to know what advice he would give to a new business trying to find their place in the market.
Who is your raving fan?
Ram: “When you’re out there as a challenger breaking into a new field it comes down to finding an area that is underserviced and making that your own. Our personal experiences and identity have exposed us to at least one key area more than most in the business – fact! To be successful we need to capitalise on that – in order to secure brand growth you have to associate yourself or your brand with a single concept and grow your market category. Take automobile companies, for example, who encapsulate this. We can sum up their unique design personalities in one word:
Mercedes – quality
Porsche – performance
Tesla – innovation
Toyota – reliability.”
Ram: “The problem is we keep comparing ourselves to others and then inevitably get confused and lose identity as a business. The only way to truly be different is to own who you already are: from the very beginning your personality is key.
You’ve got to figure out who your raving fan is in a huge global market where you’re simply not meant to appeal to everyone. Rather than spending time and energy wondering why someone doesn’t like you, you have to focus on your so-called ‘raving fans’ and continue to tailor your business for these customers who are going to be the ones where you will find the most growth and success.”
Ram had given me a lot to think about, and as I digested his views I asked him if there were any thoughts he’d like to leave our readers with. He responded:
Ram: “Just this: I’m the son of Filipino immigrants who told me growing up that sometimes we’d have nothing but a spoon of peanut butter and a loaf of bread to get our family through the day. Despite this, I was told to dream big and that failure and hard knocks can be a true learning experience.
Struggles form a fertile ground and harnessing your own unique story is key to success. I started in the mailroom, replacing copy paper and changing light bulbs, but it gave me an insight into how a business works and the critical exposure to practical business that design school never could. It’s like Serena Williams said, ‘We were never invited, we just kept winning.’ Keep curious, driven and adaptable to change and you’ll find your unique place in the business world.”
I hope you enjoyed the blog.
You can listen to the full conversation with Ram and myself by tuning into my weekly podcast Interviews With Experts.
Ram has a host of content available –he has two books, How to get a job as a designer, guaranteed and How to get a mentor as a designer, guaranteed. You can find him on Instagram or LinkedIn from his handle “TheGiantThinker”.