It’s 2022 and there are still no driverless cars. Don’t be discouraged — the hype was always greater than what technology could master. As you bring new products to market, consider this: what is the right “digital” layer to your customer experience and marketing? Some companies overshoot when answering this, envisioning beyond the current limitations of technology. Others fall short and lack a vision for how to refine their digital layers for transformation.
As former Chief Strategy Officer for Microsoft and now CEO of Stagwell, I have sifted through thousands of digital layer ideas. I once proposed opening an online bank only to be told those transactions were commodities. Just try to get into fintech now, one of the hottest areas of emerging tech innovation.
Physical money, physical meetings, and yes even physicals at the doctor’s office are being replaced with direct digital experiences that take simple technologies and combine them with great logistical operations to generate winning digital layers. Look at what has happened in the last few years to ordering groceries. Grocery services adapted the physical shopping experience into an intuitive digital process of food and recipe selection that powers enviable conversion.
To pioneer digital transformation at your brand, you don’t need to engineer the next iPhone. But you must understand and master the potential new digital layers of your product or service to find ways to enhance them. Put simply, the trick to building a successful digital layer is strategically adapting a physical process into a digital one to add convenience and value to the user journey.
Hailing a cab is an everyday physical process that has been transformed into a digital exercise. Before, consumers braved an awkward street-side system that used to generate its fair number of street brawls. Uber saw the unlimited potential in bringing the act of cab hailing and driver management into the digital layer. It wasn’t a breakthrough of engineering so much as a breakthrough in adding the benefits of already-developed technologies to the service experience.
Sometimes people overshoot their potential digital layer and invest in expensive digital layers that only add confusion for consumers. Movie theaters, for example, learned the hard way that the impressive customization options available on those complex, multi-brand touch-screen soda machines only goes so far. Lemon lime cherry diet cola, anyone? No – your consumer wants a Coke.
Real estate maps that let people sort nearby options and view video tours are an extremely helpful tool for people navigating the rental and relocation process, but most people are still going to need to see a tour of the apartment to close the sale. The digital layer in real estate enhances the discovery process but doesn’t replace the entire user journey. This is an important limitation: while most things can be made digital, not everything can be replaced by a digital layer.
And if the product itself lacks a digital layer, the marketing around it is where to look for your layer. How can digital help you better display product, provide information, and make the shopper experience convenient and enjoyable? Brands like Amazon build relatively straight-forward digital marketing templates for UX, so there are still many possibilities remaining for making product presentation more engaging with 3D and AR layers.
Entering 2022, now is the time to break down every step of your current product and marketing process and ask – is this better accomplished in the real world or in the metaverse? Then you can more easily identify the outer bounds of your potential digital layer.
Imagine big, then implement layer by layer. Some ideas will be duds and some will be game changers. Most of what we are able to do with digital has in theory already been invented in the last decade, but much of what we can do in practice with this technology has yet to be accomplished. Finding the right digital layer for your product or service is at the core of how you can you transform your business in today’s digital economy.