Design exists to drive winning differentiation through experience. This is particularly true in a commoditized industry like fintech, and true even in those that aren’t. What does that mean? Let’s break it down piece by piece.
Differentiation is the process of making and positioning an offering differently from other similar offerings. For example, Subaru and BMW both make cars. Subaru has differentiated itself on outdoorsy utility, where BMW has differentiated itself on sporty luxury. Experience is the process through which we perceive the world around us. In this same example, the experience of driving a Subaru delivers on its position of utility with features like a higher body, all-wheel drive, and rugged body panels. The experience of driving a BMW delivers on its position of luxury, with features like a lower body, faster speeds, and creature comforts. Differentiation through experience, therefore, is the act of making an offering different from similar offerings by intentionally designing how it should be perceived and felt by its users.
What Is Differentiation?
Designing for emotion is important. It’s been proven time and again that emotions are a large driver, if not the core driver, of decision making. Most decisions, including the big, important ones, are made first using emotion, then justified using logic. In the case of fintech, if your banking experiences make someone feel good, excited, or even rewarded, and you do this better than the competitors, that someone is more likely to continue banking with you than to go to a competitor.
This seems obvious, yet emotion and feeling are so often ignored as key drivers of success. We tend to rely on “messages” to tell our story, forgetting how today’s consumers are absolutely bombarded with messaging. One study in 2007 noted that we’re exposed to 5,000-plus brand messages every day and another study in 2014 notes that while we spend almost 10 hours each day exposed to media, we only note “seeing” about 150 ads. Within those ads or messages that we’re even aware of, only a small fraction make a lasting impression. Attention is a limited resource, and messaging requires attention. Emotion, on the other hand, doesn’t. We’re trained from a young age to read emotion in others and it’s something we do on the subconscious level.
Differentiation through experience, therefore, is the act of making an offering different from similar offerings by intentionally designing how it should be perceived and felt by its users.
What Not to Do: a Ride-Hailing Case Study
Designing for experience isn’t just crucial to fintech, it’s the key differentiator for every major consumer brand we love today, like Apple, Nike, or Amazon. On the surface, these companies succeeded by delivering new services, but if you look deeper, you see that they actually delivered services that already existed, just with a newer, better experience designed to appeal to the emotions of their specific target audience.
Let’s look at Uber and Lyft back when they first started. Both delivered a taxi service, only designed for the experience people actually wanted. We can break it down even further to see how each company designed a distinctive, differentiated experience. Uber designed their experiences to feel premium — your driver arrived in a black car and chauffeured you to your destination while you sat in the back. Uber’s initial tagline was “everyone’s private driver.” Lyft, on the other hand, designed their experiences to feel neighborly — your driver arrived with a pink fuzzy mustache and gave you a fist bump, inviting you to sit in the front. Their early tagline was “driving you happy.” These designed experiences appealed to two very different audiences, validating the motivation of each, and creating fierce brand loyalty to both companies early on.
Fast forward to today and you can see how the erosion of these designed experiences has caused a negative impact to both businesses. Brand affinity has disappeared, both on the rider and the driver side. People open both apps when looking for a ride or deciding which brand to drive for, and these brands now compete on a single factor: price. Price, however, doesn’t provide the same dopamine hit that an emotionally designed experience provides. That emotional tie that design creates validates the user, confirms their desires, and creates loyalty. This loyalty translates to higher lifetime values (LTV), more referrals (which are often better customers), and less turnover. Without that emotional tie, the user becomes fickle and will always chase that lower price, resulting in poor returns for the business.
The Minimum Lovable Product
The good experience that emotion-focused design creates requires a shift from Minimum Viable Product (MVP) to a true Minimum Lovable Product (MLP). That means no longer thinking about the minimum one can get away with from a technical sense, and instead, thinking about the minimum that one can deliver to make a user feel the intended emotions. Too often, cognitively complete offerings get chopped into tiny pieces, such that no one piece accomplishes anything. Put together, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but divided, even the greatest feature will fall short of its potential. Only cognitively complete experiences evoke an emotional response.
So often, we hear about UX teams and the experiences they’re designing for users. True user experience, however, requires effort from all roles. It requires dedication and innovation from engineering teams, it requires conviction from risk and regulatory teams, it requires relentless push from product and strategy teams, and it requires cleverness from finance teams. Great experience requires the business to do the heavy lifting so the user doesn’t have to. It requires changing your mindset away from “that’s hard” or “that would take awhile” to “what more could we do?” and “what would our users really enjoy here?”
So let’s return to the beginning theory. Design exists to drive winning differentiation through experience. Design teams can, and should, be the greatest asset a business has. They can, and should, be drivers of cognitively whole experiences that make a user feel the way they want to feel, that validate the user and their point of view. They can, and should, encourage an MLP mindset and help businesses understand that it’s not just what they deliver, it’s how what they deliver makes their users feel, a major part of a successful differentiation strategy. And they can’t do it alone. Your design team is likely full of untapped potential, full of great experiences to deliver and looking for partners to help them bring these experiences to fruition. Go unleash your secret weapon.