These days, it’s hard to look far without seeing people and organizations talking about the importance of designing experiences for customers, employees, partners, and so on. Experience design can be described as “a deliberately applied discipline for a design that is driven by considering the interactions between people, brands, emotions, tasks and entities (where entities can be a company, products, services, tools, processes etc.).”
While the design of experiences and how everything comes together to evoke emotions and behaviors has been the key to success for a long time, the increase in “buzz” and coverage has caused elevated conversations across all organizational functions—such as marketing, brand, product, engineering, and support to name a few.
These conversations have led to the need to take a more cross-functional view to designing experiences and require a look at the whole ecosystem in which the experience will materialize. When we refer to ecosystems, we are talking about all of the components that come together to create the experience, such as applications, services, physical spaces, people, processes, etc. The need to understand the full ecosystem has also paved the way for methodologies that look at how common measures and goals can be used to align different, potentially previously siloed functions, enabling each player to understand how they contribute to the overall experience as well as to enable decision makers to consider impacts that can occur up and down stream. For example, a decision by the product team that can impact the support function, or, a decision by the marketing team that impacts product, etc.
With the convergence of several functions necessary to deliver on the Experience agenda, it is clear that brand and marketing play a large role. So, we are joined by Nicole Strong, a Brand Strategist at Quarry who draws on her background in anthropology to seed customer-centricity and holistic thinking into the heart of her work. Today, she shares her views on the topic of how the increased focus on Experience ecosystems impacts brand, and brand strategy.
Q: In your experience, what does the concept of ecosystems mean to brand strategy?
“The metaphor of an ‘ecosystem’ is really helpful when we think about brand strategy. Brand is ultimately something that your customers and prospects own—it’s the sum of their perceptions, which coalesce as they conduct their lives. So, when we think in terms of ‘ecosystem,’ we’re reminded by its connotations that the brand strategy needs to serve something that is interconnected and alive.”
A good reminder that the perception your audience has is made up of all of their interactions, and composes what they remember of your brand, as well as what is likely shared in their interactions with others.
Q: How do you see your role in serving this?
“As a Brand Strategist, I see my role as both the author and champion of strategy. As ‘author,’ I often consult with colleagues who possess specialized knowledge—pertaining to different parts of the ecosystem—and then knit the pieces together to tell a story that we can all rally behind and use to understand the path forward. That then facilitates my role as champion—rather than the sole owner—of the brand strategy.”
This view of bringing the whole organization together to create the story is one often seen in organizations that demonstrate higher levels of CX maturity. Some organizations earlier on in their CX journey may still think of Experience as an “add-on,” rather than something that has been woven into the very essence of how they operate. It is clear that it takes the mind shift of the whole organization to understand their collective and individual responsibilities in bringing the Experience agenda to fruition. This can cause organizations several challenges when trying to become one in which an authentic Experience focus is a core part of its culture.
Q: What are some of the challenges you have seen organizations go through in the last year or so?
“Making the big decisions: which persona do we choose as our primary target, which logo do we choose, do we change our name, etc.? Big decisions should be tough—that’s why they’re ‘big’ decisions. But, sometimes they are tougher than they need to be. There is a counterintuitive phenomenon where the more data we have, and/or the more data-reliant an organization is, the more difficult these big decisions become. We become conditioned to expect numbers to reveal the objectively correct decision. For many tactical decisions, this works exceedingly well. However, in the realm of bigger strategic decisions there is rarely a single, objectively correct decision—there are many correct decisions. This can be painfully uncomfortable and even paralyzing.”
The topic of data certainly seems to cause organizations several different challenges. One aspect is in using data to genuinely understand your customers and define what a successful experience is for them. In our research, we have found that from Fortune 100 companies to successful start-ups, and investors alike, they all have shared that understanding what success is defined as, is critical to being able to drive towards it as well as aid in smarter decision making.
Many organizations start their journey by introducing tools that enable them to gather and view all of their data in one place; however, we also observe the crippling effect of the very same capability. While such tools are feature rich and provide visually pleasing dashboards, often they do not always spotlight a real focus on the data that matters or can lack integrations with other relevant data sources that can better support the decisions that are being made. While the focus on data by these organizations is commendable, there is an opportunity to get more value from how they leverage their data, that can increase their return on investments likely made in implementing such tools.
There are so many best practices and checklists when it comes to tools for data and using data as a part of an Experience strategy, that many organizations with the best of intentions follow it without thinking about what they need to know, what decisions they need to make, and what is best for their scenario. To begin unwrapping the complexities of the overwhelming data landscape, it is useful to think about what the purpose of the data is.
Q: In your experience, what are some ways that organizations can overcome the challenges faced when using data in decision making?
“The best way to overcome this decision paralysis is to get in front of it. Here are a few different ways you might do so:
1 - Reverse plan research, starting from the big decision you need to make. A good way to start is completing the sentence, ‘If we knew [blank] then we’d be able to make a good decision about [blank].’ And, make sure the knowledge gap (the first blank) is reasonably knowable.
2 - Give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable at decision time. Talk openly about the nature of the decision. Remind yourself and your colleagues that there are many right decisions, rather than a single clear answer revealed by the data. Know that feeling utterly comfortable is a sign that you are breaking no new ground.
3 - Engage a trusted partner to facilitate the decision. There are a number of facilitation techniques that can help you through the decision-making process—especially when it involves a group of stakeholders. In addition to leading the process, a third party can bring a neutral, fresh perspective.”
One technique that can help is having an “exploration session” with all parties. This can aid the funneling, discussing, and ideating with data constructively. Having an understanding of what success is across the whole Ecosystem can help the explorations converge on something that is meaningful and based on the moments that truly impact the overall experience. Often, there will be several ideas, and as Nicole states, “there is rarely a single, objectively correct decision.” Understanding the feasibility, effort, cost, resource needs AND impact to the experience, can help you filter through the ideas and put your best foot forward. Such sessions are also a great way to involve people from different business functions, different industries, or partners, and garner fresh perspectives and different angles of thought. Given the rising need for alignment, we have also witnessed the rise in CX as a business function. In these cases, often the function is chartered with driving an aligned vision, defining a cohesive experience strategy, and elevating organizational understanding of Experience design as a way of thinking.
Q: How do you see the various functions interacting, given the rise of Customer Experience as a business function?
A: “Shifting your organization to compete on the basis of customer experience (CX) is a significant challenge, but also a huge opportunity to unite your organization. Many organizations are siloed for very valid business reasons, but customers don’t care about those silos (and shouldn’t need to!). Customer experience creates bridges between those silos. For example, it can help improve marketing and sales alignment. It also provides a vision that everyone in the organization can take part in and rally behind. In general, I think CX is still fairly immature. In many organizations it’s treated like UX used to be—an afterthought, the responsibility of an individual or small team. Or, it’s ill-conceived as simply “customer service.” However, the rise of the CCXO is a positive trend towards greater maturity. It elevates the importance of customer experience and helps it gain mindshare throughout an organization.”
The role of a CCXO (Chief Customer Experience Officer) can certainly give Experience legitimacy in an organization and provide the “glue” to bring together the various silos. Given that everyone in the organization must come together to understand the experience they are jointly trying to deliver, and, all must take responsibility for bringing it to fruition, cross-functional collaboration is critical to delivering on the Experience strategy. To set a foundation that enables this, there are many things to think about such as policies and processes, aligned goals, how rewards are utilized, tooling for traceability, and much more.
A big thanks to Nicole for her time and insights. Here are some key takeaways to keep in mind as you work on your Experience agenda:
- Creating and delivering an experience requires an understanding of the interconnected ecosystem.
- Reverse plan research efforts, or data gathering efforts from the purpose, or decision you need to make.
- Involving cross-functional teams in exploration, ideation, and data reviews can help drive open discussions, collaboration, and alignment.
- Know it is ok to feel uncomfortable. Experience can be overwhelming with many things to consider across a complex landscape all leading to how a person feels.
- Having a leader to drive the vision and experience agenda is a huge step forward, however, everyone in the organization shares the responsibility for delivering on the experience.