Think about some of the products and brands you now consider household names. I’m willing to bet that the names that first come to mind are likely companies that produce physical goods—what most would consider “traditional” products.
Most large-scale organizations like these have storied pasts: Often growing from scrappy mom-n’-pop-style operations with a few really good offerings into globally recognized behemoths through years of consistency—and a commitment to delivering the best customer experiences possible. They (and their customers) have historically thought of their “products” as the physical goods or services they render. And until a few decades ago, they didn’t have to think about how people might engage, connect, or buy from them digitally rather than physically.
Things look a little different now. The playing field has expanded on a global scale, and companies—regardless of industry—need a digital layer to help them meet their customers wherever they are. It’s no longer enough to just build great physical products. Every kind of company—from apparel brands to banks to restaurants to manufacturers—also needs an exceptional digital experience to connect their offerings to the world.
In other words: Traditional has gone digital.
Today’s consumers expect the products companies produce or provide to be so much more than a physical experience alone, regardless of industry. Brands need to deliver a digital experience that elevates or enriches their physical product. For example:
- Your overall perception of your favorite fast food taco chain doesn’t just depend on the tacos themselves anymore. It’s the cumulative experience of logging into their app or website, ordering and tracking your (let’s be honest, probably late-night) delivery, earning points and rewards to use next time, and—eventually—eating those tasty tacos.
- An amazing family visit to a theme park doesn’t just mean great weather, good moods all round, and well-maintained attractions. It’s shaped by the mobile app you use—to plan your visit, manage your reservations, order your meals, and check on ride wait times to keep those kiddos content—working exactly as intended.
- And seeing a doctor doesn’t just happen in the physician’s office anymore. Telehealth services give even the most remote communities access to care—so long as they have an internet or cellular connection.
It’s an exciting time to be in product—in a world full of possibility. But the reality is that all of these experiences and interactions are only as good as the software that powers them. And if your app doesn’t work or leaves your users frustrated, well… that means no tacos, cranky kids (and even crankier parents), and no critical care for the communities that need it most.
Building incredible digital product experiences has never been more important. And it’s never been more critical for what we’ve long-considered “traditional” companies to focus not just on the quality of the physical experiences and services they deliver—but to also invest their calories in creating digital counterparts for their offerings that will allow them to stay relevant and competitive, connect with the right audiences, and give their customers what they want and need.
In a world where every company’s success hinges on its ability to meet the needs of these increasingly digitally native consumers, every company must learn to think—and act—like a software company. And that’s where traditional corporations can learn a thing or two from their peers in tech.
Lesson 1: Don’t skimp on your digital experience
While most tech companies don’t have the benefit of decades of brand-building under their belts, they do have a leg up on their “traditional” counterparts in one key area. They’ve been digital-first since day one, and their product is the software they sell.
For these companies, success has always hinged on delivering an impeccable digital experience that users can’t live without. Meanwhile, the companies known for their physical goods and services might be tempted to say, “But our customers will still come to us for this [hammer, piece of equipment, pair of pants, healthcare, banking service, etc.] regardless of how good or bad our app is, we don’t need to focus our energy on it.” That’s simply not the case anymore.
According to Salesforce, in 2022, 88% of B2B customers agreed that the experience a company provides is equally as important as its product or services. More than ever, that “experience” is largely shaped by customers’ interactions with your apps or digital products. These same consumers also have more choices than ever—so don’t give a reason to jump ship because they can’t stand interacting with your brand digitally.
Lesson 2: You need both qualitative and quantitative data
You can’t even begin to build the right digital experiences—or improve them—without understanding how your customers are engaging with the tools at their disposal today. For many organizations that are just starting to professionalize their product management function, this has been a bit of a black box—leading product managers (PMs) to make biased decisions based only on gut feel, rather than informed by hard data.
Product analytics helps product teams see exactly how customers are engaging with their web and mobile apps, so they can get an objective view into users’ preferences and workflows. This allows PMs to challenge their assumptions (“We think this feature is the most important thing to our users”) and start making smarter decisions about where to invest their time, energy, and resources (“We now know that our users don’t actually care about this feature, but rely heavily on this other area of the product we haven’t focused on in a while”).
User feedback is just as important, and allows product teams to understand how users feel about their experiences. This qualitative element is the other side of the data coin, and plays an equally important role in building the best digital experiences possible. Asking for feedback allows you to step back and see your product with fresh eyes. It helps you understand what your users think and feel when they use your product. It builds empathy for their experiences. And it gives you actionable insight into what’s working well—or not so well. Plus, it’s a great way to show your users and customers that you value what they have to say, which fosters loyalty and trust (a thing long-standing traditional companies know a thing or two about!).
Lesson 3: Make it easy—meet your users where they are
If convenience is king, then contextual communication is your crown jewel. A critical element of building the best digital experiences possible is making every step of the user journey—from onboarding to enablement to support to any kind of transaction—as easy as possible, without ever requiring customers to leave your app. And that all happens with in-app guidance.
In-app messages, or in-app guides, allow you to communicate with your customers directly within the context of your app—including sharing timely updates or announcements, helpful resources, or guided walkthroughs and tours. Let’s revisit our examples from earlier:
- An lightbox-style in-app guide appears when you open your favorite fast food app letting you know—great news!—you get a free taco with your order today.
- A step-by-step onboarding walkthrough appears the first time you open the app of the theme park you’re heading to, so you know exactly how to navigate all the features of the mobile experience—and can spend less time stressing about where you’re going next and more time having fun.
- A banner appears inside your healthcare provider’s telehealth platform alerting you of their upcoming holiday operating hours, so you can plan your follow-up appointment accordingly, without needing to phone in and ask.
Not only do in-app guides create a better user experience—they also benefit your company by allowing teams like customer success, support, and marketing to scale their outreach and personalize messages based on product analytics and behavioral data. This increases operational efficiency, and frees up teams to focus on higher value work.
Every company is now a software company. And every company needs to prioritize their digital experience. To learn more about where to begin—and how to advance through—your product experience journey, check out this white paper, or explore our customer stories to see how brands like iRobot, Essity, and LabCorp have done it.