I’m reflecting on a common theme that was touched on by many at Circus this year, but in particular by both Nick Law, chief creative at digital pioneers R/GA and Tom Uglow, head wizard at Google Creative Labs.
Both Tom and Nick talked about, and provided brilliant examples of, how brands benefit from selling an experience rather than just a product. Tom went on to suggest that the process of buying should be an experience in itself.
God that just sounds a bit marketing doesn’t it? “Sell the experience”. Yeah, nah. We’re not talking about marketing-invented storytelling experience, we’re talking about tactile (or virtual), useful product extension that improves that experience with the product.
Nick used the R/GA term ‘functional integration’ to define the thing that Nike and Apple are doing to grow that traditional vertical/horizontal integration businesses aren’t. Just think about how the cumulative consumer benefit of Apple’s products transcends the sum of the individual product parts – it’s the experience of having your iPhone connect to the App Store sharing stuff via iCloud to your iTunes. And R/GA have helped Nike win back leadership of the running shoe market not by changing the product, but by changing the experience with the product, starting with Nike+. And now they’ve gone further with the new Fuelband. It’s genius really isn’t it. Nike are no longer selling running shoes, they’re providing an experience with their running shoes that just can’t be competed with… well, not by just a shoe company. Nike now see the likes of running app RunKeeper in their competitive set.
Kind of raises the question of who you should see as your competitors doesn’t it?
Like for Gatorade. In a previous post I mentioned how Sarah Robb-O’Hagan, marketing head at Gatorade’s HQ in Chicago, sees her brand as a sports performance company, not a drinks company. It seems Gatorade are just as likely to open a new fitness centre as they are to develop a flavour of sports drink. They’re for the experience.
Tom Uglow tells us that people aren’t just after the experience from the product, but even from the buying process itself. Apparently buying isn’t always the point… it’s also about the experience. Neuroscientists claim that when you search, find and buy stuff online: your brain is engaged, you search (you brain gets a dopamine hit), you find (another dopamine hit)… this how we discover things, it’s how we play games, and it’s how we learn. So it makes sense that marketers who understand how we think are going to get better at improving the buying experience.
Tom’s proof that people will pay more for an experience while buying the product: Kickstarter (a kind of crowdsourced funding platform for creative projects). The Kickstarter example Tom used was for the Double Fine adventure game: they were seeking $400,000 to fund the development of the game – they raised that in under eight hours, and ended up raising $3.3m, not because they offered pledgers a t-shirt (which they did), but because the buying experience took on a life of its own. Check it out here.
Think too of the buying experience of South Koreans doing their shopping via QR code-enabled virtual Homeplus store shelves on their subway. Or the game changing power of Google Wallet, which might just be the functional integration (experience) from Android to rival Apple.
Perhaps the best example of the experience shift, both product and buying, is Amazon. Today Amazon is a software company, a software engine for selling books (and almost everything else) online. And, while bookstores everywhere have been shutting up shop, Amazon uses its website to promote its Kindle digital books over physical books. Now even the books themselves are software.
It’s true, most of these experiences are delivered by software, but that’s kind of the point, software is eating the world. But Nick Law’s right in saying that things haven’t changed in what we’re doing – ‘we’re still generating attention via media to sell stuff’. What’s changed is how we generate attention; the media systems we can now invent; and the change in focus of what we’re selling from the product to the experience. As agencies, we need to be building these experiences, and we’re going to need to use software to do it. Faris Yakob put it to us in our Circus masterclass “…there are two types of agencies: those that focus on making ads, and those that focus on solving problems.” So, let’s get on with it.
To end, Joe Crump of digital imagineers, Razorfish, (also speaking at Circus) perhaps speaks on behalf of us all when he said “I don’t do advertising. I’m in the experience business.”