Does Your Company Support Consumer Experience Innovation?

A few years ago, we were asked by a regional coffee roaster to redefine the coffee experience for fine dining. We knew that Americans drank coffee after dinner for functional purposes (to wake/sober up), but we wanted to understand how we could create a more emotional experience. We grabbed our notepads, went into the field, drank a lot of coffee, studied coffee rituals from different cultures and ultimately crafted a compelling coffee experience that could have resurrected the after dinner coffee ritual in America. The client loved it, but never brought it to market. Why?

nike plusIt used to be that you could invent a widget, patent it and dominate a market. Today that's becoming more and more difficult due to the mass-commoditization of products. From Microsoft to BP, companies that have traditionally won with product and business innovations are trying to create value by delivering better consumer experiences—integrated product and service experiences that attract and engage consumers and extend that relationship over time. These companies know that winning in the future means managing a portfolio of innovation that includes business, technology and consumer experience. They aspire to deliver experiences as compelling as Apple and Whole Foods, but few have the culture it takes to deliver these types of experiences.

Like our coffee roasters, many companies are attracted to the concept of consumer experience, but are hampered by the very cultures that made them great at delivering product and business innovations. They are often looking for the next "silver bullet"—a single product or service that they can roll out—and struggle with the idea that great experiences can be a collection of seemingly ordinary things. Their organizational structures have evolved into functional silos that are efficient at bringing new products and services to market, but not effective at delivering deep, rich experiences across multiple touch points. Consensus-based decision-making prevents them from creating strong stories that are necessary to create real value. The result is an overemphasis on what (offering) they are delivering not the why (promise) and how (delivery) it is delivered.

Creating successful consumer experiences requires shifting the way companies think about innovation and how they are organized to deliver it. Companies need to give up trying to be everything to everybody, discover their authentic DNA, be willing to take a stand for something and deliver on it. Companies need to understand that myth, metaphor and theme create real value and that there are rigorous methods used to identify the right meaning-creating devices. They need to develop new research tools that unearth deep consumer insights, rather than just scratching the surface by asking the consumers what they want; new decision making methods that don't water down ideas; and, different organizational structures and values that embrace the consumer experience, not just organizational efficiencies.

rapha racingSmaller companies like Rapha Racing get it. Created to "celebrate the glory through suffering" of the road cyclist, Rapha delivers an integrated consumer experience that extends from this single promise across a diverse range of touch points including apparel, a magazine, a racing team, guided tours of some of the most epic rides in Europe. They are equally focused on the why, what and how (promise, offering and delivery), and their loyal following is willing to pay a premium for their jerseys, bibs and bags. Their business has doubled over the last year and their average price is twice that of competitive gear.

Larger companies like Nike are rethinking how they are organized to deliver better consumer experiences like the small guys. Nike is transforming its organizational structure from a product innovation orientation (shoes, apparel, equipment) to a consumer experience one (basketball, running, soccer) in order to deliver deeper, richer stories. It's a long way from the waffle shoe to Nike Plus, but Nike is making the moves it needs to deliver innovative consumer experiences and round out its innovation portfolio.

These companies are making the competency and cultural changes necessary to win with consumer experience innovation. Does your culture support consumer experience innovation?

Over the last several years the innovation discussion has shifted from a focus on product and business innovation to consumer experience. Companies are increasingly interested in creating value by delivering better consumer experiences, but many are not quite sure how to get there. The results have ranged from a proliferation of Apple-like Genius Bars to frustrated project teams whose projects never make it to market. These companies are finding it surprisingly difficult to deliver great consumer experiences. This week, Steve McCallion explores some of the challenges companies face when trying to deliver consumer experience innovation.

Read Steve McCallion's blog Beyond the Widget
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Steve McCallion is a skilled innovation architect and brand strategist with a rare balance of design sensibility and strategic thinking. He has led groundbreaking work including redefining Umpqua Bank's role as an anchor for community prosperity, creating Sirius Satellite Radio's award-winning experience for the "iPod fatigued" and working with real estate developers Gerding Edlen to create more meaningful neighborhoods. His other clients include Xerox, Black & Decker, Whirlpool, FedEx, McDonald's, Coleman, Kenwood, and Compaq.

Steve's primary charge is to foster Ziba's consumer experience practice. He founded the company's award-winning Design Research and Planning practice group which has developed many proprietary research and design planning methodologies that have helped numerous clients understand the essence of their customers, win design awards, obtain patents and succeed in the market. He was named as one of Fast Company's Masters of Design in 2006.

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  • Tim Mathis

    Steve, very interesting article. I also think a big opportunity for many of these companies is reinveting the retail experience by leveraging shopper insights to better influence the shopper. In the end this can lead to an enhanced top and bottom line performance.