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Book excerpt: Deliver total product experiences

By James McQuivey

What your company sells is no longer just a product or service. The product is now at the center of a total product experience. Unless you realize this, you will get outmaneuvered by digital disruptors whose products may not be as good, but who offer better experiences.

As my colleagues Harley Manning and Kerry Bodine describe in their book Outside In: The Power of Putting Customers at the Center of Your Business, the experience that your customers have is the most powerful force determining the future of your business. But that experience extends far beyond the simple product to everything associated with it—the total product experience.

What is a total product experience? Total product experiences wrap around and through a product, even a very analog product, to amplify, expand and digitally redefine the way a consumer experiences a product.

Total product experiences include analog elements—like what it feels like to open the box or call customer service—and digital elements—your Web site, your Facebook page, your app, and everything else that extends your product into the digital environment.

Because this digital compo¬nent can improve the product experience so much with so little effort, it radically redefines how your customers perceive, use, and derive satisfac¬tion from your core product.

Plus, it creates a two-way channel that also gives you access to real-time information about those customers.

While that sounds (and is) wonderful, note that at the same time, total product experiences wipe out all prior guard rails that protected a product from outside meddling.

The converging adjacencies we learned about in the last chapter—the same ones that enable the rapid expansion of your product experience—lead dozens of other companies to the same expanded product definition that you have envisioned. This intensifies competition.

Let us imagine you sell an analog product, say, casual shoes for office or after-hours wear.

Like any shoes, these are designed, manufactured, ordered, shipped, and put out on display. Perhaps they catch the eye of a shopper, perhaps a store associate looking to bump up the department’s sales figures recommends a pair. The shopper who tries them on either buys them or does not.

The product experience of the shoes pretty much begins and ends there, to be resurrected each time the buyer looks at the shoes sitting in his or her closet and considers whether to don them anew. Beginning and end of product experience.

But shoes are not just shoes any more—no article of clothing is, as FaceCake Marketing Technologies reveals.

FaceCake’s CEO Linda Smith aims to extend the product experience of every piece of clothing in the world.

In her demo, Linda stands in a plain black dress in front of a large mirror. Reflecting back is her image, although it is slightly altered because what we are seeing is not really a mirror, it is a large-screen TV enhanced with a Kinect camera, the same 3D-sensing camera for the Xbox 360 that is now in more than twenty-two million homes around the world.

Alongside her image in this “mirror” is a menu of clothing and acces¬sories that Linda can, by extending her hand to one side, virtually grab and then place on her body.

Check out any one of the various videos featuring the company on YouTube and you can watch Linda or other members of her team as they effortlessly try on dozens of dresses, coats, belts, purses, necklaces, and even shoes.

Using off-the-shelf hardware running sophisticated algorithms, this simple-seeming mirror allows an individual not only to visualize themselves in a new item of clothing, but to move freely with the item on, seeing how it flows as the wearer pivots as well as how it matches with accessory after accessory.

This might sound like science fiction, except that FaceCake has partnered with Microsoft to put this technology in Bloomingdale’s stores; I also expect this experience to find its way into millions of Xbox 360–powered homes soon.

With technology provided by FaceCake and its competitors, that humble pair of casual shoes (and every other piece of clothing) has a new, digitally enhanced product life.

It is part of a total product experience that begins in the moment that the digital mirror provided by FaceCake recommends shoes to perfectly accessorize the new look you just virtu¬ally slipped into.

You can try the shoes before they have even been put out on the display racks at the store. You will even be able to sample the shoes before they have been manufactured.

The suggestive sell, however, is just the beginning.

Imagine that the same interface is lurking in your closet, where a digital mirror doubles as a fashion consultant that has a complete database of all of your cloth-ing.

This virtual consultant could recommend outfits based on what is on your agenda for the day, what the weather forecast looks like, what fashion bloggers you follow, and what you have historically worn on days like today. It could even notice that you have lost a few pounds and offer outfit combinations that would highlight your new more slender physique.

Suddenly, the shoes offer an amplified product experience, one that is intertwined with every other product in the closet as well as every product the personal digital shopping assistant recommends that you add to your collection.

In case you think this is a bit out there, recognize that increasing numbers of consumers now interact daily with digital devices from computers to smartphones to tablets.

The customer experience delivered by any company from a bank to an airline to a restaurant to, yes, a clothing manufacturer, is moderated through these devices and their GPS location detection, their Bluetooth connections, their cameras, and crucially, their constant internet connections.

Because of these devices, every object you own is now surrounded with a cloud of information, services, and relationship-enhancing value.

That is total product experience and it changes everything.

Designers, manufacturers, fashion magazines, retailers—these are all companies that once had clear boundaries around them. They knew what their job was.

Once total product experiences take over, that confidence will evaporate. Because who has a right to own the customer experience of accessorizing a new dress? Is it the dress maker? The accessory maker? The magazine that is promoting the dress? The store that is selling the dress? What about the maker of the digital mirror in her closet?

Everyone who touches the experience of that dress now wants to own that cus-tomer. That is why Linda, after nearly a decade of hard work building the FaceCake technology, is suddenly in the intersection between all these companies as they realize that with digital disruption, their products are not just products any more, but experiences.

DIGITAL DISRUPTORS think in total product experiences. This is a way to conceive of products that forces everyone involved in a product or service, whether manufacturer, marketer, or distributor, to reevaluate their role.

Thinking this way rapidly leads them to the conclusion that they ought to make a play for more control over the way the product is experienced by the customer; that is, before someone else in the channel realizes that the same opportunity calls out to them.

James McQuivey is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, MA. Reach him at [email protected].

Excerpted from Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation by James McQuivey. Adapted for style. ©2013 by Forrester Research Inc. Published by Amazon Publishing.