Twenty-one years ago, the iconoclastic ad agency Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury produced a wonderfully provocative, and ahead of its time, pamphlet called Marketing At A Point of Change. I remember getting hold of a copy when it came out and it had a huge impact on how I thought about brands and marketing. It's a remarkably prescient read, arguing that in a more marketing literate world, brands need to become providers of experience rather than pronouncement. It's arguably more timely now than it was on its publication.
One of the central tenets of their argument is that "marketing will be replaced by 3D marketing, an experience that actively links the customers, the media and the brand… communication in the new world will include advertising, but it will no longer occupy centre stage. 'Brand experience' will replace broadcasting." Over the past decade, we have undoubtedly made strides as an industry towards this goal (although, arguably, progress that has not been far or fast enough). The design of experiences, increasingly, is the currency by which we measure marketing.
But on this 21st anniversary, I wonder if we should take the time to reflect on whether we have really begun to develop three-dimensional experiences? My observation on most work is that it feels remarkably one- or two-dimensional, especially when compared with the best non-marketing experiences that people engage with in their day-to-day lives. More often than not, we are either designing experiences that are no more than glorified sugar-coated messages (the bulk of the ad industry's integrated case studies wheeled out every year at Cannes) or, at the other extreme, soulless and dry experiences offered up by UX practitioners. Usability may be great, but it can also feel soul-crushingly dull. I wonder if it's time we began to think about designing experiences that come to life across different dimensions. For example, some of the best user experiences around at the moment - from Mailchimp to Slack - understand that form and function alone is not enough. Great user experiences require careful design around the voice, tone and language the experiences use. In many cases, these experiences are producing far more compelling and interesting writing than the great majority of advertising that is around today. And, without a doubt, they are producing a magnetic user experience by injecting dimensions beyond usability into the design of the experience.
But I think the most overlooked dimension in designing experiences is that of tempo. There was a terrific Radiolab episode a couple of years ago about Beethoven. Aged 47, steadily going deaf, and with a huge body of work already behind him, Beethoven was one of the first composers to embrace the metronome, which had just been invented. He used it to mark (and attempt to permanently fix) the tempo at which some of his most famous works should be played. The thing is, the tempo he set is much faster than that at which the pieces are traditionally played. So fast, in fact, that when played at their intended pace, the work is hugely challenging to play, becomes completely different, and is almost designed to push the boundaries of comfortable listening. Almost every conductor has ignored these speeds and performed the works more slowly and with a sizeable dose of grandiosity. This practice has become so entrenched that myths have even perpetuated (since proved false) that his metronome was faulty.
Tempo changes how things feel. Now we intuitively get this when we look at a cut of a film. But we tend to forget about this when we think about the orchestration of a campaign or the design of an experience or the behaviour of a brand. How a brand moves is as important as how it looks, feels or behaves.
So, perhaps think about pushing back against the desire to make everything frictionless today – some friction judiciously designed into an experience, may, in fact, make it better. Think about how anticipation can be a powerful thing, especially in today's on-demand world. The launch of Mailbox was a great example of this, where creating a visible waiting line for an app download built anticipation of something special in a world where you expect immediate satiation. Long lines were, in this case, a very good thing and played a major part in Mailbox's acquisition by Dropbox for $100 million, months after launch. But whatever you do, think about how you are creating an experience with more than one dimension.