Experiences, not features

By tony | 1 Comment

Like a lot of venues, the San Francisco Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) is running a promotion offering $5 off your ticket if you check-in on FourSquare. It seems so easy and like such a good idea. The promotion is essentially a discount for customers who promote the venue or event. This is a feature that FourSquare is building directly into their app.

But running the promotion feature on FourSquare is not the same thing as running a promotion on FourSquare.

The feature by itself is just a recipe for confusion. I bought tickets for a YBCA event last Friday and when I picked my tickets up from Will Call, nobody at the desk had even heard of FourSquare. So I talked to the person at the ticket booth. She’d also never heard of FourSquare.

Thankfully, the person in the ticket booth recognized my story about the FourSquare discount as the sort of stunt her coworkers in marketing might play on her. She found an equivalent discount in her system and gave that instead.

The Social Media Experience
The problem with the YBCA experience was not with the FourSquare feature, it was that YBCA didn’t have the right (or any) system around it. Social media is one half software and one half people. You have to get the people lined up or the software isn’t worth anything.

At last year’s Voices That Matter: Web Design Conference, Jesse James Garrett gave a talk asking people to build experiences, as opposed to technology or features. As an example, he posited that the real strength of the iPod was not the great design, but that Apple built an end-to-end experience by bundling iTunes and the iTunes store. He was talking to web designers, but the advice is applicable to companies that use social media.

Picking the feature and technology is just step one in building the social media experience. YBCA needed to give Will Call a way to pay the discount and that would have required planning and training.

Planning and training doesn’t mean an executive retreat followed by all day trainings. But it does require a few minutes of thought and an email/phone-call to people on the front lines.

Social Media Solutions
Since I come from the world of consumer web software, I’m often confused by terminology in the world of B2B.

For example, until recently I could never wrap my head around all of the software companies that offered “solutions.” I find it painful to even say the word, “solution,” because it brings to mind salesy, do-nothing-well, empty promise, marketing-drivel software websites.

But a B2B solution is just when a company bundles their software with the experience around their software. That experience is often things like training, configuration, advice, customization, and supporting software.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. An in-house expert is more effective than an out-sourced expert. But an out-sourced expert can be much more effective than an in-house overworked non-expert. The latter is what most companies are choosing between.

Last year I did a series of customer interviews and every single customer said that what made the experience good and doable was the support we gave. The word the customers used to refer to our support was “Terrie.” It turns out that we are selling B2B solutions and our solution is software bundled with hosting, communication materials and Terrie, someone who keeps you on proven paths and can be counted on to make sure any technical or communication detail gets handled.

That feedback from customers and the talk at VTM: Web Design has had me thinking a lot about the entire experience we’re building. It’s not just software.

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One Response to Experiences, not features

  1. terrie says:

    I’ve seen examples of this locally also. A bookstore sent out a promotion by email offering free tickets to see a famous author speak if you bought his book, and allowing you to purchase additional tickets for a low price. It was vague about whether you had to buy his new book or any of his books, but all of us in the store were convinced it was any of his books. The people at the register didn’t know, hadn’t seen the email, and weren’t sure if they could really sell the extra tickets. They had confused conversations while the line at the register grew larger and larger. I felt bad for them.

    In another example, an organization developed a card you could swipe at local retailers for various benefits. The benefits weren’t really explained, but I thought I’d try their free trial anyhow. Many merchants have the sticker in their window, but none of them know what to do with the card I show them!

    In both cases, if someone had just sat down and tried to describe the process from start to finish, I’m sure lots of little action items would have been revealed, and capturing and then following through on those could have helped.

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