Bold strategy, exceptional experience

Paul Hoskins

Today’s Top Growing brands share common traits: an ambitious vision, a killer hero product, exceptionally intuitive experiences, and the ability to continually outmaneuver any competition. Bold strategies and exceptional experiences are at the heart of their formula for ongoing growth.

However, the exponential evolution of technology has changed the game for all sectors. It’s changed the nature of relationships between consumers and brands, creating new dynamics and competitive forces in traditional markets, raising expectations around the pace of progress and innovation, and giving birth to new kinds of business models. It’s therefore critical to look beyond conventional strategies, in pursuit of experiences that are increasingly more distinct, more useful, and more human.

To achieve this, organizations should take a deep look at how they operate and, ultimately, create the conditions for growth. The way to get from bold strategy to exceptional experience is by design.

Growth by design

If you look at the Top Growing technology brands in Interbrand’s 2016 Best Global Brand Report (and in general), it is evident that many of these businesses utilize a highly streamlined and responsive operating model, designed to reduce hierarchy and increase transparency, to encourage individual autonomy and experimentation. This means they are able to balance ambitious visions with an ability to get to market quickly and continually iterate their offerings.

Adherence to both the discipline and craft of design is at the heart of this model. By embedding design thinking into the organization, leading companies are able to unlock new opportunities, build empathy for their customers, and unite their people around a brand vision.

This commitment to new, responsive ways of working, and an unshakable belief in the power of design, paves the way to better products and exceptional experiences—ones that are truly human-centered, make life easier, create an emotional connection, and transform the mundane into the highly desirable.

The Nest Learning Thermostat from Alphabet/Google is a great example of design thinking yielding such an innately human experience. The device itself is not only beautiful, but also highly tactile and responsive. And the digital interface is no different, augmenting the physical experience. In fact, the more you use Nest, the better and more unobtrusive the experience becomes.

Five paths to exceptional experience

When looking closer at the brands that are growing by design, five notable approaches emerge for staying ahead of the experience curve.

 

  1. Shaping new behaviors

Tolerance for poor experiences is ever decreasing, while willingness to adopt new behaviors is exponentially increasing. Smart devices and social platforms are redesigning how we interact, changing our behavior patterns and raising our expectations. But as thousands of new startups spawn new products and platforms, companies are continually under pressure to reimagine their experiences and keep up with customer demands.

Social app Snapchat is in tune with its audience. Like its competitor Instagram, Snapchat is focused on a singular user experience. It stands apart in the social space by pioneering new behavioral patterns: creating and sharing self-destructing content enhances the intimacy of the social transaction, while the ability to co-create shared stories with users at live music events builds on the excitement of the community experience. And with Snap Inc.’s new Spectacles product—essentially sunglasses with integrated cameras—the business is encouraging its audience to adopt an entirely new way of capturing and creating content beyond the screen. Asking users to learn new behaviors in order to get the most out of the experience would traditionally be a barrier, but for the digital generation, the sense of learning and discovery is all part of the charm.

 

  1. Creating connected ecosystems

Leading technology brands like Apple, Google, and Facebook have also set a new benchmark when it comes to creating deeply integrated and connected experiences across their products or services. In these cases, design ideology is applied to iterating and improving the strength of the underlying platform that binds the ecosystem. All products orbit around this, connected seamlessly by a single user ID and familiar experience patterns. Access to third-party products and services is also effortless, keeping users perpetually within the ecosystem.

One of the Top Growing brands in this year’s report, Amazon has experienced phenomenal success by expanding its ecosystem even further. With its feature-packed Prime subscription service, its suite of voice-powered smart devices like Echo, and the growth of its cloud computing services, the former online retailer is creating a richer experience for customers and becoming one of the biggest category-defying ecosystem brands there is.

 

  1. Innovating on purpose

Having a clear purpose is one thing, but making it an integral part of your innovative value proposition, experience, and product offering is when the real magic happens. Design can play a role from the very beginning, helping you get to the heart of problems and challenge traditional ways of solving them. And purpose-led design doesn’t have to stop at a product or experience, it can also lead to radical business-model innovation.

Best Global Brands New Entrant Tesla is a great example of this in action. Elon Musk’s original purpose: “to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy toward a solar electric economy” is at the heart of everything the company does. But it’s in how this vision is being realized that things get interesting. With an uncompromising focus on design, Tesla is making highly desirable cars increasingly affordable, and creating experiences akin to those we’ve come to expect from technology companies. From showrooms placed in shopping malls to huge touchscreen interfaces on the dashboard and performance updates delivered remotely via the cloud, the Tesla experience is reinforced at every touchpoint. And by making their patents open-source, they are even inviting their competitors to contribute to the cause. By flipping an industry on its head and challenging the idea that sustainability requires compromise, Tesla has brought its bold vision closer to reality.

 

  1. Iterating always

The best businesses continually look to improve experience, often one feature at a time. And since few can afford the money—or time—for protracted research and development, a state of perpetual beta is the new normal. A design mindset is what makes an iterative approach both viable and a source of growth. In fact, the art of incrementally perfecting products is just as important as designing breakthrough products or experiences. As US designer and technologist John Maeda says, “design is both the insanely radical and the passionately incremental.”

The popular productivity platform Slack has grown by creating an intuitive product that works less like the clunky enterprise software of old and more like the constantly evolving social media platforms that people use every day. The underlying technology is far from groundbreaking, but the experience is incredibly distinct. It’s Slack’s commitment to continually improving the experience, often based on user feedback, that makes the experience exceptional. From micro-enhancements, like the ability to send bigger emojis, to introducing the ability to make calls with the app, constant evolution makes the experience feel both excitingly new and reassuringly familiar.

 

  1. Humanizing the machine

As technology brands continue to dominate the Best Global Brands report, an ever-increasing investment in big data, machine learning, and data-driven automation is evident. While the focus on bots and artificial intelligence is also intensifying, it’s increasingly clear that technology is no substitute for human compassion. Technology is a tool helping companies innovate and build deeper relationships with customers—it’s augmenting not usurping reality.

Digital services like Spotify have achieved significant growth by developing very human interpretations of a functional machine experience. Driven by a vision to deliver “the perfect music for every moment,” Spotify has created a hyper-personalized experience that aims to predict moods and tastes. Its Discover Weekly feature is an algorithm-driven “mixtape” that evolves as your listening habits do. And if connected to Facebook, your profile picture appears as the album cover, making it feel incredibly personal.

Each of these exceptional experiences is born from bold product or market strategies, but the role of design as a potent strategic discipline is the undercurrent that really causes them to stand out. With customers evolving—becoming more discerning, savvy, and sophisticated—the companies committed to designing highly considered experiences that connect at a human level, are those that will experience the most growth.

General Manager, Interbrand Melbourne