We are experiencing a mindset shift with the way we uncover ideas that deliver on ROI for immersive reality. Innovation does not start with the business case as some organizations have advocated year after year. Asking, “What is the business case?” sucks the energy and creativity right out of the room and arguably de-motivates your workforce to share ideas. It does not instill an air of innovation and change. It gets us down the path of market demographics and total addressable markets — all of which are estimates and guess, albeit educated guesses. It does not get at the how, what, when, or why someone should actually pay for or merely value a compelling experience, or product for our brand. In this post, I instead advocate for the creation of an Experience case. For the purposes of discussion and illustration, this post focuses on how businesses might examine the creation of lovable products with immersive reality.
The limitations and failings of the business case become especially clear when we examine how companies are figuring out how to build lovable products with immersive reality. One thing we’ve learned loud and clear about immersive reality: unless you create an experience with people at the center, all forms of immersive reality — augmented reality, mixed reality, and virtual reality — will likely fail. And business cases don’t really address the experience you create or the people they wish to interact with. This is not to say there isn’t value to the business case — as someone who’s created many and have consulted with numerous businesses on various levels of digitalization, product innovation, business model disruption, or investing in start-ups — there’s tremendous value when a business case is done correctly. BUT IT IS NOT WHERE YOU START THE INNOVATION CONVERSATION — So where should you start?
1. Knowing where and how to look, listen, and feel
Many people say, look for the problems and that’s where you’ll find the opportunity — and they’re not wrong. BUT, that’s not the only place to look, or way to look. Innovation can be simply enhancing a current, good experience. Innovation can cover everything from expanding your offerings to streamlining the supply chain — and much more. The concept of innovation has been touted by many within what’s being called the Fourth Industrial Revolution. But many businesses say they innovate even though they do not know-how. Even worse, many businesses hold back their own people from innovating.
Create a forum for idea sharing where you can bubble up ideas — very akin to the Japanese manufacturing innovation where the people on the lines were incented to share and build process improvement. No one knows your business better than your own employees. So giving them the space to share should absolutely be a starting point. Unfortunately, many organizations perpetuate dissuading ways of working like “innovation happens through this group only” or “you just don’t get it” or some variation of: “[you need to jump through these 7 hoops, talk to these 3 people (who are hard to get time with) and then we’ll see]” Those are, in my humble opinion, not constructive nor conducive work environments — I got frustrated just writing those statements. Hopefully, you’re starting to feel how innovation can be systemic or lack thereof can be an organizationally systemic problem — but a fixable one!
Listening and observing are great ways to start: to your people, teams, AND to users of your product or service. I start with journeys and ecosystems, which requires me to listen to users. By looking across the journey or ecosystems, you can identify a person’s peaks (most favorable part) and valleys (least favorable part) of the overall experience and then ideate across those opportunities — an example of divergent thinking by opening the flood gates of ideas. If you struggle with grasping this concept or ideating in general, a design sprint or concept workshop can help you really dig into the journey and ideate — in this case, immersive reality. Tools such as design sprints can keep a company focused on delivering value, especially to the end-user. This is important because too often, senior leaders become fascinated with the latest shiny object without any focus for applying said shiny object. As you’ll see throughout this post, the experience case also helps guard against a business losing focus.
2. Evaluate the user’s ecosystem
Understanding your users’ ecosystem will help you understand how to align your own business’s ecosystem. An ecosystem is different from a journey. A journey is generally focused on user purchase behavior, many businesses want to understand the journey as it relates to purchasing their products. An ecosystem, on the other hand, consists of all the ways a person might interact with technologies and touchpoints as well as your product or interactions related to your product throughout the day, week, or month. For instance, if you are a clothing retailer, consider how your ecosystem might you align with how your customer interacts: with a mirror(s) in their home, their closet, perhaps even their ideology on why this fits into their personal aesthetic and wardrobe, their social spaces (both physical and digital), and on so on. How does your innovation interplay with theirs? I refer to this alignment of your brand’s ecosystem with the customer’s as interaction parity.
3. Write or Draw How it Works — at a medium-level
Visualize your idea with medium-level fidelity to quickly pressure test the idea with yourself and/or your team.
What I mean by “medium-level” is this:
- What are the inputs for this immersive reality experience: image, key markers, location, etc.
- What are the outputs of this immersive reality experience: information, overlays, etc.
- Additional simple interaction elements by the user: what does the user do.
Keep in mind that Virtual Reality experience considerations will be different than Augmented or Mixed Reality considerations as you think through the inputs and outputs of the experience. Here are a few additional questions that may tickle your fancy as you think through your experience: should 2D or 3D assets be used? What is the environment like? What is happening 360-degrees around me? Does the experience simulate movement for your users or can they control movement?
These questions only scratch the surface of the experience design. But it helps you start thinking through the idea and turning it into an experience.
4. Outline the User Value
Understand your audience and how your experience delivers value to them. You need to go beyond personas and primary audience, which organizations have unfortunately bastardized — unintentionally mind you — so identifying our user requires us as Innovation, Product, and Experience strategists to re-think the question and the meaning. Rather, answer this question: who are your first adopters? (said slightly differently: whom do you want your first adopters to be). Be aware also that a technology such as immersive reality might create opportunities to identify new audiences as well.
This is also a time to think about the emotion you want to evoke. Emotion is strongly related to experiences. We all know the feelings that are stirred up by watching Toy Story and we think back to the toys we had and the relationship you had with your beloved Teddy bear or action figure. Do you want to inspire? Create happiness? Tools such as the Junto Emotion Wheel can help you uncover the emotional wants and needs of your audience beyond the surface level.
This is a part of product innovation that is very lost on the people creating experiences, yet one that has profound impacts on both the user and the business and will get you on a path to successful innovation. These will also help you pressure test your idea — if we can’t understand or really denote the value this product experience provides, then perhaps it’s time to pivot or scrap the idea.
5. Understand the Product Relationship
What is the relationship you want your customers to have with your product? Think: Our users want or value a _[blank]__ relationship with our product. Do you want a mentoring relationship? Coach? A sidekick? Connecting through a relationship will garner empathy and loyalty — which will very likely outlive the version of the product you are creating. When we think back to products or experiences in our lives, we remember the ones that made us feel something, the ones we had a special relationship with. We do feel sentimental about both physical and digital products — the teddy bear you had growing up, the basketball from the championship game you keep, the app you choose to keep as you ‘Marie Kondo’ your phone. Doing so will help you become more user-centric and to fulfill the user value you aim to deliver.
6. Welcome to Creating the Experience Case!
This term of Experience Case may be new to you, but I assure many people have been doing it for some time now, without knowing it. The Experience Case are those (somewhat simple) topics covered earlier: the product experience (how it works), user value, and product relationship together. The Experience Case crystallizes your product’s concept and the value it’s driving. I’ve decided to share this tool (which I use all the time with clients) with you and the innovation community. I am sharing two experience case canvases here: one for virtual reality, and one for augmented reality.
There are two parts to the canvas not discussed earlier, but are important:
- Leap of Faith Assumptions: these are essentially your user behavior or market unknowns that need to be evaluated. A LOFA for a business like Airbnb would’ve been: would people really stay in others’ homes? Or would people really be willing to let strangers stay in their homes?
- Business Value: note, that I specifically left this near the bottom of the canvas as I still think it’s valuable to think about at a high level. But business value does NOT need to be the first thing you consider when evaluating an immersive reality idea.
Know, Understand, and Evaluate
As I mentioned in the beginning, the business case is still valuable and necessary. But you need to know, understand, and evaluate the concept(s) before you can really write the business case for the product.
As we make a mindset shift to embracing the Experience case, we also need to think of value. The value of the experience, its ROI, is best understood in the fulfillment of the value for the users. Customer lifetime value (CLV), positive association, and loyalty are examples of the fulfillment of value. These can and in my experience resoundingly do lead to revenue, but it all started with the experience and user value. You are investing in the relationship with your customers through your product experience and the better we do so, the greater the gains.
Above all, we, as a global collective of innovators, thinkers, creators, designers, and leaders have the power to create products and experiences that can transform lives. We can help to re-imagine and actually create the new normal, a better normal (continuously, not just amid of global pandemics and civil rights movements) — one that’s rooted in compassion, love, inspiration, ingenuity, fun, [enter awesome adjective here]. So let’s continue to strive for that level of mindful, purposeful innovation in all that we do and create. And I hope the Experience Case helps you get there!