It used to be the case in product-focused organisations, that the logo represented the most important element of a brand’s identity.
The design process was primarily focused on the visual and physical aspects of a product, while services were essentially an afterthought. This meant the relationship many manufacturers had with their customers seldom went beyond the initial point of sale.
But that simply isn’t enough anymore. The consumer market is increasingly saturated by products and, with so many platforms and content streams being offered, people don’t have the cognitive bandwidth to grow affection for all of them.
Increasingly, it is the way a brand behaves that will matter across every point of interaction with people, online or offline. Brands must now go beyond the initial connection to build long-term relationships and offer far greater value. The key to this lies in services.
The Emergence Of Service Design
A relatively new discipline, service design, incorporates user experience design and psychology and offers businesses innovative solutions to meet this challenge. Originally developed in the public sector, service design is already helping brands rethink their entire ecosystem to focus more on adding meaningful value and creating a holistic service for consumers.
Many brands are already creating services to capture attention, and in doing so, disrupting both the status quo and market chains. Start-ups and unexpected competitors (like suppliers and distributors) threaten larger corporations as they create useful services that quickly expand past their product at launch.
This trend has been building in the toys and gaming industry for some time. Games like World of Warcraft not only sell the product of the game, but also a service in which their audience can create and share an identity for themselves; a model that ensures growth and personal investment in the brand.
This emphasis mirrors the movement of supermarket chains continuing to invest heavily in digital services, like Tesco with its Blinkbox offering and its own tablet, Hudl. These brands expand services to meet their audience’s needs, shattering industry boundaries in the process.
Sports apparel manufacturers are playing the new game aggressively too. adidas miCoach is a service now supported by a product: Smart Run is a sensor-laden watch that gives runners individualised real-time coaching as they exercise, while their data flows to the cloud.
Michelin is a great example. Connectivity and smart devices enabled the tyre manufacturer to completely shift its business based not on selling tyres, but providing the mobility and safety of tyres as a service. With sensors and intelligence embedded in the tyres, their performance is monitored with a network of support available to ensure that problems can be addressed.
Abandoning Products For Pure Services
There are some companies opting to abandon ownership of products altogether - Uber and Airbnb are prime examples. Both are purely engaging services—they simply provide the service infrastructure to connect people to the service they need, in a personal and easy to use way.
All of these brands have woken up to the fact that services deliver value over time and products are only paid for once. Brands need to consider their wider engagement with audiences and serve a larger purpose to them. Pushing products will not be enough, but neither will be extraneous services that just add to the virtual noise and clutter of our lives.
With people’s time and energy becoming even more sacred, we’ll want products to aid, empower, educate and delight us. Adidas and others are creating services that can grow with people’s evolving needs, thus building powerful and enduring relationships with their customers.
In the digital economy of the 21st century, an approach that highlights the importance of the customer experience will be paramount. Those organisations that persist in believing they are interesting in and of themselves, and stubbornly clinging to commodity-based business models, are doomed to a lingering death.