Solving for X: How to Redefine Brand Experiences

In his new book, Brian Solis explains why the future of business is experiential.
Customer Experience

In today's always-on, hyper-connected world, where customer expectations continue to rise, customer experience has become the brand. Empowered by technology and word-of-mouth marketing, consumers are defining brands based on what they experience and share. Brands that don't engage their customers and deliver exceptional experiences are vulnerable to their competitors or become irrelevant.

In his new book X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, Brian Solis, principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a Prophet company, explains why the future of business is experiential and how to create meaningful experiences. 1to1 Media sat down with Solis to learn how businesses can begin to transform the customer experience.

1to1 Media: Your book is about digital transformations, so why did you decide to publish a book? Why not bypass print altogether?

Brian Solis: Studies show print can outperform digital if it's done well. I saw that as a challenge. It's too easy to just make another app or e-book. I thought it would be more difficult to reimagine the book and convince the publisher, the distributors, and the printer that we would go in this direction. And so that's why it took three and a half years to make this highly visual book.

There are a lot of discussions about the need for marketing and sales team to work more closely together but when do you bring in customer service? Is it only after your marketing and sales teams are aligned?

People have good intentions when they talk about the importance of omnichannel and breaking down silos. The challenge is you have to actually do it and you often have to fight political and egotistical battles to bring people together. That's one of the reasons why collaboration doesn't happen all at once. But customer service doesn't have to be secondary or something that happens only when a problem emerges. It could shift to the beginning of the funnel where you're positively promoting great experiences.

Who should lead the integration of brand experience, user experience, and customer experience? Is that the job of a chief customer officer?

In my experience, there are different folks who take the torch. Sometimes it's the chief marketing officer and other times it's the chief digital officer. It's rarely the chief customer officer, though. Although they'll say they're doing this to improve customer experience, when they define customer experience, what they're really talking about is customer support and customer service.

My argument is that's only one part of the customer experience. Which is why the book is called X-it's about customer experience, brand experience, user experience and it all adds up to X. At the end of the day, the champion has to bring all kinds of people together and lead it from the top down in a very concerted effort.

How do you get shareholders to understand that customer experience is important?

You shouldn't compete on just price. Once you do that, naturally you start eroding the margins, then you start eroding the experience, and then you become a commodity brand or worse. A lot of studies show that if you invest in experience, margins are just a by-product of a good experience. People are willing to pay more if they know they're going to get a good experience. With good experiences come greater margins and also greater customer retention. And it reduces the cost of customer acquisition, because if you have great experiences, people are sharing them. And so, essentially you grow your markets and your profits.

Whole Foods was known for its great customer experience, but now the company is under fire by competitors. What do you think Whole Foods should do to regain its footing?

Whole Foods was relevant when they started to re-invent shopping with high quality produce and services. The organic experience, the higher level of produce, and quality and craftsmanship was a fantastic way to change the game. But they're not done. They have to compete now with apps and membership services that send fresh food right to your door. They have to look at all these things and figure out what is Whole Foods going to be to this new generation?

What would you like to see companies do better in customer journey mapping?

Customer journey mapping is all the rage in business today. It helps you to identify friction within the parts of your journey that aren't working and fix them. But one of the things people tend to do wrong when fixing the customer journey is make assumptions. They'll say, 'hey, our customers are increasingly mobile-how do we make more responsive sites or an app?' They start looking at technology as a Band-Aid.

But if they were to reimagine the customer journey, they would need to answer questions like who are you really trying to reach and how is your approach different and meaningful to a different type of customer? Too often companies base their solutions on legacy. They'll say, we already have a website and app, so let's stitch them together. Instead, they should ask themselves, what's a natural way to do this so that it's more intuitive for today's customer? That could lead to a different discussion.

What's next? What part of business are you focusing on these days?

I'm ingrained as an analyst in digital transformation. I'm studying how businesses, models, systems, and processes are evolving. The other thing I'm passionate about is culture 2.0. How are companies reinventing their cultures to not only accelerate digital transformation but also become innovation companies? One of the things I keep hearing is leaders are struggling to affect the rest of their companies because their cultures don't want to embrace such dramatic change. So all those things-culture, innovation, and digital transformation-are coalescing and that's what I'm studying.