Disruption by Design

How are better markets and customer experiences designed? This is the question Kellogg-Schulich EMBA students and alumni recently explored at a special experience design session with Schulich Professor Markus Giesler.

Giesler, Associate Professor and Chair of Schulich’s Marketing Department, has conducted a decade’s worth of research on how organizations such as Airbnb, Apple, Intercontinental, BMW and the World Economic Forum have succeeded, both as market creators and as customer experience designers. For Giesler these two skills are two sides of the same strategic coin: big design.

So what is big design?

“My favorite definition of big design comes from an extremely successful but also often misunderstood innovator,” Giesler said while opening the session.

Anticipation grew as he started a recording of Steve Jobs: “Everything around that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”

Giesler paused the video and addressed the audience; “I want all of us to think very deeply about these words before we start today’s session. This is how the big designers look at the world: not as a place that needs personal computers and iPhones but as a place that we can and that we must change to succeed. My goal for our session is a very simple one: to shift our strategic focus from the former to the latter,” he said.

In the past, managing the customer experience was a nitty-gritty exercise: journey-mapping the steps of retail experience, outlining a car rental situation or customer complaint management process. Today, as Giesler puts it, the customer experience becomes a market-level design project. “Increasingly companies must go much deeper in order to stand out in today’s world. What used to be a rare and little understood set of skills attributed to the likes of Steve Jobs is now a strategic imperative for top executives everywhere: influencing culture, shaping reality, designing consumer behavior,” he said.

Giesler illustrated his point by telling a story of Allergan, the California-based pharmaceutical company behind the blockbuster rejuvenation drug Botox Cosmetic. Creating a market for a cosmetic-medical innovation wasn’t new, but what was disruptive when Allergan did it for Botox was reshaping social reality from the ground up. “They transformed the human journey and experience of aging into one that includes Botox Cosmetic as a legitimate choice for its graceful pursuit.” Today, millions of people across the world are consuming Botox on a regular basis.

Next Giesler contrasted big design strategy with the hotel industry’s struggle to compete with Airbnb all over the world. “It’s a mistake to continue business as usual just because you think your service has a long history of being reliable and safe,” he said.  “That may be the case, but Airbnb isn’t merely reshaping the experience of a hotel room. They are reshaping the experiences of hospitality, community, privacy, and friendship. And they are extremely good at it.”

Kellogg-Schulich alumnus Hubert Rau (KS09), who has led market-level design strategy with Citibank and CAA-Orion, commented after the session: “With technology rapidly transforming the financial sector, it’s the ability to strategically design the customer ourney xperience cross touch points hat ill eparate the winners from the losers. I was absolutely delighted to have experienced this session this afternoon.”

The big question companies are facing now is how data will allow managers to drive market-level experience design proactively. To address this question, Giesler has developed a new Kellogg-Schulich EMBA global elective course called Competitive Customer Experience Design. The course features case studies of Airbnb and IBM Watson, among various companies that are now changing the ways they approach the creation of markets and customer experiences.

As the director of the Big Design Lab, a think tank that engages business to advance big design strategy, Giesler regularly works with leading executives in a broad range of industries. He has also been named “one of the best recognized experts studying high-technology consumption” by Wired, one of “the young business school star professors on the rise” by Fortune, and one of “the 40 most outstanding business profs under 40 in the world” by Poets & Quants.

“There are fundamental laws of marketing, consumer behavior, and sociology behind market-level experience design, laws that we have studied deeply at Schulich for over a decade now, and laws that our Kellogg-Schulich EMBA students will be able to take full advantage of through this new global elective,” Giesler said.

Competitive Customer Experience Design will be offered starting next spring. If you are interested in learning more about Professor Giesler’s scholarly research and strategy work at the Big Design Lab, please visit his blog.