Shift Happens | From Brand to Experience

By Andrew Keene

[Shift Happens | From Brand to Experience is part of a series by the author.]

Defining terms: I am going to use the word “customer” in the broadest sense – anyone who our organizations serve, independent of any financial relationship that may exist. For you this might mean participant, congregant, community member, camper, donor, recipient, etc.

The Jewish people gather and as such, much of our organizational brand and identity is defined by our physical presence (our buildings, our spaces, our events, our services). Now more than ever, the Jewish communal landscape will need to embrace a shift from “brand” to “experience.” Today, people rely less and less on the brand and more and more on the value of the Experience that is provided. This is the reason Uber can disrupt a 100-year old taxi industry and the reason a small company like Allbirds can prove threatening to the likes of Nike. The Experience they provide is more valuable than the overcapitalized brand of their legacy competitors.

This shift is not new (just Google Customer Experience or Cx) but in light of the rapid shift from physical to virtual, organizations with an experience-mindset will more quickly adapt to the new reality than those stuck in a brand-mindset. In our new reality, the Experience IS in fact our organization’s brand, whether we like it or not.

In short, “Experience” is the sum total of EVERY interaction point a customer has with an organization, whether it’s as brief as an email newsletter or as drawn out as a conference. Each of these interaction points either creates either positive, neutral, or negative value for a customer. Furthermore, the seamlessness between these interaction points can also create or detract value. This is why companies with average products but excellent customer service, or deep intentional content but a poor streaming platform can create outsize value for customers (and often charge more for it). Said another way, The Experience (capital T, capital E) is the emotional reaction customers have to our organization, informed by an ongoing series of smaller experiences (small e) with our organization. This is why The Experience is in fact The Brand.

The key to unlocking this equation is understanding what “value” means for those we aim to engage. For a given organization, this will look radically different for a donor versus a recipient of social services or retiree versus a young professional. Whereas a brand-oriented company asks, “how does a customer interact with us,” an experience-oriented company asks, “where can our company deliver value in the lives of our customers? (ideally at points that no one else is creating value)”

In our current economy, and now more than ever our current Jewish landscape, the better experience will consistently outperform the stronger brand. The playing field is now exceptionally even - allowing small Jewish organizations the platform to create dynamic experiences for the masses and challenging large legacy organizations to demonstrate impact and relevance. This also means that while it is very easy to be “everything to everyone,” we need to exercise discipline and identify who we are trying to engage and find ways to deeply understand what types of experiences deliver value. Right now, there is an absolute deluge of online Jewish content – most of which can be bucketed into learning and worship with both taking roughly the same two formats, a Zoom call or a live-streamed webinar. It’s not just the Jewish world taking their mission online – it’s most nonprofits, academia, entertainers, professional associations, consumer brands, and much more.

Our Jewish experiences are competing for airtime in the wider landscape and over time people (with the exception of our ‘die-hards’) will award their time to the experiences that provide the most value and award their loyalty to the organizations that have the superior Experience. This is our imperative to focus on what we do, for whom we do it, and how we best utilize the full toolbox at our disposal. The interplay between a shift from physical to virtual, from brand to experience, and the shift from “fixed expectations” to “fluid expectations” (next week’s topic) will lay the groundwork for which organizations emerge stronger from the Coronavirus era.

Some guiding questions to start embracing an experience-mindset.

  1. What Experience do we want our organization to be known for? How is it different than other organizations? What do we need to evolve to activate that Experience now, and in the months to follow?
  2. What is the desired outcome from each experience we offer? How do we use the tools at our disposal to activate that outcome, rather than “copying and pasting” our physical experience on a virtual platform?
  3. How do we activate a feedback loop, so our future experiences create more value than our previous ones? How do we validate that our experiences create value?
  4. How can we distribute leadership as we create experiences? What new roles need to be filled to create richer experiences? How do we bring more people into co-creator roles to create and sustain community?
  5. What opportunities are there to create experiences that didn’t exist Pre-Coronavirus? How can we build those new experiences together and iteratively, and create them well enough to cut through the deluge of offerings?
  6. What do we need to do to best understand the journey our customers are on and where our organization’s mission fits into that journey?
  7. How do we engage a diverse cadre of leaders at every stage of the process to help propel our organizations into the future while embracing an experience-mindset?

Author’s note responding to last week: Over Pesach, nearly 50 professionals and lay leaders have reached out to further discuss the physical to virtual shift. Through these conversations, I realize there is an “elephant in the room,” of my own creation. I am entirely convinced that young people are best poised to lead during these times in partnership with more veteran leaders, but there’s no magic age. There is abundant research in the fields of entrepreneurship and innovation that confirms that diversity in decision making leads to better long-term outcomes. In the current environment, the diversity factor that I think is most critical is age (this is not to negate the need for other diversity factors to be accounted for). Our institutions have been notoriously weak at this. When more young people are included, our decisions will trend towards being more innovative and actions will trend towards creating more long-term value. When these conversations are had by monolithic leadership groups, the decisions will trend towards the status-quo that is untenable in our current environment.

Andrew Keene is a member of the Management Committee of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and a member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Andrew lives in Washington DC where he works for a consulting firm specializing in digital business transformation. He holds a business degree with a focus on entrepreneurship from Drexel University.