Experience =WIN. Performance =DRAW.

Couple of days back, I wrote about the Sandisk Sansa express MP3 player and it being a potential threat to Ipod Shuffle, as it had several additional features. Apple can relax .

I just opened the packaging and I am so disappointed . Not by the product ( because I haven’t started using it) but by the “Quick start Guide”. It is pathetic and extremely difficult to read and navigate . In contrast ,  the Ipod guide was simpler, more visual and much easier.Maybe the Sandisk player sounds/performs better, but they have started on the wrong foot with the first step of the experience.

Apple gets the point that its not just about product design. It is about the entire user experience from buying in the store ( the glass walls, bright lights, high ceilings, spread out work desks ie  studio type layout in the Apple stores), to how the packaging opens, the manuals /user guide, the fixing of problems ( eg Genius Bar ) etc etc. Total brand experience delivery of which product design and performance is one key part but not the only one .

How does this apply to other product categories ( in the service categories, it is obvious) e.g. FMCG . Technology cycles are flattening in most FMCG categories . Even if new technologies are available , performance levels have reached a level that marginal utility of any further improvement in product performance is low (Gillette Mach 5 anyone ?).By focusing on total user experience , brands  can get an edge in the market place efficiently ( lower costs, higher speed) . In fact, enhancing the experience can result in real (or perceived ) superior product performance ( and thus a higher score in concept or product test).

All enhancements outside the core product e.g structural packaging enhancements , add-on devices ( for dosing , delivery etc) , rituals etc come under this . 

A few good examples that come to my mind  :

1. Pringles lunch box chip container , allows moms to put 4-5 Pringles chips in the lunch box , while protecting the unique shape of the chip.

 2. Oral B toothbrush with hygiene cap , to protect the brush-head/brush-bristles from being directly in touch with the surrounding-area where stored.

3. COLGATE toothbrush with tongue cleaner on the other side.Now copied by other brands.

4. RIN detergent bar quick dry-net (India). I really like this one . People familiar with this brand will know that it always melted fast or became soggy , resulting in wastage and poor value perception. The drynet is used to hang the soap bar for drying and also prevents the bar from melting . I am thinking, it can also be used as a scrub  (most Indians doing hand-wash with a bar also use a scrub) . 

5. PEPSI sipper-cum-snack bowl/Bottle cooler

6. STELLA ARTOIS signature chalice glass stellaartois2.jpgDesigned /shaped to release all of beer’s multi-textured aroma . Another way to enhance the brand “myth”. Sell the beer , Sell the glass, Enhance the brand/product experience. Better taste , Better bottomline. Happy consumer , Happy company .

7. CORONA beer lime serving ritual : This one apparently wasn’t created by the Marketeers . There are various stories ( e.g was a practical way to keep the flies away in Mexico , the country of Corona’s origin) . But it is a great example of how a ritual can enhance the brand as well as product experience. I love the taste of lime in Corona beer . carona1.jpg

A further thought . Co-branding can  raise the perceived value of the enhanced experience being offered. A good example of this is ARIEL/LENOR with FEBREEZE. Same cleaning and softening but now with the freshness of FEBREEZE. By the way they sell at 10% premium to the normal versions .Here is an idea using the co-branding thought : Microsoft’s ZUNE MP3 player  could have been launched with headphones designed by B&O or BOSE. Most iPod users complain about the Apple head phones. An opportunity for Microsoft to give its ZUNE MP3 player a clear point of difference – better audio experience . Of course, they have to ensure the core performance/design is at least parity to iPOD ie the software /music upload  & download, hardware design and interface .

A recent example of a great experience brand (Apple) slipping a bit . Not entirely their fault, but hey aren’t they supposed to be perfect .Even the Apple design gurus however couldn’t foresee what AT&T will do to their iPhone fan base.

In summary ,

1. Product performance is increasingly a hygiene factor . It gives you a seat on the table. Further “delta” in product performance can be costly,time-consuming and have marginal utility.

.2. Experience enhancement can be faster and cheaper. It can be especially useful for challenger brands .It can enhance real or perceived performance. However it can be copied more easily.Co-branding the enhancement can create higher perceived value.

3. Experience ideas come more from observation . R&D coats need to be in the field (or consumer homes) with the marketing boys doing ethnography/consumer observation.

4. Advertising agencies are still too focused on soft “communication” ideas . More business will move to holistic design/experience firms which can create these tangible experience enhancing ideas for meaningful /hard brand differentiation and communication.  

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