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Written by:

Andrew Howlett



Three steps to transformation.
One leap to affinity.

Everybody wants to get ahead and stay ahead. The brands that go beyond that—brands that endure, that draw a devoted following, that gain renown the world over … they do something different. They transform. Often, over and over.

It’s a process nature itself teaches us. One thing becomes another over time. A caterpillar becomes a butterfly. A seed becomes a tree. A river plain becomes a canyon.

The business world mirrors nature. We can all call to mind a business that failed to adapt to the times and, as a result, died. Kodak, PanAm, Xerox, Blockbuster, and countless others didn’t take the necessary steps to adapt to a changing market and changing customer demands.

Businesses that last iterate. Businesses that last innovate. They have at least one thing in common: they built transformation into their foundation.

Three Steps to Transformation:

Transformation is at the root of business—but it’s not the end of the story, either.

Since there’s been business, there’s been transformation. Since the first person had a little extra and desired a trade, our mental models around business have been constantly evolving. Whether in pricing, distribution, sourcing, operations, organizational structure, or more, the businesses who lead the way are those who dare to transform themselves.

And when one company improves, charting their own path, they provide a roadmap for the competition. But as more companies enter a space, each challenging those who came before, it gets increasingly difficult for anyone to gain and maintain a competitive edge. This means that today, business transformation is table stakes—it may be enough to keep you in business, but isn’t necessarily enough to truly differentiate you.

When digital transformation changed business transformation.

In the last several decades, a new kind of transformation became necessary to all businesses: digital transformation. Like the advent of the mobile phone changed the landscape of possibility overnight. The same shift we felt then has been putting pressure on business ever since. Going digital became a top priority if a company were going to survive.

Early on, most digital transformation was technologically homegrown or one-off. For lack of an easier path, many companies tried building their sites and apps in-house or contracted the work out to someone who could. All it took was one innovator to start offering Software as a Service (SaaS), and the wild west digital landscape was tamed. Companies could license out these tools, platforms, and infrastructures, and return to spending precious time and resources on their own specialty.

Unfortunately, while it’s essential to use cutting-edge tools to maintain the ever-evolving standards, the net effect of everyone using the same tools is digital sameness for the consumer. Shared platforms and standardized best practices are definitely a good thing for user experiences and business efficiency. But they don’t go the final step to stand out—helping companies differentiate from their competitors.

The only ownable differentiator is also the most delightful one: experience.

So how is a business to stand out in all of this digital sameness following the innovations of other companies? Experience transformation.

Consumers don’t always experience the supply chain, or the backend code, or the operational efficiencies that have led to better pricing, or the analytics that drive targeted ads. The “experience” is what the consumer sees or interacts with. It’s the pleasing layout of a retail store, the lobby of a corporate office, the ambience of a restaurant. It’s the physical sensation of holding and using a product. It’s the TV commercial that gives them goosebumps. It’s the feelings, memories, and subconscious associations they have with a brand in all its forms and executions.

Every business has a brand, whether they’re actively managing it or not. Organizations who prioritize their brands (Apple, Sephora, Starbucks, Nationwide, even the White House) will see exponential returns in experience and consumer engagement. Organizations who neglect their brand do so at their own expense. Intentionality is everything.

Experience is more than a way to stand apart—it’s a massive opportunity to tune into consumer needs and build a brand that will endure.

Developing deep affinity through
experience transformation.

Humans crave unique experiences. We’ll go out of our way to find them, and if they’re good enough, we’ll go back to them again and again.

That’s our approach. To craft experiences that transcend enjoyment and memorability, experiences that surpass loyalty-building. We aim for affinity—what a person feels when every part of the experience was exceptional. It’s a deep attraction and affection that’s chemical and biological. It’s often hard to explain. We can even have affinity for products or services that we don’t own or have firsthand experience with. Because the experience the brand delivers is so remarkable that even those who aren’t owners or customers see it and feel it and have an affinity for it.

Nike is one ubiquitous example. What began as a shoe company soon evolved into an inspiration-driven empowerment company that happens to make athletic wear.

Early on, Nike dialed in manufacturing, operations, and shipping. Then they transformed their digital presence with an intuitive app, interactive mini-campaigns, and regular web improvements. But most importantly, they listened to their customers and realized that the experience people had with their brand was crucial.

They adopted the slogan “Just Do It,” which meant something to seasoned pros and novice athletes alike. Soon their slogan and their swoosh became synonymous with their name. And as the groundswell of social consciousness started calling companies into account for their actions, Nike was a step ahead, promoting equity and diversity in race, gender, ability, and more across every consumer touchpoint. Now, their name means something, drawing people in even if they have no intention of running a marathon.

From experience
transformation to brand love.

To a brand that sees and hears the consumer’s perspective so acutely, it’s crystal clear what the next product feature, the next retail floor update, or the next media campaign should be. By deeply tapping into consumer needs, a brand can predict their expectations and surprise them with intuitive, seemingly personal improvements on a regular basis. This cyclical call-and-response approach helps brands build true affinity with customers and non-customers alike.

It’s why we focus on companies ready to build brand affinity through experience transformation. Our model’s been fine-tuned and time-tested to achieve that aim:

Start by listening.

You’re the expert in your business. We want to hear what work you’ve put in, your wins and challenges, and where you’re going next. Even though we excel in experience transformation, it’s interconnected with your business and digital transformation. It helps us to understand how your business is working on all three fronts, so we ask questions to better assess your brand’s customer affinity.

Set the outcomes.

Next, we set a vision. We’ll synthesize what we’ve learned in our research, and we’ll anchor our work around an experience-transforming goal. We’ll create a roadmap for your unique experience.

(And by the way, we believe there’s a halo effect—if we focus on improving experience, business and digital will be boosted by our efforts as a natural result of momentum and change.)

Bring your voice.

This is where your brand experience is made manifest: your unmistakable voice is brought out into the world. We put together all the pieces you’ll need to level up your experience game.

Engage and repeat.

We then launch your project and invite feedback from your customers. We measure engagement, reactions, progress toward the goal. We’ll re-measure affinity. We take lots of notes. But this isn’t the end—from here, we circle back to Listen and start the cycle again, transforming your brand experience in new and better ways each time, widening your circle of influence and aiming for true affinity.

To affinity and beyond.

It comes down to this: a brand can only be so successful by being first, or fastest, or most affordable. Someone else will inevitably replicate that success and carry the innovation baton forward—leaving the first company to play catch-up or die out.

That hamster wheel isn’t the path to success—it’s just a way to spin out. We architect a better trajectory: master your business transformation, embrace digital transformation, and chase down experience transformation like your brand depends on it. Take your pursuit beyond building customer loyalty. Grow deep affinity they can see, feel, hear, taste.

Then cycle through it all again. Optimize, improve, get closer to customers, one-up your best. The path to perfection lies through change. And while the journey’s an adventure, it needn’t be a wandering one. It’s strategic, even scientific, but most of all, it’s human.

Take your place among the brands who refuse to fade from memory. The magnetic power of affinity is something you can create. The process is no mystery. It starts wherever you are. And it starts now.