The $20-billion opportunity

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on January 20, 2018


Brands such as McDonald's and Mattel (Barbie) spoke of how they had to contend with an evolving customer.

Brands such as McDonald's and Mattel (Barbie) spoke of how they had to contend with an evolving customer.

How your company can make the transition to managing an experience-driven economy

“A digital experience can take people to a magical place. Imagine how, with a little phone and a bit of augmented reality, clickable, buyable items are at your fingertips, transforming the shopping experience,” says Shantanu Narayen, global President and CEO, Adobe, one of the world’s largest software companies.

Selling experiences — and not products — is not a new thing for marketers. For over two decades now, businesses know that they ought to orchestrate memorable experiences for customers so that the memory becomes the product. And the customer will stay loyal and return. The travel and hospitality sectors have been the biggest believers of this philosophy.

But, at the recently concluded Adobe Summit at Las Vegas, Narayen and his colleagues Brad Rencher, EVP, digital marketing, and John Mellor, VP, Business Strategy and Development, were urging digital marketers to become experience creators over the web, mobile, physical and virtual reality worlds. Rencher calculates that the opportunity size of the experience economy in the digital world is over $20 billion. So what does creating a great experience on digital involve?

There was a time when going digital was a simple matter of moving from print to web. Today, a digital experience needs to straddle the physical world and the online world and blend in virtual and augmented reality. In other words, it is about delivering great content over different media, across multiple platforms seamlessly. People today keep switching between the online and offline world and between different screens. So the challenge for the marketer in the age of multiple devices and the Internet of Things is to make sure the same experience is moving across all the platforms and screens and stays continuous, consistent and compelling.

As Narayen says, in the digital economy, consumer expectations are hyper-elevated. And expectations keep changing. What was five-star, very soon becomes two-star. To cater to heightened expectations, businesses need to adapt to an experience-driven economy and technology today is making that possible. More and more marketers are managing to craft unforgettable experiences using digital tools. It was such a digital experience crafted through irreverent images, clever public service announcements, emoji-led billboards, GIFs and straddling across various platforms that led Hollywood superhero flick Deadpool, starring Marvel’s anti-hero, to shatter all box office records.

Start with KYC

In many ways delivering a great experience starts with getting the basics right. According to Rencher, the four rules of delivering great experiences are knowing and respecting your audience, speaking in one voice, making technology seamless and transparent, and finally, delighting the customer. Knowing your audience begins with data and investing in analytics helps in listening to the customer.

Take the case of McDonald’s, which started on a digital transformation journey only 18 months ago. McDonald’s CMO, Deborah Wahl, describes how McDonald’s had zero digital interactions with customers just about two years ago. “We did not even have an app and we looked at response time in hours.” Today, the company does a lot of listening on social media. “We have a mention in the social space every one-and-a-half seconds,” says Wahl. “Listening taught us that consumers want offers,” she says.

It also taught Big Mac that consumers want healthier food and more ways of ordering. So Big Mac delivered a new customer experience that threw up interesting offers over a brand new mobile app that already has 10 million downloads. It created kiosks for new ordering options and now has faster-than-ever response times to customer service queries. Wahl points out that there are a lot of shiny new toys in the digital space but the company resisted the temptation to try them all. “Making the commitment to becoming an experience business is about prioritising the right solutions,” she says. And in doing little things that could be delivered to scale. “There is so much incremental power in little things,” she sums up.

Delivering what customers want

For toymaker Mattel too, delivering great experiences began with listening. Richard Dickson, the charismatic President and COO of the company, describes how Barbie, the most famous of Mattel’s creations, had lost relevance and come under increasing attack from activists, especially for her figure. He says, “Barbie had become an inconsistent voice. We needed to reboot Barbie.” To do that, the company tuned into what “moms and kids” were saying.

The moms felt that a too-thin, fair and pink and feminine Barbie was sending the wrong message to kids.

So the doll evolved. Barbie became curvy. She came in sporty, short-haired versions, embraced diversity to fit into any culture. Today, Barbie is available in 20 different skin tones, hair types, body types, and facial structures. Barbie’s transformation instilled new purpose into the brand.

“We created brand content through product innovation,” says Dickson.

As for the kids, they wanted a doll that could talk. So Mattel worked with artificial intelligence and virtual reality to deliver a doll that could converse with children. Meanwhile, Dickson says Mattel realised that it faced new competition. Kids had things other than toys to play with — gadgets, apps, tablets, television. “Our competition was not another toy but media,” he says.

Parents also wanted toys to be more than playthings — they wanted them to become learning development tools.

So, Mattel had to transform itself. From being a product-oriented toy company, Dickson says Mattel has reinvented itself into an experience-led learning development business. “We want to create valuable relationships with children and their families that transcend our brand,” he says. Now, each of Mattel’s brands — from Hot Wheels to Fisher Price products — is undergoing transformation using technology such as 3D printing to lead the way.

Exposing the inner workings

Alma Derricks, VP, Sales and marketing, of the iconic Canadian entertainment company Cirque du Soleil says her brand is on the right side of history when it comes to experiences.

Transforming her business, she says, is about unpacking the components of the experience and lowering the volume a bit to build more intimate connections with the consumer. “The most radical thing we can do is to be more intimate and closer to the audience and show the person behind the grease paint,” she says.

So, the audience is invited to come behind the curtains, backstage, to experience what goes behind a Cirque show. Some of the professional performers now hold master classes for aspiring dancers and musicians. These are conducted on the Cirque stage and families and friends can watch.

“It’s about exposing the inside — the inner workings of what you do,” explains Derricks. In other words, it’s building a transparent product.

Tech as the transformer

The common thread behind all these transformations into experience-driven businesses is the use of technology and digital marketing tools. This is the sweet spot that Adobe is aiming for.

The showstopper launch at the Las Vegas Summit was the Adobe Marketing Cloud Device Co-op. The simple idea behind the Device Co-op is to target people and not devices.

Only Facebook and Google have the capability of identifying the user as the same person across devices as sites often have authentication events (log-ins) using them.

But the Device Co-op — which is in private beta and expects a roll-out at the end of year — will allow Adobe Marketing Cloud members to pool their data on device usage so that they get a single view of the customer.

It hopes to address the current problems of fragmentation, inaccurate conversion data and missing personality trait data — even as it promises to keep the privacy promise. How that will pan out remains to be seen as it depends on how many brands join in.

Well, the tools are there, but ultimately it is all about the execution — how the brands leverage them all to tell great stories and deliver great experiences.

As Adobe’s Mellor summed it up, “What gets your heart rate going and makes you teary-eyed is the experience. The challenge for marketers is to take data and science, combine it with stories that evoke emotion. Because emotion drives change.”

The writer was in Las Vegas at the invitation of Adobe

Published on March 31, 2016

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