Thursday, December 07, 2006

Interactions are for Companies, Experiences are for Brands

Yesterday’s Webinar seemed to go well, based on the little feedback available. In case you missed it, my slides are available here on the Client X Client Web site. The gist was that there are too many products and channels today for the traditional product manager / channel manager organization to function. Instead, companies have to organize around the customer.

One of the concepts I didn’t have time to develop at length in the presentation was the difference between interactions and experiences. Basically, interactions are direct contacts between a company and a customer. This means the company is aware of the interaction as it’s happening, and has at least the potential to change the treatments it delivers. Experiences, on the other hand, are any contact that the customer associates with the company, whether or not the company is actively involved.

A call center interchange is an interaction, because somebody from the company (the call center agent) can choose which messages to present. (Whether the company actively manages those choices is another question, and an important one.) A television advertisement is not an interaction, because the company doesn’t know who is seeing it and can’t alter the message based on who they are or how they react. But the television ad is still an experience, because the customer knows the company is involved and therefore adjusts her opinion of the company based on what she sees.

Other examples of experiences that are not interactions: installing and using a product (assuming there is no direct contact with the company, such as an activation process); having a product repaired by a third party; discussing a product with another consumer. Of course, the company still has some impact on these experiences through its original actions in creating the TV ad, designing the product, or training its dealers. But the experience of the individual customer is beyond the company’s control.


Another way to look at this is that an interaction is with the company, while an experience is with the brand. (Feel free to ignore that sentence if you don’t think brands are important. If this were an interaction, I’d only show that sentence to people who care about brands. But I can’t customize the blog based on reader attitudes. The best I can do is try to create an experience with a positive impact on all readers. I’m doing that right now by acknowledging that not everyone thinks in terms of brands.) Brands are relevant here because brands are a based on consumer attitudes, and attitude is affected by all events a consumer associates with an entity.

Conversely, brand is not affected by an event when the customer doesn’t know an entity was involved. If my notebook computer catches fire because of a battery problem, I’ll blame Sony if I know they made the battery, but Dell if I only know who made the computer. If I don’t even know that, I’ll probably blame the store that sold it to me. If I know everybody’s identity, I might blame them all. But chances are the brand whose image will be most heavily impacted will be the (known) brand closest to the problem.

I’m not sure I’ve made a convincing case here for the importance of brand as part of the distinction between experiences and interactions. I suppose I feel the association makes sense because interactions and companies are both concrete entities, while experiences and brands are both broader concepts. So each just seems to go with the other. Maybe that’s not the most rational justification you’ve ever seen, but it’s the best I can offer.

I hope you enjoyed the experience.

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