What We Learned from Making Consumer Experiences with Major Brands

1. The fear of change is… changing

The nature of innovation involves change, and many businesses have reservations about disrupting themselves too much. After all, change can often seem like a scary thing.

In 2020, there’s been a noticeable shift – the aptitude for risk has changed. Businesses have been forced to change by something well beyond their control, and no doubt the ‘pandemic’ will be referenced in the PESTLE analysis of every university dissertation for years to come.

We’ve witnessed this attitude shift firsthand and several of our clients are now looking at previous “no go” areas to ensure their businesses are future-proofed and able to meet new behavioral change – namely owning their own first-party data, new distribution models, the entire customer journey, and ‘nice to have’ technology now becoming ‘must-have’.

2. Why you don’t need to invest as much as you think

Innovative consumer experiences don’t always mean expensive but they do always mean hard work. It’s not easy. The level of investment needed obviously depends on what you are looking to achieve, but we’ve found that developing tests for very specific hypotheses can be delivered quickly and efficiently to help ladder up to larger business cases.

This could be something simple like using a paper (yes, remember that?) prototype to test a consumer proposition before committing to a development resource. Simple.

3. The areas of tech that are under-utilized

There is incredible technology available to businesses at the moment, that many simply do not realize. Here are a few we’ve been using and keeping an eye on in the last year:

Voiceflow – An incredible piece of software that we use to develop working prototypes for voice skills. It’s all drag-and-drop and you’re able to create complex conversation flows quickly and easily. We used it to prototype our own products before launch, as well as quick prototype experiences for clients.

Personify XP – Online cookie data is becoming a big problem for brands. PersonifyXP has created a platform that helps brands optimize online experiences based on anonymous user data, which is well worth looking into if you’re operating eCommerce.

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Dragonfly.ai – Another piece of tech that helps brands with optimization and insight. It uses some incredibly complex algorithms to show how the human brain perceives a landing page or, in the retail environment, an in-store shelving display or product packaging. It’s a really interesting use of technology and another potential data point for brands to consider if they are looking to improve and consolidate digital and physical experiences.

We’re not in any way affiliated with them. I’m simply sharing real-world tools for real-world usage.

4. Getting internal staff on board

The development of truly groundbreaking, digital experiences or new ways of working needs the input of lots of different types of stakeholders across your business – anyone from the finance team to operations might be needed. Your staff needs to be on board with the vision and feel empowered to help facilitate the change.

Our work is often supported with clickable prototypes so that people can really understand what the new experience ‘feels’ like to use by having it in their hands. It’s remarkable how quickly an idea lands when it moves from a presentation and onto a mobile device. I’ve heard “why aren’t we doing this already?” in four senior leadership meetings in the last 6 months – all triggered by holding a working prototype.

5. Innovate outside, accelerate inside

Large corporate structures, policies, and politics can stifle innovation (but not always), and incredible ideas might get overlooked or ignored because they haven’t come from the ‘right’ department or stakeholder.

We’ve found an increasing number of companies are needing to operate and innovate outside of the main corporate structure with entirely separate skunk-works type teams. They have the funding and support of a major business but are able to operate with more autonomy and agility. Testing and development are faster and insight can be generated quickly before being brought into the fold when proven, leading to faster change at less risk. If you feel restricted by the speed and agility of your organization then this may be the solution for you.

6. Your customers might be eyeing up your lunch

If you are selling via an online or physical retailer, your budget might be spent to inform their go-to-market and product development strategy. Some own-brand products have seen growth of 48% YOY for the last 12 months so you cannot rely on your customers for your own business success.

The watch-out here is data. Brands are reliant on retailers for consumer data and insights but this is often poor, protected, not direct, and (probably most importantly) not live. Additionally, this information will also help you reduce your reliance on media spend to drive your business.

7. Understand your consumer but don’t waste time doing so

In today’s world, you need to work quickly. Brands that spend six months on research programs may well understand the customer needs… of six months ago, but they could be very different from today.

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There are means and ways of generating real-time feedback and customer insight quickly – exit surveys on your website, snap polls on social, or, more interestingly, building very specific landing pages or microsites to test and develop propositions and products targeted at very specific audience types. We reference the McSpaghetti test regularly, but obviously using a landing page, not a menu!

8. Think consumer-first

The harsh reality is that consumers do not care about your adverts and they care a lot less about your brand values than you do. What they do care about is themselves, the service you provide, and the experience they have when dealing with you. And if they can get better elsewhere, they will.

Products can be replicated with relative ease, but experiences – the real stand-out customer experiences – are incredibly difficult to emulate. Your experience can be the differentiation you need, so think less about what you want and more about what the consumer needs. Your sales and success will follow.

9. Make sure you measure

If you don’t know your consumer’s lifetime value, your cost-per-acquisition, and the leavers to improve it, then you’re in trouble. The 90’s finished two decades ago, so I would argue it’s time to move on from blind BAS scores and focus on real numbers that you can control.

The CPG businesses we’ve been working with realize that traditional, mindset-based advertising is not good enough and are instead looking to startup businesses for inspiration. Specifically, their approach to performance marketing, where every single pound (or dollar) spent can map back to an ROI or value of some description. If you can’t measure it, you’re at a big disadvantage, and this can cause real issues if you are operating within a culture that does not understand how powerful a D2C experience can be for a brand.

10. Disrupt yourself or someone else will

If you are not aware of how your business might be disrupted then someone else is. They will come out of nowhere to take a significant chunk of your market share.

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Our clients are running regular innovation and creative sprints solely focused on emerging technology use cases, addressing and understanding behavioral shifts, and introspective analysis of their own business to understand the target operating model they should be working towards. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find, and will be scared at what you don’t.