How Sonos Pushes the Envisioning Edges of Trial / Behavior & Business 1.5

This is the fifth in a series of ten articles focused on designing better cross-platform retail experiences. To read the complete issue, download it here.

In our first post, we introduced three opportunity areas we think retail companies need to engage to build the next cross-platform retail experience. In this article, we dig into the second opportunity area, Product-Person Fit, and the first of three ways to approach it: Push the Envisioning Edges of Trial.

Opportunity 02: Product-Person Fit

It’s likely that you’ve heard of product/market fit and Marc Andreesen’s perspective on why the strategy is so important for growing companies to understand. Quick refresher: Andreessen believes that successful startups need to be ‘in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.’ He goes on to say that ‘in a great market — a market with lots of real potential customers — the market pulls product out of the startup.’ Nine years since his first post on the subject, you’ll be hard pressed to find a team or company (large or small) not bringing up product/market fit during product development or strategy sessions. And for good reason: it’s a powerful idea.

Normal’s NYC: from a photo of your head and ears to 3D printed headphones in 48 hours.

When it comes to designing better cross-platform retail experiences, we think of product-market fit in the context of how customers still value personal fit, trial, and learning about new products and services before buying them. Just as Andreesen suggests that a market pulls product from a startup, we believe brands need to pull retail experiences from the fitting behaviors of individuals, placing a higher emphasis on understanding product use in a customer’s daily life. The result is a strategic design imperative that we’re (humbly) calling Product-Person Fit. The strategy aims to create consistent moments of inspiration and education informed by a customer’s fitting behaviors and needs. Growth will come from more life-aligned experiences that clearly convey the most valuable aspects of a retailer’s products to people, leading to higher customer satisfaction, engagement, and lifetime value to the brand.

Behavioral Analysis: Why Fit Means Much More than Look and Feel

What does it mean for a product to fit a person? Usually when we ask this question, we think about physical fit — of how those pants are cut, for what type of body. And that’s important. But products are not just physical things; they are also social things. Pierre Bourdieu, in his classic work Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, showed that consumption is immersed in a symbolic world that can — in a very real sense — constitute the value of a product. Distinction is about the ways that products insinuate themselves into people’s identities, shaping how they imagine themselves as belonging to social groups — and the ways they are called upon as resources through which people distinguish themselves from others.

In the broad range of studies of consumption that began to sweep ethnographic fields in the 1980s, this was the beginning of an important step away from seeing consumption as either satisfying basic needs (like food or shelter) on the one hand, or as extravagance, waste, and meaningless excess on the other. Instead, consumption came to be seen as neither basic nor frivolous, but as a complex and profoundly meaningful social activity. This means that pants have to fit your body, but they also have to fit your idea of who you are and who you want to be: you have to be able to imagine them in your life, and how they articulate with the rest of the things that help compose that life.

Brand value is built by customers and their stories of specific and shared product use.

For a long time the formation of these tastes and the articulation of them through specific products was the job of print and television advertising. But as shopping patterns have moved beyond the store to become cross-platform, customers and retailers have begun to experiment with new ways of addressing the question of fit.

Distinction is about the ways that products insinuate themselves into people’s identities, shaping how they imagine themselves as belonging to social groups — and the ways they are called upon as resources through which people distinguish themselves from others.

Making it easier for people to imagine themselves with a product — either by getting it into their hands sooner or by augmenting their ability to project it into their life through VR technologies — allows brands to lower the barrier to recognizing a product’s value (symbolic and otherwise), and augment the ways clients can see products fitting into their lives. Retailers are also fostering new kinds of relationships with customers by teaching, inspiring, and listening to them in new ways. These new avenues of fit can help customers imagine more, but also allow retailers to learn how products are meaningful to them, and can fit into lives marked by ever-more attuned projects of distinction.

Business Directive: Push the Envisioning Edges of Trial

When buying something, it would be great if every customer followed the tried and true decision-making process steps that we learned in psychology or marketing class. Step 1: Identify the decision to be made. Step 2: Gather relevant information. Step 3: Identify alternatives. Step 4: Weigh evidence. Step 5: Choose among alternatives. Step 6: Take action. Step 7: Review decision and consequences. Today, these steps happen in faster, non-linear ways (or sometimes not at all), across several digital and physical platforms. These decisions are affected by all sorts of unpredictable social influencers, from friends to celebrity Instagrammers to anonymous reviewers to perceived barriers. Simply put, brands have less time to effectively design for product consideration with more channels, conversations, and contexts to cover.

At AS Colour, digital shop windows advise customers how to improve and optimize what they’re wearing.

A large retailer recently asked us to design a set of in-store experiences where customers could try wellness products for the first time. Think organic snacks or chemical-free cleaning products. So we designed a set of environments that a customer would easily find at home — a bathroom and a living room — to approximate how these products might be used in the context of their lives. The designs helped customers focus on a quick moment of practical and meaningful product use instead of the barriers that wellness products sometimes present, like price. We knew that encouraging customers to try products out in-store in environments that felt like home might inspire them to use them with their own families.

One way to address the issue of shortened consideration is to anticipate and support a customer thought-process that we know customers already perform: envisioning how a product might benefit them in their own lives. When tangible product trial at home is not possible, brands need to create experiences that help customers envision how they might use and benefit from products in specific ways. The results might help retailers optimize against a customer’s shortened consideration window, acquire new customers (the Holy Grail), and also increase the lifetime value of existing customer relationships by making it easier to introduce new products.

How Sonos Pushes the Envisioning Edges of Trial

If you love music, you probably love Sonos. For the uninitiated, Sonos is a Wi-Fi powered speaker system that connects to your favorite music services and libraries, giving you the ability to control all your music from one app. In our home, we have found that we are listening to more music than before because we have 8 Sonos speakers scattered around the apartment. Whether it’s waking up to a playlist in the morning (more on that later) or playing white noise for our daughter while she sleeps, the ability to easily create listening experiences across rooms has made a meaningfully positive difference for our family after a long day of work or play.

The new Sonos store in Soho NYC boasts 7 soundproof listening rooms that feel like home.

But Sonos is one of those paradoxical products that, if you don’t have a friend that can show you why it’s so good, you really don’t understand why everyone raves about the experience of owning the system. That’s why we love the new Sonos flagship store in New York’s Soho neighborhood.

When tangible product trial at home is not possible, brands need to create experiences that help customers envision how they might use and benefit from products in specific ways.

The most interesting aspect of the store is that there are not stacks of Sonos products on shelves everywhere. There are instead six listening rooms shaped like houses along the lefthand side of the store (with an extra vinyl room downstairs). Each room has a unique interior design aesthetic and, when sitting on the comfy furniture inside, you feel like you could easily be in someone’s (aspirational) NYC apartment. On the 3 internal walls, the backlit words ‘Kitchen,’ ‘Living Room,’ and ‘Study’ are displayed to reinforce potential locations for speakers and a flatscreen anchors the music display in the middle of the room. When you close the heavy, custom-built door, it magnetically seals you in the room in silence. That’s where the fun begins.

A custom Sonos tablet experience gives visitors the ability to play any song they’d like, sparking a personally immersive music experience.

On a tablet, you can play any song that you love jamming out to on the music service of your choosing. And by all means, turn up the volume — the rooms are soundproof. If you need assistance, there is a staff of audiophiles and Sonos experts that are reachable through the tablet app. What’s great is that the reps leave you alone if you want to do your listening on your own and come back upon request if you want to buy something.

I remember that there was a distinct moment when my friend and I were listening to ayokay’s Kings of Summer on full volume and I forgot that there were other people in the store. We started playing with different speaker combinations and I began to think about why the subwoofer might be a worthy addition to my system after all. My friend turned to me and said, ‘The SUB. You need that.’

Attendants from Sonos leave listeners largely to their own devices unless they are called uponfor more help playing music or making a speaker purchase.

The Sonos store created a moment that helped me understand what an improved speaker system might feel like in my own home without me being even close to home. It was my music played my way in a space that amplified the experience in simultaneously inspirational and educational ways.

I remember that there was a distinct moment when my friend and I were listening to ayokay’s Kings of Summer on full volume and I forgot that there were other people in the store.

And for new customers, the benefits are twofold: first, the store helps them experience the quality of the Sonos sound in an incredibly immersive way. And second, by pushing the envisioning edges of trial, the store also helps new customers fit the ideal speaker system to their own needs should they be interested in making a purchase. Whether customers purchase a speaker in the store or not is irrelevant. When they go home, they’ll now know the difference between their system and Sonos.

The next post in the series, How JackThreads Shortens the Fit-to-Buy Timeline, continues to examine how brands embrace the Product-Person Fit opportunity. You can also can download the entire issue of Behavior & Business here.

About Behavior & Business

Behavior & Business is a series that explores the behaviors of customers and the ways businesses are meeting their needs in innovative ways that drive growth.

About Runyon

Runyon is a design and innovation firm that helps companies grow. Behavior & Business is indicative how we approach our work: we use equal parts customer behavior and business strategy to inspire the market-facing and revenue-generating experiences that we design with our clients.

About the Authors

Anthony D’Avella is the Founder of Runyon. He designs growth experiences with great brands like American Express, Target, and the Harvard Innovation Lab, as well as with amazing startups. Prior to Runyon, Anthony designed, built, and launched cross-platform businesses at IMG and for Fortune 500 clients in IDEO’s New York studio. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and teaches venture design in the graduate MFA program at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. When he’s not at work, you can usually find him on a beach somewhere with his wife and daughter.

Dr. Nicholas D’Avella is an ethnographer with research interests in markets, expert knowledge, and urban ecologies. His work connects Science and Technology Studies with anthropological themes related to money, exchange, and value. He completed his PhD at the University of California, Davis prior to holding postdoctoral fellowships at the Center for Science, Technology, Medicine & Society at UC Berkeley and at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science & Art. He is currently a Hunt Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics at NYU.