Dirk Knemeyer

Brand experience and hotels, April 19, 2005

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

The experience is becoming the brand. People are smart. The days of the marketing and advertising weaving a brand and even making up for deficient products is over. It is all about the experience, the products and services themselves. Traditional hotels, particularly chains, are remnants of a paradigm that is passing into history. The industrial age notion of the sterile, cookie cutter solution has been reduced to base commodity in one milieu after another.

America and the future of capitalism, December 21, 2004

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

[Talking to my friend Manish] hammered home my general belief that – barring massive social change – the U.S. is destined for an ongoing economic freefall. People in the U.S. have come to expect and feel entitled to a standard of living that is many, many times greater than people in India, China, and beyond. Now that we are in a legitimately global economy, we will either need to decrease our standard of living or significantly upgrade our skillset. After all, if we expect to maintain the same standard of living, we will not be able to compete with people who are willing to work for far, far less. I’ve heard many of us in the U.S. make the case that our skills and experience here are so much more valuable that the 5-20 times more $$$ that we demand for the same work is thus justified and worthwhile. But we are kidding ourselves. Even if we assume superior skill and experience here in the U.S., it cannot be worth the massive difference in cost.

Manish said more than once that capitalism is blind, and he’s right. At the end of the day, companies are going to make the business decisions that are in their best interest. It is all about the bottom line. So lets look at major U.S. companies, particularly technology companies, and see how many have a major presence in India. The answer is, a lot. Manish mentioned that Adobe has its own large, new building in India. That was surprising for me. It is to the point where, when I ask myself what major tech company does not have a major presence in India, I am hard-pressed to name even one. The reason is because these companies are accountable to their shareholders, and their shareholders demand higher profitability. It seems a near-consensus that a good way to achieve that is through offshoring.

And it is not only programming that is being offshored. Usability and visual design. Customer service. Did you know that insurance underwriting is being offshored? How about financial analysis? Yep and yep.

Many people in the U.S. – as well as Manish – rationalize this situation from a U.S. perspective, from the standpoint that almost all of the product strategy and design is still happening in the U.S., that there is safety at the top of the knowledge pyramid. Sure, true enough. But do we expect that to remain the case? The rest of the world is hungry and catching up. My friend Bob Baxley shared a quote from the CEO of Intel with me about how many more people are in India and China, and that even if only 10% of their populace is getting educated, it is still far, far more educated people than in the U.S. So right now, today, we can take comfort in the fact that much of the vision and strategic planning is still happening here. But as developing nations gain purchasing power, as their societies become increasingly Westernized, what then? If (for instance) consumers in these nations reject U.S. brands and products, we will be in a world of hurt.

The unbounded self, December 12, 2004

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

We are in the midst of a major trend to co-creation and ubiquitous participation. This is evident in so many ways. For example, consider reality television. For much of its history, television was the ultimate escapist fantasy: people watched professional actors and performers create artificial and often idealized worlds. In retrospect, the programs were compelling for their time in the best case and embarrassingly stupid in the worst. But beyond uniformly improving the quality, television has evolved into a participant medium. We don’t just watch, we perform and compete. Any one of us can try out for “Survivor” or “The Bachelor” or “The Apprentice.” Rather than being an unattainable fantasy world, television is now the domain of us all. We are competing against other non-professionals. And people are watching! Rather than escaping into unreal worlds like “The Munsters” “Petticoat Junction” or “MacGyver”, we are watching people rather like us competing in slightly real, slightly warped games and contests. The boundary between performer and spectator have blurred, if not almost disappeared altogether. We have become part of the game.

Now, this should be no great surprise to cultural scholars who got enough clues from people like Derrida, Jameson, and Foucault to see this coming. But in a business sense, we should have taken initiative on this more quickly. Sure, broad brushstrokes in the areas of one-to-one marketing – preceding the mainstreaming of the web – and applying participation and co-creation to games and design, have already been happening. But it still seems like we’re way behind. I mean, why are we so surprised to see professional athletes and spectators physically attacking each other? Traditional boundaries are a thing of the past. Going back about half a century, this began at a much more macro level, as lines between gender and races weakened, migrating into other domains. People are not tolerant to boundaries, particularly those that are more symbolic. They want to exert their will and influence. They want to participate. They do not discern boundaries that exist only through respect or tradition or expectation. This is happening in many parallel ways: the basketball incident, reality television, the position of U.S. president having less respect than at almost any point in the country’s history, increasingly lax broadcast guidelines for indecency, the rapid increase in popularity of video games…all are signifiers of something larger.

More than the foundation for an interesting philosophical and cultural analysis, it provides the signpost for how we approach our customers/market/users/participants/: people want to participate. They don’t want to read or to watch or otherwise be passive. They want to exert their will, add their voice to the chorus, see their influence. Interaction truly is interaction, in the most literal and engaged way, not just a word that speaks to the fact some sort of passive action is being taken. But why? The secret to business success in a consumer context will be tapping into this active yearning that is often below the surface. It is understanding the root needs and desires that continue to accelerate the erasure of lines between spectator and performer, between imaginary entertainment and “reality” entertainment, between respectful observation and self-motivated participation. Leveraging this is less about replicating it in a literal and linear way (“How do we give our customers the most possible involvement and engagement?”) and more about innovating new ways to maximize the root needs and desires (“These trends exist for specific sociological and psychological reasons, and we can find a new way into those through…”)

The future of branding, July 12, 2004

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

The very nature of business has changed more in the last 15 years than in the 50 years prior. That is due to a few different factors, one of which is the rise of the Internet. The ubiquitous access to data and information, instant international communication, and the replacement of human tasks with digital processes has revolutionized where business is going. As a result, business is moving faster, the markets available to each business are significantly larger, and the world in general is dramatically smaller and shrinking more every day. This allows for connections, strategies and tactics that were not previously possible.

Another vital business trend is the move toward globalization. Spurred by the Internet and the natural by-product of mature, late-stage capitalist market conditions, globalization is the logical next step for business success.

[…] More than replacing small local businesses with “super brands,” the move to globalization has a cascading effect on how business is done: recent trends toward offshoring are a direct product of globalization; the spiraling commoditization of all but the most complicated technical and intelligence tasks is another.

[…] Brand Experience is the strategic approach to compelling people to take productive action through the integrated, coordinated planning and execution of every possible interaction that they have with your company or products. That means assessing business strategy through the lens of providing people with carefully designed experiences that meet their needs and desires, with the explicit intention of compelling them to take productive action on your behalf.

Brand Experience—in its totality—is a rather new discipline, and one that is incredibly complex to execute successfully. Not only does it require a sophisticated understanding of business strategy and a deep, scientific and cultural understanding of people and markets, it also demands a broad—and neutral—understanding of communications and media. It is, at once, the synthesis of business, marketing, design and technology.