Markus Giesler is a Canadian economist, marketing professor, and expert on market creation and customer experience design. He teaches at the Schulich School of Business.
Is “Design Thinking” still a thing? What comes after design thinking?
I’d say something I call big design. Design thinking typically involves a creative and systematic approach to problem solving by placing the customer at the center of the experience. Most managers I talk with are frustrated. They don’t get the best results with this approach because they spend too little attention to the forces that actually shape the customer experience, which is culture. In order to succeed, managers also need to understand culture – taking the perspective of the people and institutions that shape a market or customer experience. That’s the ‘“big” in big design.
In retail, companies talk about “customer experience” and “retail experiences” – what does this mean today? I mean it can’t be just loud music and perfumed air anymore…
For a long time, marketers tended to equate customer experience design with drama and theatre. That’s also where the sensory aspect comes from. For example, the subtitle to Joe Pine and James Gilmore’s “The Experience Economy,” namely that “work is theatre and every business a stage” speaks volumes. Although this book is a milestone in our understanding of experience, I and the companies I work with would almost argue the opposite. Think about it, a theatre is a great space but it’s a space that you can leave. It’s the opposite of regular life. In my research, I found that the most successful experiences are actually anything but staged and theatrical. They are perfectly taken-for-granted consumer practices and processes that are firmly embedded into who we are. So today, the central question has become one of how can you create something anti-theatrical – an experience that is perfectly indispensable to the consumer’s life?
Referencing your upcoming talk at Davos on customer experience design – how can customer experience design be used to solve the world’s biggest challenges at the Base of the Pyramid – clean water, healthcare, sanitation, poverty, global warming, etc?
The overarching question is one about the role of marketing in helping create better markets. Many experts believe that solving these and other global issues is less about top-down regulation and more about influencing consumer behavior. That’s what marketers are good at. Conversely, when customer experience design is the art and science of shaping a consumer’s thoughts, actions, and decision processes, its not surprising that some of the most successful customer experience designers today are not only to be found in companies. You also find them in governments, public-private partnership gatherings such as the World Economic Forum or at the United Nations.
You may have noticed that consumption is more moral than it used to be. Consuming is no longer just about making the smartest but also about making the most ethical choices. My co-author Ela Veresiu and I have argued that this shift hasn’t happened naturally. Instead, we find that it is an outcome of a particular type of marketing process we call consumer responsibilization. Through consumer responsibilization, responsibility for the solution of pressing issues such as global warming or inequality is shifted from governments and corporations to individual consumers and, as such, to the market. We identified this process through an investigation of problem-solving initiatives at the World Economic Forum. During the last ten years, the process has led to the emergence of four types of responsible consumers that are now commonplace: the green consumer, the bottom-of-the-pyramid consumer, the health conscious consumer, and the financially literate consumer. This trend is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the rise of these consumer types has helped create new markets – from intelligent thermostats and fitness wristwatches to organic food and even ethical financial products. On the other hand, larger institutions such as governments and corporations are held less accountable than in the past whereas consumers today must navigate a complex moral landscape of prescriptions, codes of conducts, and recommendations.
How do you create a new market for something that has been around a long time? For example, how does a band like Steel Pulse, that’s been around for 40 years – with a loyal set of devoted fans – become more relevant when the traditional marketing gatekeepers in the industry aren’t interested in promoting them? Also, the idea of using “cultural movements to create markets” seems to be what both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders seem to have tapped into. Would you explain this “Zeitgeist tapping” principle a little more for our readers.
All brands and specifically those that don’t have large institutional support networks or huge advertising budgets can use the power of culture and cultural movements to create markets. For example, to boost their respective platforms, Clinton, Trump and Sanders are currently tapping into the legacy of popular stories and myths historians commonly describe as American Exceptionalism. Europe, on the other hand, has a library of exceptionalist stories and myths of its own. One section in this library deals with sedentariness and migration, which is highly relevant to European people’s zeitgeist understanding, especially now that the Europeans are going through the largest refugee crisis since WW2. In this situation, consumers are looking for symbolic resources such as brands that provide identity-enhancing meaning. As a band, Steel Pulse could use its history to become a voice in this conversation around ethnicity and migration and serve as an advocate for greater tolerance. Similar things were done by the Fugees in the 90s.
Tell us about the crisis at McDonald’s – what caused it, and what can they do now?
McDonald’s original accomplishment was to have created an entire society and consumer mentality around its burgers. Sociologist George Ritzer has called this process “McDonaldization.” For example, I grew up in a perfectly McDonaldized Germany where the only acceptable birthday party for us children could happen at a McDonald’s restaurant. If your parents broke this rule, you had a real problem with your friends at school. This speaks to the degree to which the experience had become everything but theatre but a taken-for-granted aspect of everyday life. At some point during the early-nineties, however, politicians, nutritional experts, and food activists began to de-McDonaldize society, which led to the undoing of many of these taken-for-granted consumer rituals. Instead of addressing these negative perceptions, the management team lost itself in the nitty-gritty or touch, sense, feel aspects of the experience delivery. They changed the menu, ingredients, the restaurant atmosphere, and many other things. Not that these things don’t matter, they absolutely do. But they can’t turn the ship around if the company forgets to re-McDonaldize society.
How does McDonald’s re-McDonaldize society? Is it too late in the day?
Rather than changing the product or service delivery, this would entail changing social expectations around the product. Consider how the California-based pharmaceutical company Allergan redefined the American living room as a legitimate site for Botox injections to turn its muscle blocker Botox Cosmetic from a niche innovation that most people associated with death, blood, and frozen faces into an accepted self-enhancement procedure.
How is marketing/branding changing? What topics are you researching right now and what insights would you like to share from your latest findings?
In the conversations I have with managers and researchers, I see a lot of interesting things happen at the intersection of strategy, analytics, and design. Many companies sit on a wealth of data and suffer from a scarcity of insight. Running a successful ride-sharing app, for example, is not only about transforming data into a competitive asset but also about figuring out how to shape human behavior and expectations around technology. Along these lines, my colleagues Ela Veresiu, Ashlee Humphreys, and I are currently investigating Uber to study how emotions such as empathy can be used to contain the risks we commonly associate with Uber and Airbnb.
INTERVIEW by Christian Sarkar.