Businesses today are looking not only to create successful products but rather a relationship through products with the business itself. If we think about it, the products that we really love are the ones we have a specific relationship with ones which we can associate with a good memory, that have a long-lasting value, and that conveys a feeling that they were designed especially for us. Cherishing those moments, we come to appreciate not only the products, but also the brands behind them. The nature of our present economy is different. In the 1970s, the focus was on the products themselves, their durability, and quality. The 1990s brought a shift and created an economy that was focused both on products and services, while the early 2000s fostered a customer-centered model. Today, business and companies are focused on the relationship between brands and individuals. Why is a relationship good for a business? A long-lasting relationship allows companies to learn more about their clients, their needs, and their desires. This creates possibilities for endless upselling, through which customers constantly develop positive feelings about the brands they choose and allow companies to maximize their customers’ LTV. In today’s technology-driven economy, brand-customer relationships are dependent on both software and hardware, and a long-lasting relationship between a brand and a customer cannot be sustained without a physical touchpoint on one hand, and a digital, evolving interface on the other. This doesn’t mean that every business must design both ends of their products, but they must take this connection into consideration. A lasting relationship emerges when hardware and software meet. Take two of the largest, most successful relationship-centered brands, which have created their own product eco-systems: Apple and Google. In Apple’s case, things are obvious. Apple owns both the hardware (phones, iPads, Apple Watches, and the list keeps growing every year) and the software (iOS). Google, on the other hand, owns the software while the hardware is more distributed than in Apple’s case (though Google is constantly developing their own particular hardware products). Other products, such as Nespresso’s coffee machines, act as an enabler. It is their brand, their service, and their image, however, that sustain the relationship between the product and the customer, making the experience of the product memorable. Our current moment has exposed and disrupted our traditional and developing relationships. The COVID-19 crisis has, and will continue to transform personal relationships, our social environment, and the basic ways in which we communicate. Everywhere around the globe, our relationships are being redefined. Activities we took for granted such as dining, working out, using public transport, our basic well-being, and health, are re-examined every day. COVID has disrupted our relationships with our social environment. As the very nature of our interactions and relationships change, we are presented with an incredible opportunity to build new ones, by designing relationship-centric products. For a business, there is nothing greater than developing a lasting relationship with its customers. Understanding this new and contemporary economy means understanding the tools, opportunities, and technologies we work with. Every business, even if not developing its own hardware and software, must have an approach to both. And while we might think that times and crises like our own are not the best time for rethinking our relationship with brands and products, it is important to recognize the tremendous opportunity. There is no time like the present.
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