The New Formula for Disruption: CX>4Ps

In business school we were all taught about the 4 Ps: Price, Product, Promotion, and Place. I remember teaching graduate level Strategic Marketing and the author of the book had decided to also throw in an “S” (Service) to salute the experiential flag. While the four Ps are certainly important, an over reliance and focus on them may have forced entire industries down a myopic product centered hole.

In the hallowed halls of consumer package goods (CPG) where the magic Ps were first conjured and codified we are finding this particular potion, no matter the alchemy employed, lacks the potency it once possessed.

On all sides ‘Big Food’ is under assault and they and the associated adjacencies are suffering. Disruptors on all sides are sourcing more local, organic, and relatable products and brands. Customers are no longer shopping in the middle of the store as much as they are around the edges, if they are shopping in the store anymore at all.

Why?

Many reasons, but the focus on the Four Ps created an overly atomistic and reductionist approach to product development, design, and marketing. It is a formula to be optimized with customer input as the test subject. Like Rhesus Monkeys in some subterranean laboratory, customers are used as stimulus-response subjects to help hone and refine the product. Does this taste sweeter? Does this taste saltier? What do you think of this package? Blue or Red? Do you like it? Why or why not?

Admittedly this approach created some very addictive chicken nuggets and pork chop coatings, but this 1960s approach where the brand manager played the role of the beneficent product god and customers were his flock of “consumers” misses a very important point.

People do not buy products; they buy experiences.

Customers do not buy cereal, they are looking for how to feed their kids in the morning and keep them happy and healthy. They don’t buy dolls or toy cars they buy the experience of playing with that doll or the creative endeavor of creating a make-believe city out of the living room carpet.

This product myopia is not relegated to CPG by any means. Insurance companies are struggling as to how to sell life insurance policies to millennials who fail to see the point. The hospitality industry is trying to assert its relevance over aggressive boutique experience providers. The automotive industry is about to be turned on its head as product planners continue to plan products while young people are increasingly delaying getting a licenseand would rather not own a car if they didn’t have to. It affects almost every industry.

The evidence was in plain sight for a long time, but accelerant has been thrown on experiential fire by millennials and newer generations of the “sharing economy” who view owning stuff as a needless investment when money could be much wisely put toward hiking the PCT or hang gliding in Belize.

So what do we do?

The first important step is we all need to take a step back. Hold hands and chant “we don’t sell products, we sell experiences.” We need to radically re-think how we “do” product development and marketing from the ground up. It is coming to terms that we are not providing a product with features, we are providing an experience.

So how do we proceed from there? The steps are familiar, the substance of doing them may not be.

Who is Your Customer?

First, we need to define who it is we are talking about as customers. Is it one person or many? Is it retirees or school children? Men or women? Defining your customer is more accurately done psychometrically then demographically as one is typically just a surrogate for the other, but nonetheless some kind of profile is better than none as experiential desires vary greatly by individuals. Getting crisp on “who” is very important before we start talking about the what…however, those conversation invariably possess a recursive quality.

What do they Want?

If you ask people what they want different in their Ketchup they will tell you things like size, taste, color and so forth. These are the tangible product attributes that people get their brains and around and we, as researchers, have trained them to talk about. If you get lucky you might have an eureka! moment and find out they want to get the ketchup out of the bottle easier. However, the conversation is always about ketchup.

Reframe

In order to really get to what people want we need to reframe the problem. What is the underlying experience they want to have? How do we get to it? Is it really about ketchup? Or is it about picnics or baseball games?

Customers have a very hard time expressing this in the abstract. The famous quote of customers wanting a faster horse buggy is spot on; customers can’t project their future product needs; that’s our job.

Getting To Experiences

Over the years researchers have come up with different ways of getting to “underlying needs” such as laddering techniques and other project techniques. I think those can work, but have some pragmatic limitations. When we start laddering up to “self-actualization” or “connectedness” as the underlying need, you oftentimes see the look of sheer terror on the product planner and marketers’ face. How does one design to “connectedness”? No, we need something a bit more concrete.

I have found the best way to evoke what people want from their experience is looking at their customer journey today and contrasting that to what that might ideally look like in the future. We are not confining people to attributes, colors, and prices. This involves a mix of observing behaviors, looking at trends, and actually talking to people.

Take for example the founder story of Uber

“On a snowy Paris evening in 2008, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp had trouble hailing a cab. So they came up with a simple idea—tap a button, get a ride.

What started as an app to request premium black cars in a few metropolitan areas is now changing the logistical fabric of cities around the world. Whether it’s a ride, a sandwich, or a package, we use technology to give people what they want, when they want it.”

What did Uber do? They took away all of the bad stuff and added in the only the stuff that improved the experience. They didn’t make a better taxi, they re-engineered the experience of getting from point A to point B better.

Experiential Design

So now we understand the journey and it’s time to get to work. Unfortunately, in this new world it is not just the product planning and brand managers at the helm of the Starship Experience, it takes the whole crew. We are creating experiences, and that involves many people including manufacturing, sales, human resources, operations, product planning, marketing, and many facets of the organizations. If you have retail partners, franchisee, or third party installers; this involves them too.

Oh yeah, those pesky “consumers”… we want to talk with them too. In fact, getting the folks together who are using your stuff with those building stuff is a really great way to supercharge the design process. This approached saved Lego’s bacon and others. We have to get everyone to the table with a common understanding of the customer, their journey today, a common vision for the future, and only then can we design.

Also, it’s important to keep it simple and iterative. The iPhone 6 wasn’t created over night; nor was that F-150 or that tasty can of Thai Chili Star-Kist Tuna. Everything thing on this planet evolved from previous iterations that morphed and changed to best survive and thrive in an ever-changing ecosystem. Those ecosystems change, so must the products and services within them. In fact, one tends to influence the other. Experiential design is no different. It is an iterative, learning, and building endeavor.

Less Ps more CX

So are the four Ps irrelevant? Of course not, they are just a subset of other characteristics we need to consider when designing experiences. Tweaks to existing product offerings are still appropriate, but tweaking at the expense of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture is where companies get caught on their heels.

True experiential design involves more than just product configuration and throwing blue crystals into laundry detergent. If you want to survive in this rapidly pulsating environment, long cycle gated product development approaches won’t do. Move quick and iteratively. Check you instruments but not at the expense of stopping the boat. We must be look at what customer really want and then deliver it to them, quickly, and holistically.

CX Wisdom from the Pope

When’s the last time you talked to one of your customers? Not read a report or sat in on a focus group, but shook hands and talked with a customer.

If you can’t recall and you are the owner, CEO, or other senior executive of an organization then you might have a problem. One simple leading indicator of whether a company is customer focused can be seen in the behavior of their top executives reaching out to customers directly. It’s also a leading indicator if that company will flourish or disappear.

I recently purchased some Bluetooth running headphones from a small technology company in Colorado. They turned out to be defective. I was getting frustrated with the almost-nonexistent customer support so I tried to find the name of the owner. That proved to be somewhat challenging as his name was not listed anywhere on the website except in a promotional video. When I finally did hunt him down via a variety of Internet tools and sent him a friendly email pleading for help, I did not receive a reply from him. I did, however, get quick resolution from their customer support after that point. Why did it have to be that way?

On the other hand we find those organizations who successfully stay connected with their customers. I’m sure these organizations have good VOC programs, but their leadership also gets out and talks with their customers.  In short, their leadership LEADS.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, would regularly pop into stores across his vast network to check in on the store and talk with customers. His visits weren’t with an entourage that buffered him from his constituency, just him and his old Ford pickup. He just wanted to stay connected to his customers and make sure they were happy with the prices, services, and products his stores were providing.  He did the same with his employees.

Not long ago Pope Francis, fed up with being cloistered in the Vatican, took to sneaking out at night, avoiding his security detail, to help the poor. He also dumped the bulletproof Popemobile, feeling it distanced him from his flock. Delta CEO Richard Anderson is known for getting out and meeting customers, gave up his seat to a passenger so she could get home on time.

You can see this intimacy in thousands of small restaurants, shops, and hotels across the nation who have proud and passionate owners and a genuine interest in their customers’ well being. For the ultimate in “connecting” with customers go to any rock concert where the performers get out and talk with thousands of fans at a time and aren’t afraid to get off the stage to interact.  Wow.

The customer experience doesn’t stop after people open the box, buy the service, or walk out of the store. It continues long after that initial transaction as customers continue to interact with your brand well into their ownership journey. Great leaders of truly customer-centric organizations get that. It’s about getting out there and finding out what is really going on, not counting money behind a desk and letting the “front line” be the sole touch point for the customer.

So today give that customer a call or stop them in your store and say “thanks.” It’s not hard.  Ask them what they like and don’t like and most of all listen. Oh, and thank you for reading…let me know what feedback you have for me as well.