New digital era of "living services" sees CMOs lose brand control

Fjord's co-founder and Australian lead share their theories on the third wave of digital disruption and why contextual-based services will change the shape of brand experience

Mark Curtis and Bronwyn van der Merwe
Mark Curtis and Bronwyn van der Merwe

We’re entering the third era of digital transformation where a customer’s experience of your products and brand will be delivered via “living services” fuelled by data analytics, the Internet of Things and real-time, contextual engagement.

That’s the view of the team at Accenture Interactive’s design experience division, Fjord, who caught up with CMO to discuss their latest theories around digital evolution, as well as why marketers must be prepared to let go of brand control in order to meet emerging consumer expectations.

Fjord co-founder and CCO, Mark Curtis, described “living services” as the third evolution of digital and one that has its heritage in Web and mobile connectivity. While most organisations are still coming to grips with the second wave of digital disruption – mobile, in other words – he suggested the rise of “liquid” consumer expectations are changing the game once again.

“We’re now entering an era where organisations can no longer measure the quality of their customer experiences against other organisations in their industry,” Curtis said. “Brands have to look across a breadth of user experiences and what are the best practices, then try and compete with those.”

As an example of a ‘liquid’ consumer experience, Curtis pointed to the seamless and largely invisible payments systems introduced with disruptive taxi services such as Uber and Halo.

“The trouble for other organisations in the payments industry is that consumers would now like all other payment experiences to be like that, consciously or subconsciously,” he claimed. “It has raised the payments experience to a new level and that’s flowing across industry boundaries.”

The rise of "living services"

For Curtis, “living services” are the inevitable result of these ever-changing consumer expectations, along with connected devices and the data powering and being captured by them. Growing numbers of embedded sensors in the home and environment, more reliable Internet access globally and the reduced costs of cloud services are also triggering change, he said.

“Living services are about experiences that change in real time around us,” he said. “The degree to which services flex and warp around our contexts, and our needs at any given moment, is going to radically change what we’ve seen before and make the experiences we’re now having on the Web feel flat and primitive in five years’ time.

“The second reason these are ‘living’ services is because they will be driven by things that are very proximate to user – wearables, nearables, sensors and the environment. All of these provide a constant stream of data and interaction.

“Thirdly, at the human level, it’s going affect our lives in a much deeper way than mobile and Web services have. We see big changes in the home, work, education, shopping, health and government services. These are things we passionately care about. I don’t doubt the importance of being able to sell an old wardrobe on eBay, but services over the next five years will be much more profound in terms of how we live our lives.”

Central to crafting living services is data analytics, Curtis said. “If you step back and look at sensors, they’re there to display, capture and distribute data. It’s only by getting the data and bringing that the life, that we enable all of these other things,” he commented.

According to Curtis and Fjord’s Australian lead, Bronwyn van der Merwe, the home will become a key battleground, prompted by innovations such as Google Nest thermometers and Amazon’s Buttons. And while they agree a host of industries can expect to be impacted, the most significant changes could occur in healthcare.

“There will be a much greater responsibility for individuals to monitor their own health and wellness as the industry moves from illness to prevention,” van der Merwe claimed.

“Another good example is in travel, and Qantas’ work to remove the friction of the travel experience – from the text messages to your phone, to using your Frequent Flyer points to check-in and go through the airport without paper, to the Q tags that help track your luggage globally using RFID.

“The exciting challenge for Qantas is where the company wants to operate going forward in that travel experience – do they want to own the full travel experience and allow their brand and content to merge into other products and services, or do they want to aggregate that and own that travel service, or let that go into other products and services?”

Letting go of brand control

It’s the disaggregation of a brand’s products, services and ability to engage with customers through the supply chain that will be most challenging for CMOs, Curtis said.

“You have to be able to take your brand and turn it into modular service components, and that’s a big challenge in itself. But you also have to accept they will change shape, and the level of branding will alter, as they are experienced via a number of different platforms such as displays, email systems, a watch, or a TV,” Curtis said.

“At the core, it means CMOs will have to do what feels like giving up control.”

As an example, van der Merwe said a Qantas itinerary previously heavily branded and distributed through Qantas channels could be picked up by Google Now and reorganised in a way Qantas no longer controls.

“But that ends up being very useful to the consumer because it also includes transport, traffic services and other things impacting their schedule,” she said. “It’s disaggregating that content and generating a completely new experience.”

To cope, marketers need to really understand their customer, and maintain a flexible platform that allows their products, services and information to recombine in many different contexts, experiences and situations, van der Merwe said. This requires removing internal operational boundaries that get in the way of flexing and adopting to customer requirements, Curtis said.

To help, he provided three pieces of advice for getting prepared for living services:

  1. Know your customers. “It’s super critical organisations understand their customers at a very granular level using data. That will come in a variety of ways – ethnographic data, for example, which gives you valuable insights into people’s lives, while big data tells you a lot more about an individual’s feelings,” Curtis said.

  2. Be able to flex your system. “That means being able to flex the experience delivery and technology to enable that, and flex operations in order to back up innovation and new services,” he said.

  3. You can’t know everything and fix everything. “Organisations need to ‘design’ what you seek to know and what you are able to flex,” Curtis said. We’re not divine, so you have to begin making choices about what you know and what you can flex.

    “Take one or two aspects of user experience delivery and look at how you can make these as ‘living’ as possible.”

Curtis also admitted the advent of living services could make it even harder for marketers to demonstrate return on investment.

“I’m not sure we have the full answer yet. But it does come back to the heart of the debate around the relationship between CMO/CIO, how they merge, and the degree to which these two roles either take on chief responsibility or end up more subservient to chief digital officers,” he said. “Globally, we’re seeing a miss-mash of responses by organisations to this question.”

Whether you’re sold on the concept of living services or not, Curtis urged all brands must recognise the importance of customer experiences over and above everything else.

“It’s fair to say the provision of great experiences and customer care does sometimes require investment,” he added. “But if you continue to regard customer experience as a cost, you won’t be able to compete in the next age of digital transformation. It’s an investment, not a cost.”

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