Finding the Right Story

An Interview with Steven Cook

Steven Cook, who joined MetaDesign Berlin as Head of User Experience in April, in conversation with Linus Lütcke about the challenges of digital transformation, his advice to brands and how he sees MetaDesign’s role in the future.

Linus Lütcke: In your opinion, what are the main challenges companies and brands face in times of digitalization?

Steven Cook: What I think is the biggest challenge for businesses today is to find the right narrative of what digital transformation means for their business. They need to answer for themselves why they are doing this digital transformation in the first place. And then they have to ask themselves: What does this transformation mean for my business model? Does it affect my brand and if yes, how? How do I create a narrative that my customers understand? As well as: How do I create a narrative that my employees understand? This is probably the biggest challenge: to convince your own people that they are responsible for this new narrative and strategic direction themselves.

Then there is the whole technical infrastructure part, but that happens backstage. The part that happens frontstage in the form of new products, services and experiences has to be plugged into the overall brand strategy.

LL: Does that mean, that to you the whole topic is strategic and much less technical? Is technical rather secondary?

SC: I would say it happens hand in hand. At first, as a business owner I would ask myself: Why am I starting this process and where do I want to go? This is a strategic question that should involve several departments to answer it: IT, marketing and communications, product design, brand and all the other people that are involved in bringing your brand and product to the market. I have noticed in Germany the approach to digitalization tends to be centered around digital infrastructure. Then as result a new website is launched. Naturally this infrastructure is a key for a company’s future. But I don’t think that this is right. It is also important to take into consideration what my customer needs and expects from the brand. Finding the sweet spot between my customer’s wishes and pain points is where a brand can develop new ideas and innovation. Of course, the technology is vital but it is one part of many in this process.

LL: What role can a service provider like MetaDesign play in these processes?

SC: MetaDesign can help brands from an outside perspective. Our strength is to creatively transform their brand for the future. By giving brands the tools to build great experiences for our customers’ customers. Together with our clients we find answers to the questions: Why does my brand exist? Where am I going? And most importantly: How do I navigate in the digital space? MetaDesign provides guidance in this complex world.  

LL: When you look at all these processes, do you think there are things that are underrated? Things a lot of people don’t really look at right now, but you think people should look at?

SC: I think – especially in Germany – the lack of attention for culture is what inhibits a lot of progress and innovation for brands. I mean the internal corporate culture. I think when you have a corporate culture that is toxic or a cover-my-ass mentality then that’s always going to play out. People won’t live your brand, which sooner or later will make it impossible for you as a brand to make the right steps forward. A vivid, authentic culture is what stimulates people. Your employees as well as the consumers.

A lot of businesses overlook that. Let me give you an example: I’ve been working with many start-ups and a lot of them go “We have the coolest culture, because we have meet-ups and stuff.” And then I’m like: “Wow, you guys eat Tacos together on Tuesday! How cool is that?” It obviously takes more than that to build a culture. Sooner or later as these kind of companies evolve and become much more significant businesses they lose out on what it really means to be culturally relevant to the employees which reflects directly to the consumers.

There are just a few global brands that really try to build a strong internal culture. The ones that fail to build-up this culture ultimately lose great people that in turn results to losing out in the market place. I have seen in time and again over the years. A great brand culture breeds change…in a good way.

LL: In conclusion: What’s your advice for brands today?

SC: I have four points that I always talk to brands about. The first one is context. What’s the context in which your customers come into contact with your brand? Meaning what relevant experience will happen in that moment. The second one is content. What am I going to say when, where and how? A brand must deliver information that gives a customer real value, informs and reveals the big picture. Consistency. I don’t mean just the look alone, I mean creating new standards and systems that give the customer a feeling of security. Even when it might go unseen. Lastly, convenience: Combining the other points in the right amounts at the right time that enables the customer to interact effectively.

People think in narrative structures and to create a digital brand it should be the goal of all people inside of a business to do so. Brands now have the chance to create truly amazing and inspiring experiences that seize attention. Technology is a tool to empower people and it is the job of business to use this wisely. So don’t be foolish and think that technology will solely tell your story better.

Steven Cook is Head of User Experience at MetaDesign Berlin.

Linus Lütcke is Marketing Manager at MetaDesign Berlin.

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