Transport For London uses beacon technology to ensure blind people can navigate the tube. Amazon’s Go proposition lets shoppers shop and leave without any physical payment passing hands. Google Glass (still being used in some enterprise contexts) enables surgeons to augment their view with critical information.
With those examples in mind, surely no one can disagree with Arthur C. Clarke’s statement; the best uses of technology do feel like magic.
But for every single one of these extraordinary examples, there are hundreds of examples that are at best mediocre, at worst underwhelming, pointless, mundane and downright stupid - and a lot of them from brands and businesses that, frankly, should know better.
The world now has (taking a deep breath)… trainers you can order pizzas from (baffling), clothes pegs that tell you the weather (can you not look outside?), automatically tightening belts (loosening it manually is so passé), Bluetooth-enabled toasters that deliver the perfect personalised slice of toast (dumbfounded) and RFID socks (for those frustrating moments when you can’t find a pair of socks in amongst laundry). The Internet is one of the greatest inventions of mankind but instead we use it as a canvas to deliver badly retargeted ads that follow people around the Internet mindlessly.
I could go on. But I won’t. Just let me say this. Surely us humans can do better? Simply, we must do better.
So how do we do that? I think digital experiences need a reboot. We have more than enough kit, more than enough gear, all becoming more intelligent every day. We have pots and pots of data available to us to gather and analyse. Computing power is growing exponentially. Machine learning is driving a new era of artificial intelligence.
For all these reasons, there should be more magic not less surely? So why is there so much mediocrity? My conclusion is simple enough:
The problem with digital experience isn't the technology; it's humans
Indeed psychologist B F Skinner once said, “The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do.” In other words, there is a tendency to apply technology mindlessly – to expect the technology to be the solution when actually technology is the enabler. Problem solving is still a human endeavour. It’s just technology can help us solve it. It’s not the solution itself.
So how do we mitigate the human problem I’ve outlined? In essence, I think we need to start again; we need a reboot. And then having rebooted, we need to adopt a set of principles to ensure digital experiences shift from mediocrity to magic:
1. Ask the right questions
Einstein stated reportedly, “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions”. In order words, the best solutions frame the problem in the right way. And the worst solutions come up about because the wrong answer was asked upfront. This is why 99% of digital innovation projects fail.
2. Find the pain point
With shiny, new technology, it’s very easy to get lost in what can be done, rather than what should be done. What’s right for the customer? What will make their life easier?
3. Use responsibly
The problem with 'programmatic' has been the way the technology has been applied. Like any technology it needs to be used responsibly. And it has not. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
4. Reach for the stars
At the same time, let’s ask more of ourselves, of what we can achieve. We need higher expectations of what technology can and should do for us.
5. Don’t get lost in the tech
Resist the lure of the new and shiny. Understand consumer needs and design experiences appropriately. Be brutal, ask yourself what would my cynical mate down the pub say about this? This is where the discipline of experience planning comes into its own.
6. Be authentic
Don’t try and do everything. Be authentic. Be true to yourself. And execute against that vision. Know what your organisation is good at and what you’re not good at.
7. Find your niche
The best experiences come about due to reductive thinking; having a singular focus around solving one problem, but doing it well. As David Ogilvy said, “Strategy is sacrifice." It's tough to prioritise elements of an experience, but absolutely essential.
8. Move it to the background
Understand what can and should be done in the background, not in the foreground. Amazon Go uses facial recognition technology and powerful machine learning technology to enable its experience. But all that clever stuff is happening in the background.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that digital innovation doesn’t start with technology. It starts with a problem. So the next time you’re faced with creating a digital experience, ask yourself this. What customer problem is it solving? What added value is my brand or business adding to the life of our customers? If you can answer these two questions, you’re on the right path.
Matt Holt is Head of Experience Planning at OgilvyOne