MLP > Finanz-WG:
How Design Thinking Enabled MLP to Speak
the Customer’s Language

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Design thinking is known for its user-centered approach in order to find new solutions or improve services or products best adapted to users' need. In the case of MLP it has been applied to a branch in which the financial crisis has caused distrust on side of the user. Design thinking helped guiding the way to new forms of approximation.

Confrontation with customer’s new perception

For any financial service provider like MLP, customer proximity is the single most important aspect in daily business – especially as financial consultancy services require lots of trust. But with the hit of the financial crisis the perception of financial services changed drastically. For many people the financial sector is lacking transparency and being perceived as confusingly complex. As part of this development MLP had to acknowledge that also they had the task to explain their services and its USPs (Unique Selling Proposition) better. They knew they had to adapt their marketing communication to match customer’s demand.


Compiling a mission statement with the help of design thinking?

We talked to Jan Berg, division manager for communication, politic and investor relations and Thomas Freese, division manager for marketing, at MLP. Both decision makers were responsible for creating a new positioning and mission statement, as a major part of measures taken, which MLP thought to be appropriate to react to the situation at hand. They decided to give design thinking a try with this particular challenge: “At first, we were reserved if design thinking was the appropriate method for our issue,” says Jan Berg. “Especially because our project was not dealing with something haptic or olfactory,” adds Thomas Freese.


“Taking off the tie”

But there was no doubt left after getting in touch with their first users. The project team members went outside to test several Lego prototypes and self-made posters on a university campus and in public places like a train station. The fact that they did so in their casual outfit grew really important for them. “We found out that not being a typical financial services provider with suit and tie already helps reducing prejudice or negative connotation,” Freese says. “Also, the testing of the rough prototype helped to loosen up a conversational situation.”

Addressing people in such a direct manner was a big learning for them. Berg remembers, “I had to learn to ask open questions instead of trying to sell my prototype as I already had become a fan of it. I had to distance myself from ‘I want to convince you’ to ‘Is my idea of any interest to you'”.




Example prototypes for testing with users (Source: MLP)


Design thinking as an initial spark for a new mission statement

The project team quickly realized that in the past they often emphasized topics in their communication materials and consultations, which were of no significance to their customers: “We always used to speak to the customers about the goals they want to achieve. But they do not want to commit to a certain goal, as they often do not know themselves what that is. Rather they want to talk about their ideas as it is more open and flexible regarding their financial planning,” says Freese.

“Nevertheless design thinking is not a blue print,” emphasizes Freese, “one of the main challenges was to put the new ideas into the real world in order to not become detached from MLP”. After creating several concepts the team had to embed them into the company’s context and strategy. For that they used traditional market research tools, e.g. by creating a verbal concept for the new mission statement and testing it via focus group interviews.


Immersing into the life of the younger generation

Its first design thinking experiences were also one impulse for MLP to open the so-called ‘Finanz-WG’ Heidelberg. Following the way of life of most students in flat-sharing communities (German translation: Wohngemeinschaft, short: WG) ‘Finanz-WG’ is a space with a student atmosphere in which an online editorial team and online marketing managers from MLP work on social media/ web topics and product solutions for students.

The Finanz-WG is located in a student district and thus provides a close proximity to their potential users. This strongpoint helps MLP to continue understanding the language of their most important future customers.

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Image Sources

  • Protoypes for Testing with User: MLP | © Traditional Copyright
  • Headquarter of MLP AG in Wiesloch, Germany: Rudolf Stricker | © Traditional Copyright

The Authors

Birga Schlottmann

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1 Comment

  1. Interesting story Birga! Looks like DT being used as ‘user research’ as a kind of ‘market research’ approach. I was wondering, what their “new mission statement” is actually saying now?

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