I’ve got a question for you. Which is larger – Greenland or China? I’ll wait while you look below at the trusty, handy dandy world map that I’ve provided. It’s one we’ve all grown up with. Greenland is huge right? Or, how about this; which is larger – Libya, or Alaska? (Libya is the lime green one at the top of Africa) No question right? Alaska is alot bigger.
Well wrong on both accounts. China is almost four times the size of Greenland – and Libya believe it or not, is actually slightly larger than Alaska.
This map of the world that we have ingrained in our brain, and which is still in use in many schools today, is actually quite wrong. It’s based on a map created more than 400 years ago and was used to guide navigators who were sailing across the ocean. Today, the Peters Projection map and others have created a completely new experience for how to think about the position and size of the countries on our planet. There’s a wonderful West Wing episode that demonstrates this.
But of course, in the end, these maps are wrong too. In fact, there is no way to completely, and with perfect accuracy, depict the size or distance of countries on a flat map. In short, we’re all referencing the exact same thing (our planet) – but looking at it in very different ways.
I was struck by this after reading Seth’s Blog today. He said:
“If you define success as getting closer and closer to a mythical perfection, an agreed upon standard, it’s extremely difficult to become remarkable, particularly if the field is competitive. Can’t get rounder than round.”
So, How Wrong Are Our Maps?
Certainly managing the “customer experience” and “web experience management” are popular topics these days in relation to content marketing. From standard content marketing programs, to social media to optimizing our customer’s buying process, there’s great need for companies to differentiate (or improve) from the other experiences that are out there. But as I talk with marketers about the myriad ways they are starting to accomplish this, I often find that they struggle to create new, remarkable experiences – because they’re doing it based on old data, existing practices or preconceived notions. In short – they’re using old maps to try and create something remarkably new.
For example, I was at a mobile conference recently and a self-proclaimed digital marketing “guru” began extolling his process of creating “new web experiences” for a client. He created a mobile and social content marketing strategy solely by automatically publishing the most “popular” content on the client’s current Web site to the new channel. He then blamed the client for not succeeding when the mobile/social program fell flat on its face. He basically re-drew an existing map into a new interface.
A Common Struggle
We want to believe that creating new, remarkable customer experiences can be automated from old ones. We feel like it’s safer to guide our strategy by the conventional wisdom that has been institutionalized by the organization, rather than try something brand new. We want to think that by using existing processes – we can somehow create something new and better.
What happens then? We design the new Web site, or mobile experience based on old maps of our target personas, and the analytics from our old site. We start our re-design process before we understand if a new content experience will resonate or if the old one is even broken. We immediately dive in and try to assemble a “Facebook strategy” or a “Twitter strategy” before we even understand how (or if) our consumers utilize the Social Web at all. We streamline our customer service call centers and enable Twitter accounts and new knowledge/content management software before examining if the issue would just be better solved with better content on our Web site. Or, worst of all – we use our previous returns on investment as the Go/NoGo decision factor for something new.
We do all these things based on what we think we know today. But, what if what we know today is wrong? Or, how much better could it be if we took the time to completely change our perspective?
Can Customer Experiences Even Be Designed Or Mapped?
So, look if we’re honest, we know we have no absolute control over the experiences our customers will ever have. There are just so many variables – including the ones we can’t control (e.g. it’s raining on the day they sign into our store) that it’s just foolish to think we can design a singular experience that everyone will have. In fact, some powerful arguments have been made that say we can’t design the experience at all – but that rather we can “design FOR experiences”.
That’s an extraordinary concept to me because what it means is that in the same way that it’s impossible to design a global map without distortions – it means that there is no perfect way to design the perfect customer experience. The optimal Web Experience for our brand cannot and will not ever be reduced to some algorithmic data-driven model that we can mathematically prove. The absolute best we can do is pick our optimal day, creatively decorate the house, invite the right people and hope everybody has a good time. In short, it’s about continually and creatively optimizing our inherently limited and distorted view to optimize for the OPPORTUNITY to create remarkable customer experiences.
So, when consultants or software vendors tell us (as Adobe did with the launch of their WEM suite) that “marketing is the last great business function in the enterprise to be automated,” I say that while at the surface this may be true (there’s a reason it’s last) that it can never (and should never) be automated for creating a new customer experiences.
While automating some of our processes definitely makes us more efficient, using software or algorithms never creates anything new. Relying on an algorithmic approach to create new and remarkable customer experience saps marketing of the ability to create new maps – and runs us right down the road to mediocrity.
Only New Maps Create New Experiences
Sometimes the idea of creating new, remarkable customer experiences can seem esoteric – and they are often relegated to those “whooey wah wah” conversations that designers have. Sometimes we feel like these are only conversations that companies like Zappos or Apple can have. But these companies know that we sometimes have to turn maps upside down, and take on completely new perspectives to differentiate and create new, remarkable experiences.
And with Web content, social, mobile, call centers and globalization, we are adding more and more interfaces to our business every day. Sales, marketing, product design, customer service, the ad agency and our partners are all engaging directly with the consumer. As we exercise the “business muscle” of content production, social engagement and enabling more customer touch points with our business – we need to understand that ALL of these are about creating new customer experiences.
Making sure that we’re all operating off of a NEW map is the key to making sure these customer experiences are truly new. And WE create them.