Experiential Companies

This post was prompted by a recent article about design at Google in Fast Company. Apparently, prior to Larry Page becoming CEO, there was real fragmentation in Google’s design across its various products. When Page took the helm, he made unifying the design vocabulary, in order to provide a consistent experience, a major priority. The goal was to become an “experiential” company, like Apple – one whose relationship with customers transcended isolated uses of their products and interfaced with whole swaths of their lives.

Experiential companies are a category beyond “product” companies. Rather than being oriented around a particular “job” in a customer’s life, they are oriented around many categories of the customer’s life, and build linkages between their products to make it easier for the customer to bring the company with them (i.e. to continue to use the company’s products) when they change contexts in their lives.

For example, a powerful “linkage” between products is to have a common user interface or user-facing design vocabulary – if you know how to use one product, you know how to use another – making it massively easier to adopt new products from the same company. Sharing data between products, or providing native interactions between them, also strengthen the relationship. A company’s products become a network in and of themselves with all the attendant competitive benefits.

To qualify, the company needs to have clearly different products – not just different features or offshoots of the core product. Otherwise you’re not breaking into new customer contexts.

As a note, I’m mainly thinking of consumer-facing companies, not enterprise companies – but if you think creatively it’s possible to view these thoughts applying to the latter, and indeed I’m sure there are enterprise-facing firms that would fit this bill.

Apple is the quintessential “experiential” company, but I would argue that this aspect of it is in decline. You don’t just use Apple products, you experience “Apple”. Apple has come to define so much of our lives because their many products serve different jobs in our lives – to play music and movies, surf the web, make calls, etc. Apple’s products are great in isolation, but the linkages helped fuel their expansion. Your iPod connected to the iTunes store on your Macbook, which was backed up by your Time Capsule, for example.

But over time, Apple’s products are losing their relationship with each other. You use your iPhone, but its relationship to your Macbook Air is becoming more tenuous.

Google is becoming, I think, the most pre-eminent experiential company. There are extremely strong linkages across their products, and they capture our interest in so many different contexts of our lives – pretty much whenever we use the Internet, for whatever purpose. Send an important email? Watch a funny video? Get car directions? How about get a funny video sent over gchat right after you send that important email – you can watch it right there.

Yahoo, on the other hand, is a poor example of this. It’s hard to see how Flickr and Tumblr (admitted only recently acquired) mesh together or how Delicious did when it was alive.

The bar is high. There aren’t that many companies that can (a) make multiple successful products and (b) create deep linkages between them.