As some very smart people have written before, our present social era is about so much more than social media—rather, the social era is about the relationships that form between brands and users.
Interestingly, you could argue that a person actually does form a relationship with a brand in the same way that she does a human being—it's the sum of the interaction you have.
In the language of business-ese, these interactions between brands and people are called touchpoints, those places where folks get acquainted with the brand.
As value-chain enthusiast Brian Klapper writes for the Harvard Business Review, a lot of innovation happens not just in making the most amazing product, but in improving on those touchpoints, re-evaluating those interactions, continually improving on the customer courtship.
Touchpoint innovation comes in a variety of flavors:
Like when customers participate in product launches. Vitaminwater, for instance, asked its Facebook fans to select their next flavor.
Some sectors are suited to more in-depth co-creation. Like with apparel, in the way Burberry's Bespoke service lets you tailor a trench coat to your specifications. Prefer a yarmouth cut, a throat-latch collar, and gabardine cuff straps? Burberry's got you.
On the opposite end, you can differentiate yourself by making the buy-and-return process super easy: as Klapper says, "they reinvented the shoe-buying experience by offering multiple reviews of each product, great multidimensional views, free overnight delivery, and free returns." After you do that, you can buy an entire downtown.
Alternatively receiving a physical product can become super amazing, to the point that people call the opening-up-the-package process unboxing. It can get a little weird: As Dezeen's Sam Jacob writes, the things we unbox are our deepest desires—tech and fashion:
Our fascination with them is deep and unreasonable, verging on the fetishistic. Shiny gadgets and new outfits are the sites onto which we project our fullest consumer psyche, the things that we imagine can extend us, transform us and improve us.
When unboxing happens, then, you get a touchpoint innovation that borders on ritual.
Hat tip: Harvard Business Review