When Brian Solis looks to the horizon, he sees an unprecedented digital disruption that will change how brands interact with their customers. Solis is a principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a company that looks at future trends, as well as an award-winning author and keynote speaker.
As a digital analyst, anthropologist and futurist, he helps top-level executives -- as well as the rest of us -- better understand how technology is evolving and what impact it will have on business and society.
I recently had the chance to talk with Solis. He explained some of his observations about how living in an era of digital disruption will ultimately humanize the customer experience. Here are his prescriptions for surviving and thriving an era of digital Darwinism.
1. Reimagine yourself in an era of digital Darwinism.
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According to Solis, “Our world has undergone a radical digital transformation, and most of those changes stem from investments to technology to modernize business infrastructure.”
But he explained that, while all this new technology has enabled important changes to take place, these digital transformations often lack a broader context. “Businesses must be thoughtful about how they are using this technology,” he said. “We must reimagine what the customer experience could be, based on how technology is changing.”
He said he looks at digital transformation as people and technology that change from the inside out and the outside in. “It’s about having new perspectives and processes and systems that deliver new value to customers and employees in an era of digital Darwinism.”
Ultimately, all these changes will allow businesses and brands to become more relevant during every step of the customer-employee experience.
2. Cultivate meaningful experiences.
The most important thing a brand can do to set itself apart from others is to give customers positive and powerful experiences. “Oftentimes brands are too focused on transactions, messaging and marketing, without looking at what kind of experience customers are having with them,” Solis said.
According to him, that’s a big mistake. If consumers are deeply connected to a company, and associate positive and empowering experiences with a brand, they will be more likely to share their experiences with others and more inclined to do repeat business.
“The reason why experience is such a big deal is that it introduces opportunities for companies to be incredibly innovative on the experiential front,” Solis explained.
He has experienced this impact as a consumer. Some of his favorite brands are Disney, Disney Parks, Apple and Tesla, companies that thoughtfully craft their customers’ experience.
“They are incredibly experiential and innovative,” Solis said. “Every one of those brands thinks about 'my' user experience, meticulously and relentlessly. And they make it easy for me to do business with them, so that I want to continue to do business with them.”
3. Cater to the accidental narcissists.
Solis observed that we are a generation of accidental narcissists living in a selfish economy.
“Every app, every service and every network is teaching us that we’re the center of the universe,” Solis said. “If you want a car, there’s an app for that. If you want validation, here’s an app for that. We’re being positioned to become accidental narcissists.”
A selfish economy may sound negative, but Solis has a different view. He sees it as ultimately a good thing because serving a generation of self-focused consumers will drive technology to be more human and force brands to be more empathetic. “A selfish economy gives companies insight into what people expect and how people behave, how people communicate and share, what they find interesting,” Solis said.
This combination of factors should inspire businesses to build genuine relationships. Ultimately, this means that businesses must create stellar experiences in order to create lasting relationships with consumers. “I think people actually find that all this technology will make things a bit more human and engaging again,” Solis said.
4. Transform in the face of disruption.
On the horizon, Solis sees creative upheaval. “ Customer expectations and behaviors are changing dramatically as a result of disruptive technology,” he said. He explained that that is going to force disruption and innovation at every level in every business.
“We’re entering an era of rapid and dramatic innovation. So, the extent to which things like augmented and virtual reality are going to affect life -- and as a result, affect behavior, and as a result, affect expectations -- are only going to continue.”
Solis believes that there will be tremendous new breakthroughs in these areas and that those breakthroughs will create a level of disruption that will force agility in many different business models.
5. Maneuver around roadblocks.
As a result of all this disruption, Solis believes that companies will face many obstacles. And one of the biggest challenges is for them to think about their brands the way their customers do.
“So often, when brands make investments in customer experience, they do it from a standpoint where they are disconnected, and they don’t feel natural,” Solis said. “Company executives also need to alter their way of looking at competition.” They aren’t just contending with known competitors, but also with unknown startups that will be their competitors tomorrow.
We are in a new era of engagement, so we need to learn how to do things differently. As Solis says, “That requires a type of expertise that just doesn’t exist with new organizations today.”