Kobie’s Customer Experience (CX) team is an industry differentiator – an in-house creative agency bringing the consumer-facing components of our clients’ loyalty programs to life. With years of combined experience working for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, our writers, designers, developers, project managers, strategists and creative directors specialize in crafting seamless experiences that perfectly align with each brand’s entity across multiple touchpoints. But they don’t stop there. In fact, this team is constantly innovating, prototyping and dreaming up new ways to increase engagement. And they’re winning countless awards for their work, too.
To do this well, and stay on the cutting-edge of ideation, it takes investment in inspiration. That’s why, this past May, we sent two of our creative leads to the HOW Design Live conference in Chicago – the ultimate symposium for creative professionals in the nation. And I was honored to be one of them.
Listening to design, marketing and advertising advice and case studies across a wide spectrum of industries (retail, CPG, higher education, parks and recreation, food and beverage, and more), you can imagine how diverse the presentations and topics were. Despite these seemingly unrelated trades, a few recurring themes kept bubbling to the top of nearly every speaker’s repertoire. It made me realize we are not alone – not as creatives constantly trying to push the envelope nor as a company focused on pioneering new ways to increase sales, capture and analyze data, and reinforce and repeat desired behaviors. We’re all in this together.
Summarizing five full days of eight-hour back-to-back sessions is a feat in itself, so I’ve boiled it all down to three key takeaways based on these recurring themes:
Theme 1: Design Thinking
The newest buzzword in the creative industry is design thinking. But the definition on what that truly means is as widely varied as the industries trying to employ it. Thinking of this “term du jour” in practice, it’s an unwritten process that Kobie has been employing since the company was first founded.
Officially, design thinking is a methodology used by designers (graphic, illustrators, architects, developers, and the like) and copywriters to solve complex problems. An action-oriented process working towards the goal of a desired future. In a nutshell – it starts with a focus on the solution, not the problem. From there, creative strategies are employed to bring that solution to life using the technology and business requirements needed for success.
What does that mean for the loyalty industry? Think about it. If you’re trying to implement a new program, you need a company with a creative CX/UX team at the table early on. One that not only understands your brand but the rewards industry at large and the technological possibilities behind it. Most competitors do the opposite – their left-brained coders and logicians are the ones developing and implementing engagement strategies without insight from their right-brained colleagues more in tune with emotional engagement. At Kobie, we value the insights and instincts brought by our CX team, and thus have been employing design thinking before design thinking was even a thing – working collaboratively across diverse skillsets to create attention-getting, award-winning, truly successful programs.
Theme 2: Iteration
Design is a practice. Innovation is always in flux. Developing new, world-class concepts requires trust, patience, feedback and constant versioning. It’s part of the process, not to be viewed as inefficiency or error. In fact, what can often be mistakenly viewed as a longer, more cumbersome approach actually cuts down on wasted time, energy and money. Continual client creative check-ins allow for quicker, more agile idea evolutions instead of building the entire experience only to have to start from scratch later.
One of the conference speakers noted that we are in an “industrial age hangover.” Where businesses and the people running them are expected to “act like machines.” Compliance equals efficiency. But it’s not a viable approach for truly new ideas and stand-out-from-the-competition innovations. To do this, businesses need to be more connected – to invest in acting more like humans. Emotional labor. Cross-collaborating through an iterative design approach allows for quick realignments, faster and better idea evolution, and gut checks to make sure the project hasn’t gone off the rails from the desired goal.
Without emotional iteration and aligned client/agency discussions, project creators are apt to play it too safe, acting like machines just churning out exactly what was requested instead of thinking bigger, taking chances and inventing new, never-before-tried strategies. And who would ever want that? Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point, Outliers and Blink, and HOW Design Live keynote speaker, certainly doesn’t. In fact, his approach relies on abolishing deadlines (often imposed by marketers on creatives to unnecessarily speed up the process) in order to allow more versions and more changes. More iterations mean more success.
His keynote address went into the old tortoise and the hare fable. That, in today’s speed-is-everything approach to business, we’re losing the ability to allow slower, more methodical thinkers to develop new solutions to current problems. The best creatives (or scientists or inventors or anyone who makes a living off of ideas and innovation) are not the ones who can deliver “good” work on the first try – they’re the ones who may take 3, 4, 5, 10 iterations to land on that a-ha moment. But he went on to say that you don’t want all tortoises on your team either. Hares have their benefits too. And the healthiest, most productive departments have cognitive and ideological diversity across a wide spectrum of skills. Perfectionists have their place while quick-turnaround types have theirs as well. And great leaders have to learn how to staff for both, inspire each, and set everyone up for success.
Gladwell’s summary of the iterative process: Think big. Start small. Move fast. Don’t let deadlines hold back great ideas. Establish shorter goals for more periodic check-ins and quickly course-correct. Only then can huge dreams become produced realities.
Theme 3: Ask Why 3 Times
One presenter said creatives should “question like a kid” and employ deep curiosity about every detail in their project brief. (What makes the sky blue? Does it always have to be blue? Is it ever not blue?) Another advised to “ask why three times” to get further insight about requirements and rules set forth on a project. Both of these people, and the gamut of other speakers who touched on very similar notions, were essentially saying: you can’t bend the rules on a project if you don’t know why the rules were there in the first place. So ask why. Then ask again. Then ask again after that.
This approach drills down to the not-often-shared deeper (darker) issues that led to the project’s creation in the first place and opens conversations towards better solutions than were originally requested. (So the sky has to be blue because light reflects off the ocean which is a hard-coded fact, but now that we know why, it opens the possibilities of white clouds and rainbows, too.) Alternatively, asking why on feedback and revisions can help determine whether it is a true business-driver or a subjective personal preference, leading to more strategic discussions behind an edit instead of just making them. Yes, the customer is always right – but sometimes they’re wrong about the solution.
All in all, our CX representatives left the HOW Design Live conference with new ideas, advice, inspiration and methodologies – even if Kobie has been unknowingly employing many of them all along. Part of what turns a feeling into a process that can be recognized, repeated and built upon is acknowledging that similar approaches are being used with success by other large companies and respected peers. A case study by one brand or industry can inspire new ideas for a completely different one.
Our Customer Experience team is a department we value greatly and take much pride in, that’s why we invest in their inspiration – because an unexpected spark can lead to a wildfire of innovation, and we think of these events as the ignition.