How to Deliver Harmonic Experiences in the Third Wave of Enterprise Disruption
I attended my second Adobe Summit in Las Vegas last week. The event brought together more than 10,000 digital professionals from across the world to learn about “experience”—what Adobe is calling the third wave of enterprise disruption.Let’s refresh:
The first wave of disruption impacted back-office systems and helped revolutionize how enterprise businesses managed their production lines. Suddenly supply chain management became a differentiator, until everyone had the same technology.
The second wave hit the front-end of the office. This disruption birthed customer relationship management systems (CRMs) and helped salespeople do their jobs smarter and more efficiently. Suddenly businesses could scale sales and optimize revenue generation. Today, CRMs are table stakes.
The third wave of disruption is less about people doing their jobs better, and more about creating memorable experiences throughout the customer lifecycle. Whether a person interacts with a company during the research phase with a sales executive, when making a purchase in-store, or post-sale on social media, those enterprise organizations that deliver consistent, continuous, and compelling experiences have the upper hand.
As content marketers, you know experience matters. Stories have the power to captivate and evoke action; your digital publication’s user experience must pull viewers in, educate them, entertain them, and make them fall in love. As a group, enterprise digital teams can all rally behind this goal.
Unfortunately there’s a big problem with the third wave of enterprise disruption. People still don’t know what their colleagues are doing. They’re so stuck in their own responsibilities and tasks that experiences are mismanaged and disjointed. The third wave of enterprise disruption is fueled by content and data, but those activities are still siloed within larger organizations.
At Adobe Summit, I had the pleasure of working Skyword’s sponsor booth in-between breakout sessions. Attendees would wander down the vendor aisles, blankly staring at booths that read “manage your data HERE!” and “LEARN HOW we integrate with AEM now!!”
All of these solutions are powerful tools that help teams better understand their audience. In fact, when used correctly, almost every platform or solution at Adobe Summit could supply an enterprise team with the insight to tell powerful stories and create consistent experiences. The problem wasn’t the vendors; it was the separation between individuals employed by the same business.
One attendee walked up to the Skyword booth to learn about our technology and services. She wanted to know how we integrate with Adobe’s AEM technology (which we do), but couldn’t wrap her head around what we did, exactly. She’s not a marketer—she spends her time working with data, architecting marketing stacks but never actually getting into the creative production weeds. She opted to not take any supplementary information from our booth, but said that she’d send her colleague over.
When her colleague did visit our booth, she knew a little about content marketing and cared a lot about our story, what we were trying to change, and how we thought about experiences through storytelling. But she wasn’t as confident with her understanding of technology, integrations, or how she could leverage customer insight for compelling stories.
Together, these two attendees made a perfect team, combining the data mindset with the creative prowess. Yet they both seemed so misaligned. What’s more, they were disinterested in filling their own knowledge gaps—it was the other person’s job.
We’re all focused on creating memorable experiences for our customers, but we’re only paying attention to the parts we’re directly responsible for. We talk about digital transformation—the alignment of technology, process, and people—but we’re not seeing that taking place in market.
What Is Experience, Really?
According to speaker, author, analyst, anthropologist, etc., Brian Solis, “An experience is something that you feel and sense, but it only counts when it’s whole, when it’s one thing.”
And as a business in the digital age, you’re not just competing with those in your industry when it comes to experience—you’re competing with everyone. Solis cites Uber as an example, recalling how many times he’s heard an entrepreneur or media outlet call an up-and-coming organization “the Uber for X.” I’ve personally heard this same comparison of our friends at HourlyNerd just down the street here in Boston. (The Uber for Consulting.)
Solis explains that because Uber came to market with a revolutionary way of servicing both riders and drivers, expectation changed forever. The bar is now set higher.
Airbnb, the Uber of the hospitality industry (or maybe it’s Uber, the Airbnb of transportation), faced this experience challenge head on. The company found that both its guests and hosts weren’t having the level of experience they had hoped and that was advertised by the brand. Because a host is essentially the tangible side of Airbnb, the company discovered that the guests overall memory and experience with the brand depended on the host’s abilities to make the guest’s stay comfortable, safe, and enjoyable. To unify the experience users had with Airbnb, the company turned to Pixar and storytelling to help align expectations.
Enterprises struggle with consistent experiences across the board. In the Airbnb case, lack of a continuous experience meant that guests weren’t enjoying their vacations as much and next time they might opt for a hotel instead.
For toy manufacturing company, Mattel, experience became a burden that for many years could not be overcome. Mattel’s President and COO, Richard Dickson, keynoted day two at Adobe Summit (honestly, dude is an amazing speaker!) and he told the story of how Mattel lost its way before regaining what made it unique in the first place.
Dickson explained that Mattel had innovated and sat atop the industry for decades without having to change its processes or offerings. However, this mentality meant that the company wasn’t moving forward or staying ahead of trends. Instead, the entire organization was going through its routines and completely missing out on big cultural movements and changes in human behavior.
Dickson led the reinvention of Mattel by bringing it back to the basics. Toys were meant to be an extension of reality for young children, and if the products being produced didn’t represent the totality of the world around them, kids and their parents weren’t as drawn in by their appeal. Barbie, for example, had become an icon for insensitivity to diversity in race, body type, and how a girl should perceive herself. It wasn’t so much the toy (or tool) that needed to change—girls and boys still love dolls and action figures. But the mindset around what the toy represented needed a wildly updated approach. It needed to reflect and respect the differences in the people buying the dolls.
Dickson understood this, he made sure his team understood this, and he has since reinvented the entire company’s product line to reflect modern-day expectations. And when expectations are met at such a high level, experiences become realities, and all the much more meaningful.
“Finding the way forward begins with understanding what made you special in the first place,” Dickson said.
Mattel had devolved into a packaged goods company that made toys, and it had to find its story again as a creations company—design-led before anything else as a way to delight children.
Attendees likely left Adobe Summit with their own, unique experiences, and that’s OK. Adobe did a wonderful job of curating exceptional session and keynote content. For me, the biggest lesson learned is in how fragmented enterprise teams still are today.
Experience is the new differentiator, and it looks to be for years to come as organizations continue to struggle with aligning teams around a core story. Tomorrow’s visionaries will have story embedded throughout their organizations, and this will allow various teams to move in unison and create a consistent, continuous, and compelling experience for customers, no matter the channel or device being used at the time.