In addition to being an award-winning author as well as keynote speaker, Brian Solis is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a Prophet company.
He recently shared with me some of his astute observations on how living in an era of digital disruption will ultimately humanize customer’s experience.
As a digital analyst, anthropologist and futurist, Solis helps us understand the evolution of technology and its impact on businesses and society.
You study the influence and effects of emerging technology on business, marketing and culture.
What are some of the most important trends you see coming on the horizon? What should businesses be doing now to prepare for them?
Well, one of the biggest things that’s happening on the horizon is just disruption in overall customer experience, simply because customer expectations and behaviors are changing so dramatically as a result of technology that is going to force disruption and innovation at every level in every business.
It’s pretty extensive. And that is only going to continue for the foreseeable future, because we’re entering an era of rapid, dramatic innovation.
The extent to which things like augmented and virtual reality are going to affect life, and as a result behavior and expectations, are only going to continue.
Because there are going to be such tremendous breakthroughs in trends that we haven’t even seen yet. This level of disruption is going to force agility in all kinds of business models, and also introduce new kinds of business models.
Your new book, X: The Experience When Business Meets Design, is about how the future of business is going to evolve around customer experience.
How do businesses cultivate meaningful experiences? Why is this so important?
As a digital analyst, I study technology. As a digital anthropologist, I study behavior.
And the reason why experience is such a big deal is that the more connected the consumers become, the more they are empowered to consult their own experiences, the experiences that they want, the experiences that they have, the experiences that they miss.
And this introduces opportunities for companies to be incredibly innovative on the experiential front.
I wrote a book about experienced design because, typically, most brands don’t really think about the experience that people have.
They think about transactions, they think about messaging, they think about marketing, but at the end of the day, if connected people are having and sharing experiences, they’re also influencing the experiences of other people.
You are a consumer analyst who helps companies understand and act on digital disruption.
How do you determine which factors are most important when a company is looking at how to transform in the face of disruption? Is it different for each company?
It’s a good question. Yes, it’s different for each company. However, what’s the same for each company is it comes down to just good old-fashioned human nature.
The culture of most organizations is not conducive to transformation, change, taking risks or trying new things just for a challenge.
But at the same time, that culture is a reflection of what executives do and don’t do. So you have politics you have to go through, all kinds of things that prevent experimentation or even the thought of experimentation.
And so it happens in pockets and in isolation in the organization until it has enough momentum that it’s able to essentially overturn all of the skeptics or the people who want to sabotage change.
What are some of the biggest roadblocks businesses face today? And what should they try to do to get around them?
Well, there are two. One is just a matter of perspective. One of the roadblocks is that companies don’t link the brand or the business the way that their customers do.
And therefore, when they make investments in customer experience, they do it from a standpoint of assumption or presumption that is often disconnected and doesn’t feel natural.
The other roadblock has to do with budgets, resources and expertise. You have people who are used to doing things the old way, measuring things the old way, funding things the old way, when in fact we need a new era for engagement; we need to learn how to do things differently. And that requires a type of expertise that just doesn’t exist with the new organization today.
As you know, transformation is huge. It’s one of those buzzwords we hear a lot. But what does that really mean to you? How do you sort through all of this noise to see what is real?
I think that question is actually what inspired me to write my first report on the subject several years ago. The roots of digital transformation were in investments in technology to modernize the infrastructure of business.
And that technology was implemented as a way of taking out some systems that had been in the organization before the days of the internet.
What I found to be very interesting was that digital transformations lack any sort of context or definition that guide or give purpose to these investments, this level of change. Because it wasn’t just about modernizing a business to be competitive in the digital economy.
Also, what does it mean to be competitive? What does it mean to be relevant in a digital economy? And the definition I gave was the investment in technology, but also new perspectives and processes and systems to deliver new value to customers and employees in an era of digital Darwinism.
I look at digital transformation as both people and technology changing from the inside out and the outside in, to be more relevant in every step of the customer-employee experience. So technology becomes an enabler for something more important.
You have written that the future of marketing is incredibly self-centered, and that we are in a generation full of accidental narcissists. Can you give us some hope for the future? Is there a plus side for all of this?
It’s funny when you write it and someone repeats it back to you. I call it the selfish economy, because for a while there we were calling it the shared economy.
It’s a selfish economy because every app, every service, every network is teaching us that we’re the center of the universe. If you want a car, there’s an app for that. If you want validation, there’s an app for that. We’re being positioned to become accidental narcissists.
And I think it’s a good thing, because it gives us insight into what people expect and how people behave, how people communicate and share, what they find interesting.
A lot of this technology tends to be a bit more human, which allows us to be more empathetic. And all of those things, I think, will inspire us to build valuable relationships with people.
While behavior is going to continue to become more radical because of technology, it’s not going to go back. What it will always try to do is make the best experience it can in order to build the best relationships it can.
I think people actually find that all this technology will make things a bit more human and engaging again.
What are some of your favorite brands and why? What experiences do you value the most?
I want to answer this from a consumer perspective, not from an expert perspective. From a consumer perspective, brand experiences that I value all have something in common.
I realized this as I was writing the book X. Disney, Disney Parks, Apple, Tesla, these are brands that I really love, because they’re incredibly experiential and they’re incredibly innovative.
And every one of these brands thinks about my user experience. They think about my experience meticulously and relentlessly. And then they make it easy for me to do business with them. They actually make it so easy and wonderful that I want to continue to do business with them.
So, Apple, Disney, Disney Parks – all of these companies are very thoughtful around experience. And they design every aspect of what that experience should be, what it should look like, what it should feel like.
Inherently, as a consumer, it makes me want to come back, it makes me want to do more business with them, it makes me build a better relationship with the company. And as a result, I talk about it, I crave it, I desire it more and more.
In fact, those are the companies that really inspired me. What were they thinking about customer experience? At what level? I wanted to reverse engineer that and teach other companies how to be experiential.
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