How Did 2020 Give us Permission to Experiment with Experiences In The Digital Economy?
If we thought we lived in a digital world at the beginning of 2020, there’s no doubting that fact now. COVID-19 restrictions and lockdown measures around the world have driven more people online, not only to research and buy but also to network, meet, and socialize.
We are on the verge of a massive new wave in how business is conducted online. From the consumer and buyer’s journey, to the way businesses interact, engage and provide ‘surprise & delight’ value. And, this wave will either wash you out to sea, or you can ride and master the wave. If you’re ready, of course.
Online has become an integral and fundamental aspect of everyday life and businesses. Today, we’re not only seeing a greater focus on digital transformation of businesses making the ‘jump’, but also a rapid shift in the digital landscape with a multitude of new user demographics, purchase behaviours, device usage, digital platforms, digital assets and a refined digital ecosystem.
This brings us to 2021, where it can now be considered the year of experimenting with the digital experience.
Digital experimentation is the reliable process of understanding the impact of new digital experiences, campaigns and features – and it’s shaping the cultures of the world’s most successful brands. This is redefining the customer journey, but also how the business creates remarkable experiences worth remembering.
Today, it’s about how to drive certainty in uncertain times with minimal risk. Companies have already risked a lot, with little gain in many sectors, implying that they must experiment further.
It’s not just about trial and error, either. Experimenting with digital experiences implicitly means that there is already a clear digital strategy going forward--it’s just a matter of testing the tactics and expressions of the strategy. It’s a methodical ‘test’ of assumptions. The digital experience is how you are able to deliver personalized, remarkable, audience experiences that are worth remembering. Now you need to test this and experiment with it.
If we go back 12 years or so, and tracking the performance of companies throughout the recession of 2008, McKinsey & Company found that customer experience leaders faced only half the drop in business compared to customer experience laggards. Their time to recovery was actually two years faster. And leaders saw 3x higher returns for shareholder returns versus laggards. Today, we’ve seen a similar effect in the COVID-19 economy, where modern business models are recovering quicker than traditional legacy business models (Sloan Review/MIT).
We’re not out of it yet, either. Nor have we really even mastered this massive opportunity and capability. Only one in five businesses were prepared for the shift in online, giving them five years of growth in three months from the COVID-19 economy.
The digital experience is finally coming of age, from an age of the ‘basics’ - websites, social media, ecommerce, etc. to now we have the ability to truly elevate these into something remarkable and more human-focussed in the digital environment.
No, I’m not talking about Second Life, Virtual Reality or even Augmented Reality for that matter. None of these elements are what creates a comprehensive remarkable digital experience. Yes, they can certainly add to it, but they are not in fact the centre of the experience, at least at this point, they are simply a tool in enabling this - they are not the strategy.
No, where have we seen this shift more dramatically than in ‘events’ and ‘entertainment’?
Where there is not a venue, is there a way?
It would seem not, at least according to the old-school/legacy model of the ‘experience economy’.
Amongst the many shifts and pivots of 2020, we’ve seen massive declines in the ‘experience economy’ industry segments. In 1998, when the concept was introduced by by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, and seemed limitless, yet today it’s recently since fallen on hard times due to COVID-19. At the time, this was predicted as the most essential and fundamental way of harnessing and expressing ourselves, through the things we do and want to do. Billion dollar industries have been created as a result.
Now we have to redesign this..
For a lot of businesses, if you don’t (or can’t) have a venue, you just have to shut the doors, right? Wrong.
We've reached the point now where location and distance are in fact irrelevant, and we're redesigning and recreating these experiences in our own personal, local, and private space, globally. Time and date simply means relative timezone to the experience - it doesn’t matter where you live, just what time it’s at.
As a result, we can now separate the "location" from the experience, without removing the "feelings/emotions", or stacking the traditional emotional experience differently. AND, we need to reassign the 'physical' experience of it, not take it away, but rather explore it within our own inner-space, while being our own environment.
Let’s take movie theatres as an example, which have taken the largest financial and visitor/consumer hit ever imaginable in the last nine months. No one really wants to experience a movie theatre anymore, it would seem. We saw Blockbuster and Netflix take a chunk out of this model decades ago with video tapes, DVDs, and streaming, but nothing as severe as what is happening today, as a result of the COVID-19 economy. In recent weeks, one of the biggest Hollywood studios has declared that ALL of their new releases will be broadcast first through HBOMax, another streaming service, starting with “Wonder Woman 1984”. Will this move in fact be the final nail in the Movie Theatre’s coffin?
Why do we actually go to the movies at the theatre anymore, anyways? When you think about it,you're going to see it so you can feel immersed in the visual and audio experience of a large screen and something "new" - your favourite superhero, character, or story comes to life. And, you can experience it as a date night or maybe have some friends or family, join you. I also go for the 'loaded' popcorn, the gi-normous drinks, and the overpriced snacks.
I don't think that most people go because they are wanting to sit beside strangers and breathe in the same air and stumble over garbage and gum in the aisle,yet we've accepted this.
And, if you can now purchase a BIG screen TV of, take your pick - 65", 75" or 85" and bigger for under $1000,pair it up with some crystal clear, amazing surround sound blu-tooth speakers, why would you want to even think of going to the "Theatre"?
So how does the story change from here? This is where we can start to experiment with the experience.
We've already seen some of it happen-- the growth of 'backyard' theatres, hiring out the theatre for a private screening with friends, as well as smaller rooms with fewer people, more comfort and space, and food delivered to your seat.
Yet, we're still fundamentally missing the point of an experience - and a lot of businesses are, especially in this entertainment space, including the juggernaut, Cirque du Soleil, that went from innovative darling to digital-denier in a matter of months.
How do we actually connect the 'feeling' of something new and exciting, with the shift to personal, local, and private? Let's start with the value that can surprise and delight. Imagine being part of a ‘premiere’ screening, from the comfort of your home, on your massive TV, andyour favourite actor/producer/director makes it personal and jumps in and "opens" the show, and even answers questions and talks after the show.
What if you could then not only 'premiere' this Livestream at a certain time with your favourite actor, in your home, but you could also pre-order a show "gift pack" with movie tie-in merchandise, memorabilia, games, and of course some amazing snacks that arrive via an uber-esque on-demand delivery service just in time for the show to start.
Movie theatre chains and movie theatre franchises could then focus on what is really important for their customer, making the experience more personal, and supplying them with the 'feelings' of the experiences, in the environment that they choose.
This model also works in practically every industry out there, that is needing to shift and refocus in the environment that we are in, which is being constrained and boxed-in as a result of these changes, as well as trying to navigate in this disruptive digital economy.
Sadly, this won't save every single movie theatre, but it's a start. The ones who quickly see this as an opportunity, NOW, will be the ones who are able to leverage it. The point is, we need to combine what is good, what we are wanting to change, and of course, get rid of what is not really what we want.
This is how you define a digital experience - testing and experimenting to see what will work for you.
Yet, this is not the only industry that can be saved by experimenting with digital experiences. What is old and new in your industry? If you could do anything with your industry, what would it be? What is missing from the current models that prevent that level of interaction in a location irrelevant space?
If COVID-19 has given us anything, it’s a shift in time-- now is the time to try and experiment with what we have, and what could be made much, much better, all to the benefit of you, your business and of course your audience. After all, this journey is all about them - we need to define how we best provide for them.
What signals are you seeing? How can you affect change by trying to read these signals and implement them in a unique and beneficial manner. This is experimentation. And, what signals are you not seeing, that actually help define it further. Metaphorically speaking, is your audience wearing noise-cancelling headphones? What are they trying to tell you?
How does your business allow your audience to become more personal, local, and private, yet able to reach audiences around the corner and around the world? This is the most exciting part of the digital economy-- any time, any place, any audience.
2021 is the year of the “digital experience” experiment-- try it all, but have an underlying purpose and strategy to connect it to your digital foundation of assets and ecosystems. That is how progress and evolution is made in the COVID and post-COVID worlds.
This doesn’t mean that you just try everything and anything. This does mean that you build onto your foundation; this means that you experiment with tactics that can get you to where you need to be.
It also doesn’t mean that you throw out your strategy with the new year. It means you take your strategy and refine it, look at it from different angles, see where the intersections are, and how you can ‘play’ in the new environment that you are building and that your audience is demanding.
If COVID-19 has taught businesses anything, it’s that they must adapt quickly to change, even quicker than before. Reframe how you think in order to get more done and tested.
Digital customer experiences will be the ultimate differentiators in the new way business gets done online. Testing new digital experiences and learning rapidly is essential if you want to emerge as a leader in the new normal, post-COVID world.
Being adaptable - experiment
Being real-time and ‘alive’ online - experiment
Understanding a new customer journey - experiment
Understanding a new experience - experiment
Driving change - experiment
Driving profit & business goals - experiment
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.” — Charles Darwin
How are you adapting?