It should be no surprise to you that the companies delivering the best customer experiences right now are thriving while others die. Many businesses hold onto their past or imprudently pat themselves on the back for their small steps forward while others take great, focused leaps into the future.
The losers try to solve emerging problems with antiquated solutions and are therefore closing their doors over the last few years — Toys R Us, Sports Authority, and even the few remaining Blockbuster locations — while the winners advance onward and experience accelerated growth.
These survivors are the businesses and brands that have led and embraced Digital Transformation, and therefore have been capable of repeatedly connecting with consumers in new and relevant ways.
As I wrote about way, way back in 2015, Digital Darwinism sparked an evolution of business through the enablement of technology — an evolved relationship between a brand and consumer that strengthens their symbiotic bond in this chaotic environment and nourishes our greatest resource: continuous demand and business growth.
But now, we’re witnessing a new form of evolution in the business and marketing landscape.
It’s the emergence of the Connected Company, one that has moved beyond its digital transformation, and has now grown into something greater. After-all, business is survival of the fittest and those who are most fit to utilize data, design, and experience are best poised to outlive their competitors.
The Connected Company has discovered methods for faster, more consistent, more personalized connections powered by a clear purpose. It has moved beyond an acceptance and use of technology as a seemingly endless opportunity for creating awareness, and instead has embraced the impact of how the human experience fuels connections and demand within the digital realm.
No longer is it the mere adoption of technology that drives success but rather the use of technology to realize our deepest human needs and desires, ultimately enhancing our life experience in ways we have yet to imagine.
This is our future model for success as businesses.
Connecting to This Experience-Driven World
You can’t deny we’ve moved into an experience-driven world.
Retail experience, eCommerce experience, shipping experience, unboxing experience, digital experience, brand experience — they’re all interwoven. It’s no longer about one-off activations or traditional broadcast advertising. It's about leveraging the actual connections available today, mirroring the evolution of the world with an evolution of your company.
How, you might ask, begins by listening, and then experimenting — by not speaking to, or selling, consumers, but by connecting with them in a way that allows you to learn and adapt.
Each day, they are only falling deeper into their devices and endless data, so the more you can find ways to truly connect, the more you can utilize technology to understand their needs and desires. From there, you can innovate your business model and marketing to tell your story in new, more effective ways.
After-all, in my opinion anyways, business model innovation is really just a fancy MBA term for creating products, services, and experiences that cater to, and reflect, the behavioral evolution of society. The societal themes of vanity, voyeurism, complacency, and the craving for connection are strong signals for how to evolve your business to serve the needs of the market.
Being a Connected Company is about experience design, or utilizing one in the form of a connected Experience Design Company (an evolution of what was once called an agency). It’s about understanding the psychology of people beyond their demographic data, using design-thinking extraction methodologies to connect observable behaviors and find the patterns. It’s about leveraging mental models or industry trends and revealing connections, continuously experimenting with methods in new and different ways to achieve greater results based on emerging needs and wants.
Whereas digital transformation became largely about instituting technology, becoming a Connected Company is about unifying that technology with human-centered design in order to create new products, brands, experiences, and campaigns that actually speak to people’s needs, beliefs, motivations, and desires. This is all in an effort to not only profit from them, but to create a relationship — a connection — to support them, add convenience, and make their lives more meaningful in that very moment.
The Mechanical Organism that is a Connected Company
Being a Connected Company is important not only for how we interact with consumers but also how we as companies exist and grow.
For example, you can observe any company as one of two things: an organism that grows, adapts, thinks, and feels; and those that are more like a machine that is structured and precise, with a clear specialty throughout – one that has been designed to operate thoroughly, predictably, and efficiently.
Consider a small Mountain View start-up and compare that to IBM. Which do you think is the organism, and which is the machine?
The challenge is the operationalization of those start-ups as they grow, abandoning the raw elements that energized entrepreneurship for the adoption of mechanistic qualities that promise more reliable, predictable results. That’s because it’s thereby severing the connection to the driver of those results — the consumer, the ones who were initially drawn to the natural elements of the business to begin with.
The human beings who buy are not machines, though much of their communication and commerce is driven and supported by machines. Like living networks found in nature (honeybees in their hive and ants in their colony), people are deeply connected and moved by instinct and emotion, not logic.
A poor review today has an astronomically greater impact on a business than it did in the pre-digital age. Yet, the precise, planned resources required to consistently provide beneficial experiences can be just as astronomical. That’s why it’s necessary to not be an adaptable company or a machine-like company, but both. An organism that grows and learns, as well as a precise, optimally-structured and designed machine.
To balance these two worlds, we must strive to create experiences both internally and externally that will resonate in this experience-driven world and institutionalize the experiential design processes that enable this.
It’s an evolution, and in this digital ecosystem, a successful business needs the capability of learning and creativity found in a living thing as well as the precision and performance of a machine. It’s no longer enough to be one or the other, a successful business must be both.
In fact, everything I’ve built my company on can be summed up in one single word: And. The industry told me I could be a business leader or a designer or a developer. I chose and, not or. I would be a CEO and a technologist and a designer and whatever else powered us.
And, I would look for this diversity and agility in the people I hire and surround myself with. We would connect things — people, practices, departments — not separate them. We ourselves would be a Connected Company.
The raw truth is I had no business starting my first company at 19, let alone demanding a capability or acceptance of the Connected mentality. But, that type of thinking emerged as the principal reason people chose us as employees and as customers. It became a hive system where learning, experimentation, and problem solving prospered, and where process and structure ensured delivery and effectiveness.
We exist in an industry of change, of ebbs and flows. A lifetime ago, Bill Bernbach connected copywriters with designers and we saw a creative revolution. Since then, we saw Martin Sorrell separate creative and media, and one could argue we saw the death of creativity in our industry. That’s why the traditional agency model is being left behind. It’s the connected, adaptable merger of organism and machine that drives today’s business and marketing success.
Evolving in the Age of AI-driven Business
Machine Learning and Augmented Intelligence have given way to a new way of servicing and connecting with your audiences, and being a Connected Company will give you an advantage in capturing and holding onto market share, and mindshare.
Millennials and Gen Z will soon dominate the general population (some would argue they already do). Fully connected and growing up with a smart phone in hand, both are fully immersed in the internet. Being a Connected Company is not only about being present in their world, but making a presence — acting, not reacting. Being the disruptor, not the disrupted.
Connected Companies strive to both ask and answer the age old questions. What are those unmet or unarticulated needs that we can tap into? How can we be inspired by digitally-enabled business models like Netflix and Uber? How do we cultivate that type of innovation for our existing customer base?
There are a number of different industries that are ripe for these types of experiences. One that comes to mind is retail. How do brands today compete with Amazon? How do they deliver a better experience and incentivize the customer to do business through their channels as opposed to through Amazon? How can you do better than the “one tap purchase” affect on Amazon?
The easiest and most efficient way to adapt to consumer habits and needs comes down to data and design thinking — being able to listen and understand what your customers want and don't want, and then translate that into what the market does and does not want. It means understanding data and patterns and having the tools and the processes to be able to interact with your customer, to allow them to help you co-create the solutions, the products, the services, the experiences that will help you be a connected company. It means leveraging technology to enhance the human experience at every touchpoint.
Fostering & Growing a Connected Company
One of the most important facets of evolving in this post-digital transformation era is interconnectivity and congruence between your people, your processes, and your platforms in a way that’s conducive to fostering innovation as well as cross-functional thinking and learning.
If creativity is about quickly making undiscovered connections in your mind, being a Connected Company is similarly about making connections from data, then tracking those connections, across people and time, synthesizing them to inform coordinated, insightful action — to reach great heights of possibility and innovation by building off of observable data and trends.
At Digital Surgeons, we strive to build our Connected Company from the inside out. It starts with recognizing that we, the players, are human first, and by creating the experiences we need in order to be able to create connected brands for our clients. It’s about fostering, recognizing, and enabling innovation, commitment, and ownership at all levels, from the cubicles to the c-suite, even though we don’t have any cubicles, or fancy executive suites.
From this foundation, we think about design as the intersection of form, function, and growth. If aesthetics or form leads over function, it's ultimately not going to solve a business problem. What we do is we take our understanding of all of these interactions, all of these products, all of these services, and distill them into how we think, make, and execute. We apply our knowledge of connected technology, design, and business, then we apply a deep understanding of actual people in order to create further change. We put the humanity in technology.
Being a Connected Experience Design Company is about starting with the experiences we foster every day with each other in the company, and allowing them to guide the creation of products, experiences, and brands that people can quickly and fully connect with. It’s about much more than simply adopting new tech. Being a Connected Company requires a devotion to the types of experiences that will inspire behavioral changes, build communities, and actually drive demand. That’s how we design demand for our partners, every time.
Ready to evolve beyond digital transformation, and to experience a future that’s more connected?