While at a trade show in Chicago more than 20 years ago—when I was the global director of the Coca-Cola Company’s first strategic innovation group to look for human-centered innovations—I saw a new brand of kitchen tools: OXO.
The founder, Sam Farber, was a pioneer of design thinking, long before that term came into vogue. He noticed that his wife found it difficult to grip a can opener. To make it more comfortable for her, he worked with a design firm to develop a functional and elegant soft, black handle that became the signature design for OXO’s products. The handle felt better in people’s hands, was easier to use, and looked good. Incorporating empathy for what the person using the product might need, this was design thinking at its finest.
To compete in today’s experience era, businesses need to understand the situations people are in nowadays and work from there—like OXO did—to help provide solutions to their problems. They can’t rely on traditional push marketing anymore. Marketing like that is outdated. Instead, everyone must become an engager. Regardless of title or functional role, everyone needs to not only understand how a product goes to market but also who’s buying it, touching it, using it, and talking about it—and then engage with them. This is the new engager marketing.
Everyone’s A Marketer, But Let’s Call Them Engagers
Good engagers are also good listeners and observers. They not only listen to people and examine their needs but also listen digitally and analyze and interpret the data. By implementing all of these active words, you are paying attention to the people who matter for your product or service. You must understand—on a personal level—what is important to those who buy, use, discuss, promote, and advocate your product or service.
Let’s think back to OXO again. The founder understood his wife’s situation and worked from there, designing from her perspective to find the right solution. Finding the need and then the solution must have come easily for Farber, but others had to be taught. And the earlier they could learn this design-thinking discipline, the better, as it prepared everyone to handle this shift in business. Even children in elementary school can learn to listen for and understand problems before coming up with solutions.
How do you do it? According to OXO, “We study people—lefties and righties, male and female, young and old—interacting with products, and we identify opportunities for meaningful improvement. Our thoughtful, question-everything process and relentless attention to detail uncover the best solutions for life’s everyday tasks.”
Use Science To Understand The Need And Art To Solve It
Growing up in the business world at Procter & Gamble, I learned to use a very disciplined set of marketing tools. Science has always been a part of brand management, and most companies today have adopted that focus on science and data to some degree. Experience businesses also need to rely on data science to consider what their customers think first.
This may seem like a slow process in a fast-paced world. Fortunately, artificial intelligence makes it possible to identify both needs and solutions at the necessary pace. But for competitive differentiation to happen, we still need the human touch—the art. For example, if you have two competitors in the same category—and both are equally competent, well-funded, and have good brand reputations—the difference is going to be the experience that each company provides. The company with the most compelling, personalized experience is going to win. One is going to look better, feel better, and work better, and much of that will come from the creative layer. That’s where the art comes in.
This combination of science and art is part of the design thinking concept. Use science to understand the need and art to solve the problem you precisely identify.
Fine-Tune Your Thinking—And Each Experience
Just as OXO has done, experience businesses need to work from empathetic perspectives and continuously repeat. As you fine-tune, you will also have other functions, inside and outside the company, involved in designing, manufacturing, and distributing product. Let’s say you design the best kitchen appliance, and it fits in your hand perfectly. However, the type of rubber you used is slippery and prevents your wet hands from getting a good grip. That means your design is wrong, so you will need to involve an engineer and others who can spec the right rubber. It takes a village—including the user.
Remember the following points, and you’ll be well on your way to thinking like an experience business:
- Start by asking, “What do customers want?”: Pay very close attention so you can truly understand how they use your products or services. It’s really that simple.
- Ensure personal filters and preconceived perceptions don't interpret what consumers are viewing, saying, or thinking: Understand as much as you can about each customer’s world, using observation, data, and behavioral analysis (qualitatively and quantitatively).
- Use a cross-functional, collaborative team approach to categorize groups and understand what works best for each: Imagine you are working with large-scale brands, each with millions of customers from diverse countries and cultures all around the world. Categorizing groups based on similarities will help you determine the most effective approach to take.
The New Engager Marketing Is Where It's At!
Creating experiences needs to be a thoughtful process, carried out across all functions in the organization and across all online and offline touch points. This is true for any business that wants to thrive in today’s experience era. There will be a time and place to add your perspective, but for now, it’s all about the customers and what they want. That’s the new engager marketing.
Read more ideas about the future of experience business from our #AdobeTT participants.