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What Promises Can Your Consumer Experience Make?

"I promise." It's a simple statement. One uttered by children trying to convince their parents that they will be good, by husband and wife on their wedding day (and every week on trash day). A promise builds a strong emotional connection between two people. They are simple words, but when spoken from the heart (and delivered on), they form the foundation for meaningful relationships—and consumer experiences.

Meaningful consumer experiences are based on a relationship between brands and people. By clearly promising something to people that is authentic and relevant, brands can increase the value of their products and services and connect on an emotional level.

camperCompanies that deliver great consumer experiences understand the importance of a promise. Beyond a communication device, a good promise defines what a brand is willing to do for its customers and delivers on that through a series of artifacts. A good promise is simple and clear. It's relevant to people, but if it's only relevant it remains empty. As we wind down the age of overabundance, people are exhausted by empty promises. An effective promise must also be an authentic expression of the brand—something that a company cares deeply and passionately about. A promise built on relevancy and authenticity forms the foundation of a relationship built on trust. Today, people are looking for that.

A handful of companies are willing to make meaningful promises. The Spanish shoe company Camper promises that your life will be better if you slow down and walk. Camper shoes are simple and built for walking. Its stores have no elaborate fixtures, just shoe boxes stacked with shoes on top of them—an expression of Camper's commitment to simplicity and slowing down.

remediesBilly Reid, a fashion designer out of Florence, Alabama, promises to bring back southern hospitality in the age of 500 friends, emoticons and text abbreviations. His clothing stores are reminiscent of southern houses complete with whiskey bars. Remedies, a new brand of first aid products, promises simple solutions to whatever ails you. Help Remedies' first six products are packaged in biodegradable molded paper pulp and embellished only with the does-what-it-says product name: Help I Have A Headache; Help I Have An Aching Body; Help I Have Allergies; Help I've Cut Myself; Help I Have A Blister; and Help I Can't Sleep. The results are deep emotional connections between people and brands.

So why don't more companies have clear promises? Because it's difficult to do, particularly for larger companies. A promise is a personal, intimate commitment. It often requires going out on a limb and taking a risk. Larger companies struggle with consensus building. Group writing exercises move things through the organizational system, but lose meaning in the process. Today's over saturated consumer doesn't register watered down promises that make everyone happy. They respond to sharp focus and clear promises.

The great thing about promises is that they are difficult to copy. Products and services can be copied, but promises are so deeply embedded into the culture of a company that they are difficult to copy. What do you promise your consumers?

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
Browse more blogs by our Expert Designers

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.