GREAT EXPERIENCES ARE ALL ABOUT PEOPLE

Just like a tree falling in the woods with no-one to see it, an experience that no-one experiences isn’t really an experience at all. Which is to say: we’re creating experiences specifically for people, so we should begin with understanding them. 

The challenge: we’re unique snowflakes composed of 60% water and 40% unfathomable thought processes, unruly behaviours, and unpredictable emotions. We jest — people are wonderful, and not nearly as complex as we might like to imagine ourselves. 

To start us thinking about people in detail, we can use an activity like personas. Begin by choosing a segment you’d like to connect with. Frontline; marketing — whatever it is, as long as it’s specific. Then ask yourself hypothetical questions that paint a detailed picture of a typical person in that segment. How old are they, where are they from? What are their beliefs, motivations, aspirations, and preferences? What are their hobbies and habits. How do the like to spend their time? Revel in the details. These are the nuances that help us create experiences that matter to them.

 

ANCHOR EXPERIENCES BACK TO THE BRAND

Once we understand the people we’re building the experience for, then we bring in the brand. Why branding? Because while there are universal factors that contribute to a great experience, where we can create truly meaningful and relevant employee experiences is by connecting them to the brand. This is the good stuff — the things that make our organisation great: purpose, promises, vision, values, and personality. Businesses have often treated these things in two separate ways: branding for the consumer, and culture for the employee. Why the difference, we wonder? Why shouldn’t employees experience the brand in exactly the same way as the customer? How can we take the brand and deliver them to our people at every touchpoint? 

At this point, it’s worth noting that there are two types of comms departments in this world. There’s the kind who see branding as more than a set of strict visual guidelines to enforce with ruthless zeal. And then there’s the ones who don’t. To any of you unfortunate enough to work with the latter, feel justified in telling them that the exact point size type used in the headline of an internal poster makes the proverbial rodent’s hindquarters of difference to the employee experience. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

Fortunately for a pioneering leader like you, the days of centrally controlled brands are ending. Yes, it’s a glorious new age, where a brand is forged by experiences, not dictatorial communications departments. These are the experiences you create. While People & Culture and Comms are in the position to drive this new approach, shaping cohesive employee experiences across an organisation needs to be unhindered by traditional silos. It should be woven into the fabric of the business. Everyone from front line workers, to receptionists, to Health & Safety leaders, to the CEO influences experiences.

 

THE MEDIUM DOESN’T MATTER

When we think about experiences, it’s impossible not to think of the mediums or channels in which all the touchpoints play out. Yet while touchpoint and medium may seem like peas and carrots, here’s a potentially shocking truth: the medium doesn’t really matter. Wait, that’s not entirely true. What we mean to say is — the medium should never come first. 

It’s easy to get caught up in the the medium, the channel, the platform, the technology, the execution, or the delivery. These are the tangibles. It’s the tried; the tested. The visibility of the lunch-room poster. The ease of the email blast. It’s the new; the shiny. When every company was working on an app, we all wanted one — even if we didn’t know what we needed one for. History is set to repeat with virtual reality too. Despite the ridiculousness of wagging a gloved finger at something that isn’t there, while wearing a pair of goggles straight out of an 80’s Sci-Fi movie, we’re all going to want one of those within the next few years as well. 

It’s not what the medium is though — it’s why it’s being used. How is the medium facilitating what we want people to feel? Is it practical? Is it engaging? Is it effective? Is it cohesive? Is it scalable? Is it working?

Not, “we need an app.” 

But, “what’s the best medium to achieve what we want at that particular moment.”

Always, “how does it enhance the experience?”

Too many times digital is used as the easy option. There’s the allure of automation, and the thrill of the now. Yet physical interactions still elicit a richness and connection that’s tough to replicate using technology. Similarly, the tried and tested is safe, but where’s the surprise? Would changing the medium provide an opportunity to delight?

 

NOW, GO WRITE THE NARRATIVE

While we can build processes using lists, great experiences aren’t wrought from logic alone. We need emotion, and by far the best way evoke real feels is through storytelling. 

But, how do we get from journey map to narrative? Well, that leap is less than you might imagine. Look at any experience, and we see a series of things happening. This sequence is structured with a beginning, a middle, and an end. And if that sounds familiar — it should. 

It’s a story. 

We all write stories every day. It’s not something we consciously do, we’re hard-wired to weave moments, memories, and events into a continuous narrative that makes sense to us. Our lives — a tale. Heroes journey, rom-com, or tragedy? 

And when we think about experiences as narratives — everything changes. By turning a journey map into a storyboard, we see each touchpoint as a scene. Who are the characters? What’s the dialogue? What emotions are people feeling? What’s the heroes quest? What’s the conflict? What’s the climax? Is there a happy ending? What genre of story have we been telling: mystery, action, comedy, or… horror?

To tie it all together, students at Tufts University stole a little of the Disney’s pixie dust by discovering that it’s possible to map almost every one of their movies to peak-end theory. Think back to the last one you watched… the story starts strong, things happen, it builds to a climax (peak), before wrapping up with a happy ending.‡

What story do we want to write for our people?

‡ Sounds a little like date night...