Your brand needs to create networked products now! Wait, what are those?

networked products

We are witnessing the Wild-West, front-edge of a different kind of brand era: networked products and physical-digital experiences.

Have you ever had an experience like this? You are walking to the bank to make a deposit. Along the way, you use the bank’s app to transfer money from one account to another. At the bank you go to the ATM and make a cash withdrawal. You get in line and check a balance. At the front of the line, you walk up to the teller and make the deposit.

You have just passed through several stages of a highly networked user experience. In the back end, a database and series of applications have helped to manage the experience. The app, the ATM, and the teller all use systems and software that can interact securely with your account and can access and change data that all the other devices and systems can see to create a seamless transition from physical to digital and back to physical again.

Brands which are able to push more and more interactions to digital will become more valuable in the networked product age. Further, the brand that can come up with new digital experiences stands the most to gain against their competitors.

In the search to push experience to digital, the early casualties will be face-to-face interactions which don’t provide much value. Already commonplace is ordering a pizza through an app. Remember the frustration of trying to spell out your address over the phone two or three times? There’s no value in that. Having an app know who you are when ordering a pizza is good value for consumers. However - it’s not digital first thinking. It’s merely replacing the prior non-digital process with a one-to-one digital reproduction.

TWEET-TO-ORDER PIZZA & OTHER REAL-TIME EXPERIENCES

Take a look at Domino’s new innovation of ordering a pizza through Twitter. This is digital-first thinking. It’s brilliant in that it engages customers where they already are (Twitter) and removes the last, admittedly incredibly small, barriers to ordering. It’s also incredibly innovative. Domino’s leveraged a free tool provided by a third party, with seemingly no partner agreement in place, to integrate with their own systems. We must not be too far from simply just thinking “I want a pizza” and having it delivered by drone.

New digital experiences require such digital-first thinking. A great example is the app and company Wayz. In the beginning there were maps. The first online maps were essentially digital versions of a paper map. A few digital map generations later, after MapQuest, after Google, comes Wayz. Wayz takes maps and makes them social, relevant to your device, and creates context from where you are and what you are doing. While driving, you can see other Wayz users driving, too. You can wave your hand over the device to cue a voice prompt to tell other Wayz users if there is a pothole, an accident, or a cop trying to make his speeding ticket quota. The app takes in your GPS movement data to give hyper-accurate speed and travel estimates. It’s a privacy trade off that users are happy to make in return for incredible traffic data and a truly unique digital experience that would be impossible to recreate in the physical world.

This isn’t to say that all experiences need to be digital. Ordering pizza is one thing, but most people find it enjoyable to have a skilled, personable waiter help them make choices and enjoy a night out at a good restaurant. The trick will be looking at your company and making decisions about which interactions to move to digital, which new interactions you can innovate to come up with new experiences, and which ones you should just leave alone.

In education, for example, the teacher-student interaction is vital. Many schools have moved to digital experiences for interacting with content given the power of digital tools like tablets and iPads. Companies like Blackbaud have helped some schools move to a 24-hour, fully-digital experience.

Areas of opportunity right now can likely be found where repetitive manual work is done. An example in education is filling out forms. Imagine a parent who experiences a seamless checkout on Amazon, and then a Facebook experience involving sharing and commenting easily on photos uploaded from a mobile device. She then looks at the folder that came home from school. In it are sets of forms to fill out. One for each child. The health form has to be filled out 3 times - all with duplicate data. The emergency contact forms are filled out with the same contact phone numbers three times. It’s a huge disconnect. It gives the parent the impression that schools are in the Stone Age. Are they?

Imagine an integrated, networked experience like the one described above for the bank, but in a school. An elementary school teacher creates an assignment digitally which a student interacts with at school. When the student leaves school, the device she is carrying pings the school and parents that the child has left the building. At home, the parent can see what homework has been assigned, what work has been done and what is expected. The student can interact using the computer at home, and perhaps collaborate with other students. (Maybe we can get those field trip permission forms online, too?)

What would it be like to take this model and extend it to other industries and experiences? Take an innovation model and look at the parts of your business that are redundant or inefficient and evaluate if pushing it to a more digital experience, one managed by the consumer, would be more valuable.

THE RISK OF DOING NOTHING

The risk for any organization is being left behind. It’s possible for more forward-thinking organizations to out-innovate entire industries. One doesn’t have to go too far back in the past to wonder why Blockbuster didn’t become Netflix, or to see how Amazon outwitted the book industry and then product delivery, or how Apple outthought the music industry. The easiest way for companies to move ahead is to think about ways to network their physical and digital experience and create new, memorable ones around new services and experiences.