The next revolutionizing product, is an experience

When we describe a great bottle of wine, we use tangible terms like sweetness and earthiness. We don’t describe the essence of the wine, the sensory experience of subtle flavors, as the experience is to complex to describe. The more complex the wine is, the better the taste and the harder it is to describe.

When we experience gourmet dining to our heart’s content, we talk about the simple cognitive inputs. We talk about the sweet, the sour, the hot and the cold. We talk about the crunchiness, the creaminess and the softness. We talk about the things that we can define and relate to. We don’t talk about the combined result of all the ingredients, as we often don’t know how to define it or describe it. Instead, we rub our belly, expressing our delight with a satisfied smile.

This result, the superb dining experience, is the combination of many ingredients and a rigorous process of perfection by the chef, i.e. the designer. We are not capable of describing or even duplicating the story behind the experience, though when told by the chef, it resonates with our tastebuds, as we can imagine the experience.

Any competitor can readily match your product offer, making product differentiation a losing strategic battle. Any startup can quickly mimic your processes and methods, producing the same products as you. If your competitive advantage is design, then your competitive advantage is an ideology to deliver the best customer experiences from customer insights.

Through strategic rigor, your customer experiences will create a unique proposition, as you constantly learn and evolve with your market share. This process of action and reaction, will keep you ahead of the competition by evolving your culture, as the relation with your customers and insight learned isn’t duplicable.

When defining the value of an emotional experience, we often fail to define a tangible measurement, as we don’t know how to measure emotions. We do know how to measure churn and satisfaction, as your executive management is following the numbers. The problem is how we define product sale, as we usually look at marketing and sale for statistics. But product sale is just an element of the overall experience, as customers don’t buy products, they buy experiences.

If you ask your customers, “What experience would you buy?”, the answers would be vague, as we often express ourselves in tangible terms, unable to describe the story. It would be the equivalent of asking your customers to define the recipe for a five star restaurant or write the manuscript for a blockbuster movie. Your customers would response in terms of action, drama, Robert Downy Jr., paprika, sour, salty, champagne, adventure.

We might buy a car, but we only need the car as a proxy to achieve freedom. That same achievement might be possible by other means and if you understand your customers means to an end, then you know that your business shouldn’t focus on the means, but instead the insightful end. If you only focus on selling a proxy, then you might loose your customers to more advanced or evolved proxies, as they evolve with their customers, as they follow the end, not the means.

If you redefine your products as ingredients of an experience, then you in tandem redefine your product management and categorizations by customer insight and customer relation. Product management must be defined by the circumstances they aim to solve, not the products they deliver. Every tangible product sold, is in a direct relation to an intangible experience. By that definition, experiences are calculable investments and can be measured by their ingredients, thus becoming tangible measurements.

If customers complain about one ingredient, your experience can simply adapt to the changes and evolve with customer demand. Products are not business pillars or silos of management efforts. Products are merely ingredients, reused in many of your experience offers. Like salt and pepper, they are essential to the experience, but should be replaceable and adaptable to your customers desires, wanting less or more depending on the experience. It’s time to redefine what a product is and let your real offers come forth. The next revolutionizing product offer, is a customer experience.

This article is from the book, Product Design Dilemmas. A modern design ideology for customer driven designers and managers.