Walk through the front door, smell the warm baking bread that makes a house a home. Feel the cold visceral shock of the ocean as the waves break on your body. Lie in a wild meadow and watch the clouds scud across the sky. Pull on your favourite jumper, feel how you enjoy its softness. Take a walk through a wood, listen to the sounds and sense the endless shades of green.
Marketing in the age of sensory deprivation
When we are making products or experiences we should never forget that as human beings we endlessly engage with our world through our senses. Our bodies are constantly computing all: temperature, pressure, wind, light, taste, sound, 24/7. Our intuitive consciousness is plumbed into all our senses. It is how we understand the world. There is a reason that we have seen a huge increase in the number of people going to festivals – they want the full sensory experience.
Beautiful experiences matter today. What we call experience reflects meaning, authenticity, and an opportunity to recapture a lost essence in modern life. These are values that are difficult to represent in accounting terms. Yet they all have an important and increasing role to play. The rise of artisan products highlights this need: street food being the perfect example. Fresh, fast food cooked to high levels of quality without the retail investment. It has, none-the-less, a fanatical following.
People don’t just want experience, they profoundly need experience to be meaningful, which in turn makes life joyful.
All marketing one would assume, therefore, should be about experience online and off. In a 2016 Gartner survey 89% of businesses said experience and design are seen as the most important factor for competitive advantage, up from 36% four years previous. A similar Accenture 2015 global survey found that 81% of executives placed personalised customer experience in their top three priorities, with 39% reporting it as their number one. Mercedes-Benz chief executive Steve Cannon summed up this trend succinctly. "Customer experience is the new marketing."
The businesses that create beautiful experiences for their customers will succeed over their rivals who shortcut to ugly for a quick win. At Cannes Lions this year the bulk of awards went to analogue creativity including product design. In a quest for increased efficiency, companies that rely on buying third party data, or invest in automated, bot-based advertising are missing what this world wants. Beautiful life-enhancing experiences — we’ve all had enough of ugly. Ugly is a failure of the imagination.
We get to beauty through design and craft. Design as ‘experience’, for example, understands that designing and creating for our tactile selves (things that are intuitive, easy and joyful to use) will sell more products and services at a higher value. In a 2015 Temkin survey, those with a positive emotional experience were six times as likely to buy more, 12 times more likely to recommend the company, and five times more likely to forgive the company for a mistake.
Take Aesop and Apple, both highly successful companies and masters of their materials. They push engineering, manufacturing and accepted levels of service beyond what was considered possible. Everything they do is marketing.
This is the foundational work, the hard work of making beautiful products and retail environments. Apple may no longer be too-cool-for-school for some, but none the less, their commitment to exceptional design and retail experiences means they have more cash in the bank than the US government.
"Beautiful accounting software" these are Xero’s words not mine: a globally successful company because they focus on a seamless user experience. Accounting is one of those things we all have to do. It can be as ugly as nits, Xero chose to make it beautiful.
A chief executive asked me the other day if any business could be made beautiful? I replied, "why would you want to do it any other way?"