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The nirvana for marketers is creating customer experiences that people remember and want to share, but what customers actually crave is human to human interaction and this can be a challenge in a digital landscape when often there is no human contact.

When was the last time you had a digital experience that you truly remembered?

I was at a conference recently where the corporate anthropologist Michael Henderson was giving a presentation.

It was a truly fascinating view into anthropology, which being honest I knew absolutely nothing about, he translated his studies of people and cultures over the years into today’s focus on customer experience.

His findings were fascinating and he summed up by saying the interactions we crave and remember are those human to human moments and it’s not about hi-tech but about hi-touch.

Now this resonated with everybody in the audience including myself but it left me with a big question, what does this mean for digital interactions where there is no human contact? And how do you create digital experiences that people remember?

I suppose the obvious thing is that digital experiences need to become more like human to human relationships.

So what does this mean? Well to be more human means having empathy and understanding, creating and sharing great stories, it means being there when you're needed - not letting people down, it’s about having fun together, making you smile, doing unexpected things (in a good way though), helping out, not turning your back and maybe even going down the pub together.

OK, that might push it a bit far, but you get what I mean.

So I went searching for these human digital experiences and frankly it wasn’t the easiest journey. I started by looking for examples of great storytelling, a human communication tool that engages our emotional brain.

A great example was the story of Sugru.com. Jane ni Dhulchaointigh’s story shows a classic narrative arc of a great idea, the struggle to get it off the ground, a great journey and then success in the end (kind of like a Disney movie).

So I’m hooked by the story and then the second level of human experinece is how Sugru has developed a community that create and share new solutions using Sugru. This fullfils that classic human need to belong and feel part of something as well as that child like desire to create something new.

My next search was for how digital experiences are enhancing the humanness (is that even a word) of the physical world.

Burberry is a well cited case study but it is still a great example of how the brand purpose, 'to democratise luxury' translated into using digital to enhance the human experience.

So in the flagship stores Burberry utilises RFID tags, staff with iPads and big digital displays to complement the physical experience. Online it builds communities around the Art of the Mac and involve the community in catwalk shows. You feel involved, like the company cares, and this matters.

And then, someone sent me a link to Virgin America’s new beta booking engine.

Now, booking engines are usually one of the dullest things on earth, the best are designed to be efficient which is all well and good but very rarely does this functional process offer any kind of human experience.

However, Virgin America (being Virgin) thought a little different about this and decided to make booking more fun. In fact it claims to have made every task fun–erer (again another made up word). 

So yes it’s about personalisation, big data, content, contextualisation, social interactions and all the other things BUT if you want to be remembered and talked about what we really should be talking about is creating a more human digital experience.

So is this the age of being more human, where technology is about enabling those human to human moments we all crave? Let’s hope so

Tim Wade

Published 4 July, 2014 by Tim Wade

1 more post from this author

Comments (3)



Interesting point of view; there is phrase that summarizes your entire article, where you've said "digital experiences need to become more like human to human relationships." Well, everything about the digital world has had to become more user-friendly in order to appeal to the masses, but does user-friendly equal your human-like digital experiences concept? Is there a differences between the two? And, in the end, what will be the consequences of this change towards more "humannness" as you put it, in the digital world. A concern could be that this could drift us apart from the real world even more, do you think so? Anyhow, from the Internet marketing point of view, your idea is excellent.

over 2 years ago

Tim Wade

Tim Wade, Partner at Smith Co Consultancy

Thank you very much for your comments. I think it is bigger than becoming more user friendly, user friendly is good and we should strive towards it but user friendly alone isn't going to make the experience stand apart. It's not going to create a memory that persuades people to tell their friends after all there aren't many conversations in the local pub about how user friendly something is.

In terms of the long term change towards "humanness" I believe this means the digital, physical and social worlds merging ever closer where the focus is on the experience and not the channel it happens to take place in.

over 2 years ago


Emily Beckett

Great article! The more online experiences immitate the real - the better. It is probably not about "humanity", but about how well the new medium imitates the older ones.

over 2 years ago

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