Consuming experiences instead of mass-produced goods has been emphasized in recent years; travel, self- and soul-care have been marketed as obvious alternatives, canvassed against a backdrop of bleak mass-produced goods in abundance. This is one of many signs of how we have shifted our mindset from being a production society to a service society. We also see patterns in the way we live – values become more important than results, personal branding and relations more important than social status.
LA + Bin Stockholm and teaches Semiotics and ID generation at Konstfack Stockholm, and guest lectures among others at LTH in Lund, Arkitekthögskolan / KTH Stockholm and Berghs Stockholm. Jonas has been running design activities for 20 years in areas such as high-tech industrial design, packaging, marketing, media, TV and film, and has worked with customers such as Absolut Vodka, Volvo, Husqvarna, Nobel, SVT and others. This article was first published in Scandinavian Man issue 4, 2019, and has been edited.
Our view on technology and innovation, previously portrayed as either savior or foe is also maturing slowly. AI – Artificial Intelligence – is reformulated into Assisted Intelligence, implying that it is not, nor will it ever will be, an autonomous species, but rather a smart tool. Virtual Reality, once seen as a next generation media platform, is, together with its siblings AR (Augmented Reality) and MR (Mixed Reality), renamed Virtual Influence, as an inspiring part of a larger context rather than one sole channel for storytelling.
Data and big data, while tremendously useful, should be used with care; data is often flawed and often contains bias inherent even in the instrument of its collection. A single-minded focus on quantitative performance may presume that we all value progress at the expense of our humanity. Consumers, increasingly sensitive to the fact of every facet of their lives being reduced, tracked and funneled into a data-driven marketplace, grow weary of products that reinforce their anonymity and look for experiences in which they can find themselves. And so we find that the pendulum slowly swings towards the value-based, the empathic, the relationship-focused and the notion of a diffuse and complex society.
Companies and creatives creating experiences that consider the unique and diverse experiences, needs, and desires of their users have the opportunity to shape experiences which are customized by the perception and input of the user.
And it is through working out from this understanding that is the key to success today –– by creating a seamless narrative with clear values, showing empathetic understanding of the recipient, being transparent about who we are and what we offer. Not only our flawless façades but also by sharing how our backyard looks. Great innovation can be narrative and experiential. Innovation is not limited to the technological.
But one might ask, what of the consumer goods, then? Well, their relevance persists, but in concert with a larger whole. Products, their packaging, and physical environments represent the worldly, the powerful sensory experiences where the digital world has yet a long way to go. Physical entities, like packaging is an interface in open dialogue with consumers, and they are at their best when in conversation with an overall story. The days when the product’s monologue is in central focus are over.
Brands such as Goop, with Gwyneth Paltrow at the helm, have understood this shift, and offer not only beauty products but also related experiences such as yoga classes, and wellness opportunities or conferences in a storytelling flow both online, at activations points and through their products and packaging. Apple highlights how the balance of services and products has become their new focus, cleverly building their own ecosystem of these, and after building momentum (or creating hype), Apple manifest their own myth through big announcement events.
Creating a new dialogue and relevant collaborations have in recent years become a new standard for most brands in the fashion industry. Streetwear brand Supreme, takes this even further. Through digital and physical events, they announce collaborations with both high-street fashion brands as well as geeky gadget brands or mundane crockery companies. In an almost postmodern journey, they trigger our imagination, playing on gamification cornerstones like scarcity and randomness, giving space for other voices in their narrative, as well as embedding a sense of actuality.
If it is coherent, and if it is done right, good narrative, empathically engages the needs of the recipient, who at any given time can jump in and out of the story, and creates a bespoke experience to be enjoyed in both the digital and physical realms.
4 pointers when creating bespoke experience:
- Understand the story you want to tell, from the receivers’ perspective. Enhance it by activating as many senses as possible per channel. Find new rooms and mediums – and pair, mix and enhance the narrative with traditional such as packaging, product design, POS and environments. The strongest impressions are still the haptic and spatial.
- Innovate with empathy (not to be confused with sympathy). Create experiences that understand the user and build relevance.
- Use data wisely. We have more data than ever, but it tells a one-sided story. Perceive the story behind the data. Use semiotics, and semantics; mix both explicit and implicit narrative in your communication.
- Show your backyard, show the factory, be transparent, and let your receiver in.