The Age of Experience

Franco Varriano
January 19, 2021
 min read
"[...]the best experiences are both novel and familiar at the same time. That's something of a paradox. But it's also kind of like how we like what we like, but we always appreciate spicing it up a bit so that it's a little more new to us." - Dr. John Maeda

In today's competitive and connected market, businesses of all sizes need to keep evolving.

This is increasingly done by viewing your product or service through the lens of the customer.

Amazon is one of the most customer-focused companies. Founder Jeff Bezos often talks about why this is the case and it's nicely summed up in this thought:

"Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don't yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf."

This exact thinking is the driving force behind customer experience (CX). Customers will know a good experience when they, well, experience it, and won’t hesitate to talk about it. But creating a great customer experience is a challenging feat.

The evolution of customer experience

It has only recently become possible to understand and anticipate what customers want.

This data is often taken for granted today, but it wasn't so long ago that marketing (and any other advertising or sales strategy) was aimed at the mass market and monitored with basic tools.

Let's take a look at some of the phases that have led us here.

Mass market (~1945-2000)

Picture Mad Men style advertising firms and you’ve got the early days of sales and marketing. The available mediums (newspapers, radio, television, billboards) were leveraged to convey a brand message to the largest audience possible. These tools had no means of further segmenting or identifying their own customers, and target audiences were more culturally homogenous.

By casting a wide net over a single geography, brands took their best shot at generating new customers and gaining consumer awareness.

With the increased sophistication of these customers, technology, and tactics, these brands increasingly needed new ways to pursue specific customer needs through determined channels of communication.

Social media (~2005-2015)

Enter: commercial internet and social media platforms.

These tools spent their early years building rich demographic profiles and targeting systems.

They then created "self-serve" tools, which meant the barrier to entry (in terms of skills, cost, etc.) was significantly lowered for businesses. This made these tools accessible to anyone with a credit card.

The rapid adoption of mobile smartphones continued to connect customers, and allowed businesses to collect data about their habits and tastes.

This has enabled the incredible rise of direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands over the last decade. It is now easier than ever before to reach customers—though it's increasingly becoming more expensive to do so through these original channels.

These new internet-enabled tools opened up the world of marketing for small businesses. No longer did they need massive budgets or highly specialized skills to reach customers. Anyone could compete with the giants from their living room.

The age of customer experience (2015 onwards)

Steve Jobs once said that "You've got to start with customer experience and work back toward the technology." This is where we’re at today.

As we've highlighted before, new technologies have rapidly empowered one-to-one marketing and hyper-personalization of the customer journey.

The ideal customer experience takes these concepts one step further. It ensures a seamless end-to-end experience that is collaborative, engaging, and memorable.

If we're truly working towards this type of customer experience, we need the right tools to truly personalize our products. This is a huge gap in the market today—though it is highly in demand.

The age of customer experience won't come overnight. For the most part, we’re still favoring customization over personalization, and there are several generations of personalized product experiences that we will expect along the way.

What we know for sure is this: gone are the traditional worlds of mass market and luxury goods. The modern customer is all about the Aspirational Economy. This is defined by a degree of connection to the creator, personalization, and a sense of community with other people who are also in the know.

In the Aspirational Economy, individuals are empowered more than ever and have instant access to new ideas and information. Gen-Z, for example, is well aware of what it takes to manage and blend different personalities to fit into various online communities.

Personalization and remix tools will enable customers to build off each other's unique creativity and personalities, while also looping in ideas from emerging trends. Individuals are empowered to inject more of themselves into what they consume, what they produce, and in the many communities to which they belong.

Where does this leave us today?

“For the moment, the greatest opportunity lies in the middle space between the twentieth-century idea that companies created new products and customers passively consumed them and the futuristic vision in which consumers will design everything they need for themselves.” - Tim Brown, Change by Design

The paradox of choice effectively states that you make people happier not by giving them more options but by stripping away as many as you can.

The world of business has long been focused on this concept. Remove all friction. Make it simple. Make it standard.

With personalization, we’re no longer striving for this uniform, friction-free world. Instead, we reach for one of co-creation where a personalized remix is achieved through the deep and immersive integration of self-identity and collaborative iterations.

Your customers and fans expect to be able to shop or engage with your brand from their phone, on-the-go, at home and at work, and soon everywhere else. The growing expectation is for an increasingly fast and seamless experience: in store, online, with the products they create with your brand.

Marketers and business operators are increasingly realizing they must adopt an engaging, collaborative relationship with potential customers long before they buy anything - and that is increasingly also extending into experiences, not just advertising.

That experience is the key to future success. The age of customer experience is here— how will you respond?

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