Creating products is about building great experiences for customers. In the past, companies would create products to tell a story to customers. But my old boss, Raja Rajamannar, CMO of Mastercard, says, Storytelling is Dead. Jeff Bezos says that at Amazon, “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.” However you cut it, customers are now engaged participants rather than passive recipients. It’s the job of companies to engage with customers rather than just treat them as an audience.
It all starts with how movies and television have become media that we share rather than media that we consume. Ze Frank, a viral media guru who was the president of Buzzfeed Entertainment Group, has a great talk about media as a sharable experience. Ze says that we used to think about media being a great immersive experience of the highest quality. Now it’s about forming connections and being part of something larger than ourselves. You can see this in all the snippets and memes shared on Facebook which are of amazingly low quality. Take a look at the recording of a great experience that Ze and the Buzzfeed team created when they hosted a Facebook Live session where they used rubber bands to explode a watermelon. Almost a million people tuned in to be part of the excitement of when it was going to break and what would happen at that moment. There’s something special about sitting as a group and waiting for something that’s very special and different from watching a recorded video.
Companies know how to leverage the power of connection. Coca-Cola has a long history of connecting people. You can go back to campaigns like I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke and Always Coca-Cola. These are catchy, wonderful iconic commercials. But today, Coke is focusing on building personal connections. You can see this with their “Share a Coke with” campaign. It’s more than a personalization gimmick of putting lots of names on bottles. It’s about building a message not around “This is a Coke for You” but “This is Coke for you to Build a Shared Experience with Someone Else.”
Cards without Humanity does a great job of providing holiday experiences for hundreds of thousands of customers. The company makes an irreverent card game that’s best played by drunk college students. Instead of standard marketing during the holidays, they purposely break the marketing mold. Each year, on Black Friday, they increase the price of their game by $5. One year they asked for $5 and said they’d spend it however they wanted. After the money was collected, they gave it to the staff who posted what they bought online. After the Trump election, they collected money to save American including buying a plot of land in the path fo the border wall. They also created a series of holiday gift boxes. My favorite was the Eight Sensible Days of Hanukah where I and 250,000 other customers received 8 gifts including 3 days of socks.
This year, they put together a Humans vs. Artificial Intelligence challenge. If customers bought more games written by their human writers, they would get a $5000 bonus. If customers bought more cards written by that artificial intelligence, they would fire all the writers. I was excited to buy some games and be part of this 24-hour contest with other fans of the game.
The purpose of products is changing. People don’t want to be told a story but want to be part of a larger experience. Products no longer provide individual experiences but provide a way for people to connect and work together to build something great. I’ve written more about how companies are enabling new types of collaboration in What Does a Hotel Brand Stand for? How Airbnb Changed the Game.