How to put the friction back into frictionless

OMD head of strategy Peita Pacey
By OMD head of strategy Peita Pacey | 3 December 2019

There’s been plenty of narrative of late spouting the need for brands to hurriedly move towards providing a frictionless customer experience. With headlines such as “Friction is costing Australian businesses $29b per year” (Boston Consulting Group, 2018) and statements such as “Customer experience is crucial in today’s age of instant gratification.

People expect a seamless experience from discovering a product or service, right through to flawless delivery, timely customer service and personalised follow up”, (Marco Corsi, Facebook), one might assume that the path to commercial glory is through the removal of all friction along the consumer journey. And you’d be right. Sort of. Or maybe not.

There’s no doubt that consumers are generally a miserable bunch. We want everything, available instantly at the end of our fingertips (thank you mobile e-commerce), and we want it as cheaply as possible please. Essentially, we want what we want, when we want it.

And thanks to the behemoths like Amazon and Apple Pay, we’d like it all with as little effort as possible – one click and we’re done, any more than that and we’re huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf.

There are so many examples where a “frictionless” approach has garnered real disruption to categories, making our lives easier and therefore better (?):

· Uber & Lyft of course, not just for shaking up the transport category, but creating expectation transfer across categories, with consumers now demanding one touch fulfillment for everything

· Starbucks mobile app – setting a new expectation of being able to pay, order and skip the queue all from your mobile

· Playable ads – allowing us to be inspired, motivated and fulfil our entire consumer journey within ads, without leaving the comfort of our beloved content

· Apple Pay – we don’t even need to carry wallets or remember PINS as we can purchase via facial recognition technology

· Amazon Prime – one-click and predictive buying, removing all need to make routine purchase decisions.

But in an age where the white labels from retail giants are gaining power, is a frictionless experience really the best thing for brands to employ? Because after all, without effort there is limited experience and there is no value.

Friction in and of itself, is neither “good” nor “bad”. Nor is a “frictionless” experience, the catch-all ideal outcome for brands these days. In fact, if the experience is as important as the goods or services a business provides its customers, what does “experience” mean.

Friction itself can give a sense of ownership and investment, something which Betty Crocker understood back in the 1960s when they added extra steps to their cake mix recipe, giving people a more satisfying experience.

Ikea has mastered this idea requiring self-assembly, and therefore time investment increasing products perceived value.

Netflix has created friction by adding a step via a sign out box, to stop people logging out, because they know that logging back in is so painful. All great examples of businesses adding in friction to deliver a better customer experience.

Advertising in its best form in fact creates an emotional reaction, that is, a form of friction. By creating an emotional connection of sorts (happy, sad, surprised, disgusted, etc.), it enables a brand to cut-through and grab attention in an increasingly cluttered and fragmented landscape.

Jon Wilkins from Accenture states “friction is a critical ingredient in the building of emotions, and significant drivers of mental availability and recall”.

This attention primes consumers to notice brand differentiation and leads to motivation to purchase. Ironically, even Amazon’s Jeff Bezos says “Advertising needs to be a gateway to empowering experiences”.

Is this categorisation of good vs bad dependent on where you are on the consumer journey and what the pay-off is? In the Discovery phase, it’s fine to slow us down so that we can consider our options and make decisions more carefully, but once we’ve made a decision get out of the way – make it as quick and easy as possible.

Media can help with this blend of friction & frictionless to add to the consumer experience, by utilising data to predictively seed suggestions for future behaviour and purchases, with communications that have impact and create an emotional response at precise moments along the journey when they will resonate the most.

Local examples such as Snickers Hungerithm, McDonald’s Monopoly and Foxtel’s Monty all showcase this marriage of friction & frictionless delivering strong growth in both sales and brand preference. Globally, Burger King’s latest work with Whopper Detour created so much friction and confusion for customers, they won awards for it!

In the era of the never-ending pursuit of convenience for the generation of instant gratification, the question becomes less about “what’s possible” to “what’s valuable”. Friction in a frictionless future is not in fact a hinderance but an opportunity, but we must use it wisely and purposely with the consumer experience in mind at all times.

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