Ok, so it has been a while. But this quiet working week feels like a good time to try to restart some kind of blogging rhythm, even if it's more likely to be a weekly rather than daily habit in the coming year.
Anyway, the holiday season has inspired a few thoughts to get me going again. Specifically, I'm encountered three great examples of holistic, ongoing experience design...classic 'free prize inside' bonus experiences that follow and enhance the core experience (but which would seem completely frivolous, indulgent, and non-measurable to traditional marketers).
Take the packaging for my wife's new iPod Nano. Traditionally, packaging was a way to differentiate products visually, on a supermarket shelf. But the really sexy part of the iPod Nano packaging is inside the box...reflecting the experiential importance of the unboxing experience and the talkability of that 'free prize' moment.
Or take the freebie my wife and I received as we left New York's Gramercy Tavern after dinner...muffins for breakfast the following day. A small thing in monetary terms, but a really smart way to extend our dining experience into the next day (when incidentally we were much more likely to talk about and recommend it to others).
Finally, my parents spent this Christmas at Babington House in the UK. This year, on departure, they were given an entire care package of goodies for when they got home...milk, bread, butter, and jam to allow them to have a snackwhen they got home to an empty fridge. Just too thoughtful, and yet so simple and obvious. And it was, of course, the first thing they told me about when we spoke on the phone.
2010 will be the year of the customer-centric experience brand. Which should make it a great year for free prizes.
Working in the live experience space I'm always talking about how the world is changing...how the world of online is affecting and shaping and enabling the world of offline...and vice-versa. It's a constant battle to make sense of the changing context and landscape we're all living and working in, and to understand the implications for a bunch of other stuff.
Should the country be spending money on saving old masters for the nation, or buying up works by the next generation of artists?
His answer was a perfect example of understanding how a changing environment (travel, wealth, connectedness) requires a changing response...
At the risk of being lynched – again – by the art crowd, I don't think there is a great need any more to save paintings for the nation at the cost of supporting new art. What difference does it make if a Titian is hanging in the National Gallery, the Louvre or the Uffizi? This isn't the 18th century: people travel, so there's no need to be nationalistic about the world's art treasures. Much more important is to back living artists.
It will not have gone unnoticed to my (occasional) regular readers that my output has slowed to an almost complete halt over the past few weeks.
I wondered the other week that the weather and the general humid apathy that seems to descend on New York in summer was to blame. But perhaps it's something more fundamental.
Perhaps, when I began blogging eleven months ago I was in an intellectual comfort zone. I had begun my third year of working in the same role. I had completed a lengthy apprenticeship in the world of brand experience marketing. And I had lots of learnings and outpourings to share. I was, in other words, in a very blogging-friendly phase of my career.
Now I find myself in a different situation, a different career phase. One where what I think is being challenged, shaped, and refined daily as I work with new people, on new problems, in new surroundings, and for new clients.
There's no profound observation here. Other than that perhaps we shouldn't be surprised when not every week, month, or year is the same. Perhaps it should be no shock that we (both as individuals and organisations) often find our priorities and preferences shifting rapidly and unplanned as things move from one phase to the next.
Have a read of this interesting piece by The Guardian's art critic, Jonathan Jones. Titled 'Art criticism is not a democracy', the piece makes two fascinating points relevant to any field...
ONE. Criticism matters. As Jones argues, "iI nothing is properly criticised, mediocrity triumphs".
TWO. No one is going to declare you a critic (or an expert). Instead, it's an exercise in arrogant self-promotion balanced with honest self-assessment. Here's how Jones puts it, "I don't believe my views on film or TV or music are worth anything special. But I do believe – actually I know – that my instinct for what is valuable in art is unusually sure."
I take a simple lesson from this. Everything is worth challenging and criticising, and no one is going to give you the permission to do it. Your choice is whether you want to be someone whose opinion on something matters and what you're going to do about it.
Lots of stuff going on in the world and no time (or energy) to write about it recently.
Chris Anderson's new book, Free, sets up interesting discussions about the old-world of scarcity thinking and the new world of abundance thinking. He talks about how the shifting landscape is changing what is valuable, and what now deserves to be free. Here's his original article in Wired on Free, and here's the book which explores the concept fully.
It's easy to assume that Free is a discussion most relevant to digital music sales and similar categories that have been directly transformed by the power of the internet. In truth, the kind of paradigmatic shifts that Free is based on are happening in all sorts of categories, both in the old and new media spaces. The question is not, therefore, if it is affecting you...but how it's affecting you and what you're doing about it.
Rather than wait for an over-priced trendwatching agency to tell you what's going on, you need to start forming a clear hypothesis about where your sector is going and the forces that are going to drive it in that direction, and then you need to start testing and refining that hypothesis through every article you read and every conversation you have.
Two examples in the NY Times today of articles that have helped me develop my thinking about the world of experiences...
This piece on shifting trends in the New York bar and club scene talks abut the rejection of exclusive bars and clubs in favour of inclusive social environments. It has helped me to refine my thinking on the kinds of experiences people are looking for in 2009, the kinds of contexts they want to frame their lives within.
This piece on the changing pressures on American shopping malls has helped to reinforce my belief that the context we create around live experiences is often now more important than the core content of that experience. The shopping mall example in the article talks about the growing importance of events and ancillary experiences, and the relative drop in significance of the shopping experience itself, driven by the recessionary realities of 2009 combined with the convenienceof online shopping.
Nothing new then. Just more stimulus, more brain fuel. The question, as always, is what you and your orgnisation should do about it...