If you haven’t yet read the recent post by Peter Merholz called Designing for the Sandbox, you should do so. It proposes a flexible structure for designing customer experiences, where a fair amount of leeway is given to customers themselves to shape their own meanings.
People who design experiences often believe that in order to succeed they must exert complete control. And while in extremely rare instances they might be afforded the opportunity to dictate an entire environment (say, in a casino, or a theme park), when designing for the real world, for the ebb and flow of actual lives, such control is impossible.
Customer experience is connections, not control
Peter suggests that the effective richness of an experience lies in the connections it provides, not in the control it exerts:
In fact, the best thing a designer can do is dictate as little as possible. Because the point isn’t to control, it’s to connect–to weave your offering into the complexity of people’s life experiences, to allow them to figure out how to make sense of your offering within their world.
To this I’d say, “Yes, indeed.” From a brand perspective, your brand fabric is part brand, part customer and part context. It’s a living thing, too, always in the process of growing itself. Dictating your brand cannot grow your brand.
The role of the “sandbox”
The approach Peter calls “designing for the sandbox” can be part of the answer:
… I’ve been calling this “designing for the sandbox.” This acknowledges a space for content, tools, and people to interact and create their own meaningful experience. This is not a monolithic creation, that dictates how the content, tools, and people best interact. …
The sandbox and the “brand as means”
The sandbox approach meshes with what I’ve been propounding as “the brand as means,” where the brand rises from a dictated message mode to become an enabling platform for customers. The brand enables customer connections, and many levels of customer interaction. (See: Interaction design: the new key to brands.)
What’s in the brand sandbox?
I see the brand sandbox as a shared, collaborative space where the brand and customers work and play together to shape their respective futures. (Both parties benefit.) The main tools are those that facilitate interaction, initiative and innovation. Although we call it a “sandbox,” it’s an infinite kind of sandbox, with horizons for big thoughts and big actions. (For brands, every sandbox is a Sahara.)
So, to answer the question, “What’s in the brand sandbox?” I’d say the best short answer is: “a special kind of freedom.” Customers can use this freedom to grow and transform themselves, and in the process, to grow the brand. This, of course, all comes back to the brand agenda.
Blogs are a foot in the sandbox
When a company starts an interactive blog (or blogs) with customers and stakeholders, it is putting its foot in the sandbox, so to speak. As shared connections and interactions, such blogs can become productive forms of customer experience.
And what’s in your brand sandbox?
Ironically, what makes your brand stand head and shoulders above the rest may be the sandbox you provide beneath your customers’ feet. The brand wars are also sandbox wars.