Branding & Marketing Take Note – The Best Experience Wins

by Admin on October 4, 2011

With the advent of the iPhone 5 being launched this month, Advertising, Branding and Marketing firms take note – The Best Experience Wins.

After the launch of the initial iPhone back in ’07, Creativity magazine a year later chose to honor the iPhone rather than an ad campaign. It marked the ad industry’s arrival at a critical juncture.  Moving forward with consumers in control of ever more of the marketing conversation and economic news getting worse, design is now displacing messaging as the engine of brand success.

Brilliant design cuts out the marketing middleman – the traditional agency writers and art directors – and creates its own media.
Like Occam’s Razor, it whittles the marketing equation down to simplest principles: the best experience wins.

Not the best promise. Not the cleverest copy. Not the Big Idea or the biggest budget.

The best experience wins.

Apple didn’t invent the smart phone. They simply transformed the users’ experience. iPhone demonstrates how focused, user-driven design thinking can be more profound than any “equal” amount of creativity applied to traditional marketing communications.

Let’s count the ways:

1. Design Has the Potency to Rearrange Markets. The iPhone dramatically accelerated the world market for smart phones as well as capturing market share for Apple. The iPhone experience also transformed the way we envision phones and our personal connectivity to everything and everyone around us.  The usability to actually make a quality call became a secondary feature set, often a negligible criteria all together.  And for an advanced digital driven product, it brought back the ‘ole Five & Dime Woolworth retail trademark, bringing products out from behind counters, allowing customers to inspect, touch and handle it before they buy.   (Interestingly enough, software has taken on a similar sensory, synaptic path in no longer just needing to solve a specific problem, entertain or fulfill a need – it needs to drive and deliver an experience.   And now, Google Takes on Apples Stores with London Chromezone)

2. Design Ain’t Cosmetics. Smarter companies have finally realized that design isn’t pretty. It’s strategy for making remarkable things happen. Tarted-up Blackberrys like “Curve” and “Pearl” outsold the original, but employees at Fortune 500 companies are clamoring for iPhones – with 93% F-500 testing or deploying them.  The iPhone design paved the way for the successful Google Android movement – it will be interesting to see which will deliver the better experience.

3. Design creates an architecture of participation. Great brands turn audiences into participants because experience is personal in ways that media can’t be. (I was with my son at the video store, yes they still exist, where he said -“Look, a new Disney movie.  He was pointing out ‘Mars Needs Moms’ and I told him I heard it wasn’t very good.  He turned to me and said, “But Dad – It’s Disney!  It has to be good.”  After further back and forth he said, “Okay Dad, we won’t rent it today – I’ll just catch it on your phone later.”) Good Design experience drives participation and brings the brand to life.   The iPhone (as well as Disney) has a top gear that most competitors don’t have. Apple opened up the platform for independent application developers and inventive users and look what happened.  It’s the market leading smart phone, over 500,000 apps available, 1 billion downloads per month, 100,000 developers have received $3 billion to date.  It grows every day, often in unexpected ways like a coral reef, as user/participants add their mites of knowledge. Sure, Apple may be controlling as to what gets released and approved as an App – but its primarily concerned with ensuring a designed experience that propels the brand.

4. Design drives the conversation. In law, res ipsa loquitur means “the thing speaks for itself” better than any argument could. A design like the iPhone speaks for itself. Sure, Apple ran ads for iPhone. But their campaign had none of the “insights” and slick imagery that are 21st century arguments for technology brands. It didn’t promise to make us cool or more productive. Instead, iPhone ads are throwbacks to Ron Popeil’s Vegematic TV demonstrations – “It slices! It dices!” – of the 1970’s that simply showed the thing in action. (Check to see an irresistible fifteen-minute version of those initial ads.)   And the new series of Google Chrome Ads deliver the same type of hands-on and personalized user experience storytelling.

WHAT SHOULD SCARE thinking people at the world’s ad & digital agencies is that these ads could easily have been done in-house.

Today’s smartest brands are working miles upstream from most agencies. They are putting more intelligence, more imagination and more money into the product experiences they provide.

Brands like Apple and Google are harbingers of a tectonic shift in what matters to people; and even today’s best Digital and Social only shops have as much to fear as any legacy agency. The social digital age is an all-way street, and creatives are no longer in control. The pathways that transmit viral messages can doom a new entry as quickly as they can build buzz. Those “Come see our cool new thing” website, blog or Pre-Galilean model of the universe driven behavior is an outdated strategy.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but clicks don’t necessarily represent real participation any more than using the TV remote to change channels. YouTube is growing ( and fall under the increasingly silly term “new media” ) but 99% of the experience is still passive viewing, like network TV on steroids. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

NEW MEDIA or OLD – DIGITAL or SOCIAL, crappy products can still look great in advertising and great products still work better in real life. By “products” I mean all the artifacts and actions of a brand – the item itself and how it does what it does, the website, its packaging, the store, how its people say “hello” through out every experienced touchpoint, on and off-line, the ease and beauty and rightness of every step of the consumer’s journey.

Advertising and Marketing can play a crucial role, but design is the broader platform because it is our experiences that shape our actions, beliefs and stories we share.

As more marketers apply design thinking to their brands, budgets may become the price that their competitors pay for mediocre design – a tax on laggards. This is good news for some of us. Products that will still need to be pushed, will keep agency creative departments busy and media shops flush.

IN A TALK at the Web 2.0 Conference, NYU media topologist Clay Shirky calculated that Americans spend 100 million hours each weekend just watching TV commercials. 100 million hours. That’s a lot of passive viewing. Especially when you figure that “only” 100 million hours of active individual intellectual effort went into creating Wikipedia so far. (If America put its mind to it, we could build another Wikipedia during the commercial breaks in a single weekend.)

The larger point is this: Your mother was right. There are much better things to do than watch TV. Most of us just don’t know what those better things are until somebody designs them for us.

Like consumers, 21st century advertisers have lots more channels on their remote, but what they really want is for their brand to be one of the consumer’s Fab Five, and have the consumer put some energy into the relationship. Brands want participation, not passivity, and the 200 billion hours that U.S. consumers now spend watching TV is where the time will come from as more compelling experiences are designed.

The question that design asks is: “What would you like consumers to do with you?” instead of “how many more messages can get them to watch?”

DO YOU WANT a “persuasion score”? Or do you want to actually change minds and shape behavior? The pressures on clients to maintain meaningful, differentiated brands in this economy will be mind-bending. As GE’s Geoffrey Immelt told the IBM CEO survey, “We’re now all just one step away from Commodity Hell.”

Not quite all. There’s only one Apple. There’s only one Google. One Facebook. They each deliver a singular experience.

And the Best Experience Wins.

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