Designing Happiness

Much has been said about the Experience Economy over the past 20 years. Some professionals talk about it as the next economic era and the logical progression of value. I agree with this thinking and have come to believe this is greatly due to the shift in consumer demand and the rapid change of goods. The race to have the latest is quickening. No longer is it about keeping up with the Joneses, it’s about try to keep up with ever-changing goods in order to achieve happiness. Somewhere along the line in history, consumers have been directed to buy more and newer goods in the promise that consumers can buy happiness.

Take a look at any advertisement on television, digital screen or a photo in a magazine or on a billboard. Its filled with smiling happy people holding the latest and greatest version of a thing. They all look happy that they have the newest thing. Manufacturers are changing models, product mixes and even design faster than the normal consumer can keep up. Why?

There seems to be this condition called Hedonic treadmill. The feeling of happiness after buying something. Unfortunately, that happiness fades quickly, especially when the manufacturers are producing newer versions of goods at a faster rate. This speed of change only shortens the Hedonic adaptation cycle and shortening that sense of being happy.

So what are consumers to do to overcome this treadmill? It begins by understanding the Hedonic treadmill and what actually helps create happiness in a consumer. It means looking at why buying things is not the answer to achieving happiness and looking to what does. In a recent article by Dr. Brooks on this subject, he states that experiences offer more value over things. Happiness can be achieved through experiences.

So, as designers who developing experiences for as economic offerings, it is key to focus on how the experience creates happiness in the consumer. In other words, design with happiness in mind. To achieve this, designers will need to keep in mind that experiences are personal and unique to each individual and that customization is at the heart of every experience, because each person experiences events differently and for different reasons. Also, positive experiences create lasting memories, memories people share.

Elixirs, Fixers and Snake Oil Mixers

Experiences, Experiences, Experiences!

It’s what everyone is taking about these days. Customer experiences, patient experiences, employee experiences and even user experiences. They seem to come in all shapes and sizes. The strange thing is, there appear to be so many “Experience Designers” and “Experience Specialist” it’s almost as if it’s the Wild West of the Business world.

Are they really selling you a solutions or is it a bit of snake oil wrapped up as an ‘Experience’?

The problem is that you, the business owner, can’t tell if these solutions are Experiences or marketing stunts bottled as experiences. Worse yet, it maybe the same old Great Customer Service concept renamed and repackaged as customer/patient/employee/user experience because so much has been written about the Experience Economy in the press. Be cautious about what you are being sold. Experiences, as economic offerings, are not stock solutions.

A true Experience that drives economic value must be created for each individual business. The Experience is a reflection of your brand and the brand promise. Experiences are about the customer doing something and time well spent with your business. It is not just about providing a solution about delivering a good or great customer service. The customer already expects that from you. No my friend, it’s about staging an interactive engagement that is memorable and creates economic value.

During the past few years large retailers have shuttered and closed. There has been much reported that consumers have shifted their attention away from things and to engaging experiences. One of these has been Toys-R-Us. In an attempt to save their business, TRU attempted to infuse experiences into their stores in order to drive more traffic back to the physical place. Many speculate that the digital shopping realm kept this from happening, and this maybe true to some extend, but I feel there is a larger issue.

The experiences TRU were providing had two major failures. The first was the experiences were not a reflection of their brand or the brand promise. These experiences were provided to TRU by outside vendors with the intention to drive sales for their goods. The experiences were not about TRU, but about those companies that sold to TRU.

The second failure was that the experience solution that was created were digital VR experiences where the children could see and interact with digital versions of the physical toys. Something that they could do in the privacy of their homes. They didn’t need to go to the store for the experiences. In addition, if they came to the store, those experiences would have been better if they were able to ‘play’ in the store with real toys.

TRU’s whole brand is wrapped up in the idea of toys, thus their name “Toys-R-Us”. Unfortunately, the experiences provided had nothing to do with TRU being all about toys and the things you could do with these toys. The TRU experience should have been an experience with the toys that kids could not do at home. TRU should have been the destination location for playing with toys.

So, if you are considering hiring a specialist to design an experience here are some simple things to keep in mind.

  • What is the customer doing in your place they can’t do anywhere else?
  • Is the experience focused on time well spent and being memorable?
  • Is the experience a manifestation of your core brand promise? (is it yours?)
  • And finally, is the experience customizable and personal to the customer?

True experiences are a value all to themselves. Customers are willing to pay more because of the experience. So when thinking about evolving from the Goods or Service economy model to that of Experiences, make sure the consultant or design firm understands you, your customers and what engagement reflects your brand. Avoid the Dr. Transformos of the world, because they are out there ready to sell you anything you are willing to believe in to make your business healthier.

Want More Customers, Stop Marketing!

Improve customer retention and enhance your bottom line by not spending money on your current marketing efforts. Stop throwing money at a low return in hopes of improving response over previous efforts. There is a better way to get a more significant ROI on marketing budgets.

Over the past few years, I had the pleasure of developing many visual concepts for B. Joseph Pine II, co-author of the Experience Economy and Infinite Possibilities. Many of the visuals that were created were from the very ideas from the books that Joe had written. The best part was—that with each drawing—I felt I was gaining a deeper understanding of every concept that Joseph Pine and James Gilmore had created. I was given a unique look into the world of modern economics, and I can tell you, there were many concepts to tackle and many sketches to create—over 500 to-date.

To carry out these 500+ illustrations, there was a lot of time spent discussing the meaning and history behind these ideas. Discussions and debates over how best to bring them visually to life. Granted, not every drawing that was created fit his presentation needs, but that’s a big part of developing a visual library around a well-known publication—conveying the concept visually.

It was during one of these discussions that Joseph presented a new concept around marketing. A concept so anti-tradition, I knew instantly that it would be controversial, and the push back from marketers and the business world would be great. The visuals needed to clearly support the idea. That idea, in his words, was ‘companies need to stop marketing, start customering.’

Stop marketing and start customering?

What is customering?

This idea is a dramatic shift in the traditional order of things. As Pine clarified, marketing was a process of pushing information out to the masses in hopes to attract customers. There’s nothing new about this process of marketing. Every company does it. It is typically the key way companies believe they need to communicate their brand message. His concept meant reversing the process of connecting with a better method called “customering.”

Much like the concept of human-centered design, customering was about seeing each customer individually and not stereotyping them into “market” groups or segments. His idea was that people want what they want—when they want it—and that each customer is unique. It is this uniqueness that marketing techniques fail to address successfully, and eventually accept low percentage returns on the effort. 

The Experience is the Marketing

Pine’s idea was to forego massive marketing campaigns and to direct your attention towards each customer you now have. Deepen the relationship through customized and personalized engagements. Stage experiences for them that are memorable and sharable. In Joseph Pine’s words “the Experience IS the Marketing.”

Every day the news reports another retailer shuttering, a bank merger, malls closing, and companies forced to close their doors because customers are no longer shopping as frequently in their stores. With the digital world expanding, more and more customers are buying online to save time and companies are faced with a surmounting dilemma of how to increase physical traffic. The solution is no longer in marketing, rather the solution is in customering—the staging of experiences in order to have customers spend time and create sharable memories.

Staging Experiences

The companies that stage experiences have a greater opportunity to capture the hearts and wallets of each customer they engage with. This engagement—or experience—also becomes the core of the stories the customer shares with their friends, family, and co-workers. Experiences create stronger brand connections that all the marketing dollars can ever produce. Experiences create customer loyalty. Again, as Pine says, ‘the Experience IS the marketing,’ and the customer becomes your brand ambassador.

If you want to learn more about the Experience Economy, staging experiences for your customers, and leveraging your marketing dollars more effectively, then give me a call.

Degression of Economic Value – Case Study Starbucks

 

Degression: a stepping or movement downward

A disclaimer. I have been a long-time “Starbuckian” and I have a minimum of 2 Grande coffee’s a week from my favorite Starbuck cafe. I enjoy the engagement of my local baristas and will continue being a patron of Starbucks in the foreseeable future.

Note of caution: Degression of economic value is driven by commoditization. When you reduce personalization and customization, you commoditize your economic offering. Progression is only achieved by making it more personal and customizable.

In the Experience Economy, Starbucks is, or was, an exemplar of how a Service provider could be an Experience stager. From the very begin of rolling out Starbucks Howard Schultz wanted to create a coffee lovers experience. As he even is quoted as saying, “Starbucks represents something beyond a cup of coffee.

By bringing the ideas of European coffee baristas and adding the elements of an experience, he created a unique and personal offering. In fact, Starbucks became the third place to gather in many people’s lives. It was much more than just a coffee shop it was a unique and authentic coffee experience. Howard Schultz believed this and even expressed this thought in a statement to the press, “People around the world, they want the authentic Starbucks experience.

Unfortunately, the fame and growth of Starbucks brings many challenges, especially from those willing to trim and standardize the custom experience. This was the beginning of the end of the Starbuck Experience as it was known. Over the years I observed many changes, some subtle some not-so subtle, but all impacting the experience.

The first noticeable shift was from the ceramic mugs to paper cups. I realize that it may have been about cost-cutting, cleanliness and consistency, but it was the first of many stones cast towards moving from the Experience to a Service model.

Next came the de-creativity and de-styling of the barista by introducing the practice of lidding the cup after creating the coffee. No more were there hearts and leaves drawn in the foam of the coffee, now there was just the plastic lid, the paper cup and the cardboard wrap. Speed became the critical factor. Move more coffee by reducing the time from purchase to acquisition.

Recently, technology has begun playing a role in this commoditization of the Starbuck Experience. Mobile apps and drive-up windows forced a control mechanism, the printed label. Quickly vanishing is the personalization and interaction of the customer and the barista for the speed and accuracy of customer’s drink pick-up. Clever hand-written names were replaced by mobile account names and printed mixes. Customers didn’t even have to engage the barista anymore. The experience is faded quickly away and been replaced by an expensive coffee service.

Finally, Starbucks has allowed the store design to seal the Starbuck Experience fate. The new cafe design actually creates the perfect assembly line production model. Four stations replace two all to improve the speed and efficiency. The first is the order station. Orders only please, no exchange of funds. Next comes the pay station. Then you verify your order with the barista, then finally, you wait at the pick-up station where you have to locate your order amongst the in-store and mobile orders that are stacking up in tiered racks. No longer is it about going beyond coffee and creating the third place. Its become about moving product as fast as possible.

Now I know there are those diehard Starbuckians like myself who would attempt to argue the issue, but one only needs to just stop, look and see that the Starbucks Experience that drew us in has been replaced by the Starbucks service.

With Howard Schultz away from the helm, an echo of warning to Starbuck’s future is not being heeded by those in control, “I am concerned about any attrition in customer traffic at Starbucks, but I don’t want to use the economy, commodity prices or consumer confidence as an excuse. We must maintain a value proposition to our customers as well as differentiate the Starbucks Experience. That is the key.

Can or will Starbuck’s regain the coffee experience it created inside the cafes excluding the Roastery? Only time will tell.

Time: The New Currency

Since the late 1950s, the history of branch banking in America has been all about being in the midst of the population. No bank could survive without being accessible in a timely fashion. Convenience became one of the prime factors for locating a branch. The focus was to reduce the time it takes to get from point A to the branch. If it was by car, banks planned around the flow of traffic. If it was a pedestrian environment, banks planned the location along the path. This was all about convenience of doing business with the bank and to ensure that the customer did not have to go out of the way. If a bank was in the path, it made sense for a customer to bank there—it was about how to better save time.

Enter technology. Now, being in the path of customers meant being readily accessible in their hands. Most transactions are performed—not in person—but online and through mobile devices. Technology quickly became the ultimate time saver. This opened the question, ‘”Where do you locate now and what should the branch become?”

The best way to address this question is to change the framework of the question. Before it was about doing something for the customer they could not do on their own, now banking needs to refocus away from saving customers time to creating places where time is well spent. The only way to do this is by going beyond services that are tailored towards doing for the customer to creating things to do with the customer. Stage an engagement that is memorable and sharable that the customer does within the branch.

Here’s the idea. Take some ‘thing’ that is usually used at a bank and create some activity around that thing. This is called “Ing the Thing”, a principle in the Experience Economy. Take a normal action of a thing and create an engaging activity around it that people come to do or watch others do. Now, exaggerate the idea to make it a spectacle.

Look at the classic piggy bank. The piggy bank is a great ‘thing’ to ‘ing’. First, make it really oversized. Now, stage an activity around the oversized piggy bank that generates interest. Maybe it squeals when people put coins in it. It becomes a photo-worthy opportunity for your visitors and becomes a great fund-raiser. “The Piggy Bank That Is Saving….” Use whatever best applies. Saving—the action word—now takes on a new meaning and purpose.

 

Cracking the Safe.

Any object or thing can be a source of an experience if you take the action related to it and leverage it as the activity. Now the branch becomes a stage for an experience and a place to engage customers and make memories. Then you change from time well saved into time well spent.

 

Need help ‘Inging the Thing’ send me an email and let’s see what we can do together.

 

Past-Present-Future of thinkAbout

Had a wonderful and thought-provoking time at this year’s thinkAbout in Cleveland. Sadly, it’s the last event after 20 years. I am proud to say I have attended 10 of the 20 gatherings. It all ended at the place it began, Cleveland, Ohio.

The event was themed around time and the #ExperienceEconomy evolution and hosted by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. Each segment was separated by the past, present and future. Below are the visual translations.

The past was a tour from the beginning through last year’s gathering in New Orleans. Each city had a theme and usually had some tie in with the award winners. I have always imagined what city or place Joe and Jim would choose had I ever won an EXPY. Probably somewhere that embraced visual thinking or illustration. Oh well, its fun to dream.

The next day took us to the present in Jim and Joe’s wacky time machine. They shared the ideas and directions they were pondering for the next evolution of the Experience Economy. From time as currency to the Hinduization of the digital world. 32 million deities now transformed into 32 million apps on our mobile devices. When we wake to the chiming of our mobile devices it is the same as banging the pots to wake the deities. We do not worship them, we use them.

Our world view of the Experience Economy changed as Jim and Joe unveiled the next progression of thinkAbout, thinkAbout4U. A client focused gather mirroring the process of thinkAbout for Experience stagers.

We also discovered the last two award winners. For the EXPY, Carnival cruises took the prize for this year’s stager and for the EMA, Ty Koon received the honors as Experience Manager.  All in all, a great time of discussion, contemplation and investigation.

One thing I took away is that mobile technology is reigniting the lizard brain in all off us. We now react with Fight-Flight or Respond. This makes me wonder if we as humans are becoming the greatest experiment of Pavlov’s digital dog. (bing)

The second thing I took away is that Experiences should be designed to provide happiness, As goes of experience, we pay extra for that experience that makes us happy. No one pays to be made miserable, that’s called customer service.

Until next time, keep your eyes to the future and keep staging experiences that are photo-worthy.