This article is part of CMO.com’s October series about creativity and design-led thinking. Click here for more.
The language of beauty, especially in the world of business, has been lost, and it’s not doing us any good. Beauty has been separated out of commercial activity, seen to be expensive, elitist, non-relevant, and superficial. Data and efficiency rule all. The aim is to be the one fastest to the finish line of profit whatever the cost—until it costs everything. In recent times, we have seen scores of businesses in multiple sectors fail both their shareholders and the communities they serve.
The act of creating something of beauty is a way of bringing good into the world. Infused with optimism, it says simply: life is worthwhile. The effort to create enduring beauty is not dependent on style, but truth. Beauty is what lends things their immortality, it gets us out of surfaces and into the foundations of things. Importantly, it also brings enduring profit.
The time has come to rethink the role of business in our world and its overall contribution to our society. We need to reframe business in the context of beauty. Beautiful experiences, products, services, business models, and cultures are all key components of what it takes to make a beautiful business. Each one brings integrity, consumer value, and purpose to a brand.
The Beautiful Experience Matters Today
What we call experience reflects meaning, authenticity, and an opportunity to recapture a lost essence in modern life. These are values that are difficult to represent in accounting terms. Yet, they all have an important and increasing role to play. The rise of artisan products highlights this need, street food being the perfect example—fresh, fast food cooked to high levels of quality without the retail investment. It has, none-the-less, a fanatical following.
People don’t just want experience, they profoundly need experience to be meaningful, which, in turn, makes life joyful.
In a 2016 Gartner survey, 89% of businesses said experience and design were seen as the most important factor for competitive advantage, up from 36% four years before. A similar Accenture 2015 global survey found that 81% of executives placed personalised customer experience in their top three priorities, with 39% reporting it as their number one.
The businesses that create beautiful experiences for their customers will succeed over their rivals who forgo beautiful in a bid for a quick win.
How Do We Get To Beauty?
We get to beauty through design and craft. Design as “experience,” for example, understands that designing and creating for our tactile selves — things that are intuitive, easy, and joyful to use — will sell more products and services at a higher value. In a 2015 Temkin survey, those with a positive emotional experience were six times as likely to buy more, 12 times more likely to recommend the company, and five times more likely to forgive the company for a mistake.
Other recent developments have also had a profound effect on the quest for a high-quality experience. The average American spends 2 hrs 37 mins on the smart phone every day, an hour more than four years ago. Touchscreen technology, combined with intuitive and simple-to-use apps, means our expectations of the quality of experience have increased as our ability to access new information, relationships, and interests increases. Crafting meaningful customer experiences becomes a key business activity.
This is something Airbnb has understood, incorporating experience into its enterprise design. You can book a stay in, say, Nairobi, to spend some time with a knowledgeable local who shares your interest in contemporary art, immersing you into the fabric of the artistic Nairobi art scene. Memories made of moments are crafted from end to end—the business model, the app, a life-affirming experience.
It is unsurprising that a growing number of Fortune 100 companies now see design as the top priority to their business evolution over the next five years.
Beautiful businesses are the future because they endure.