The rise of the customer innovation center

The Drum 14 Sep 2021 03:12


Customer-driven exploration of a brand’s innovation is the pinnacle of experiential marketing. Can a new breed of customer innovation centers create the ultimate bespoke experience for the next-gen audience? Sara Lilley of 2Heads explores the thinking behind the recent spate of new CICs and considers where they can go next.

The customer experience center (CEC) is nothing new. Since Lou Carbone coined the phrase in 1994 the CEC, or brand innovation center, has been a stalwart of big business marketing. The rather staid cousin to the exciting experiential event strategy, the average blue-chip company still has four to five centers worldwide.

But now, in the form of a new breed of customer innovation centers, CECs have gone experiential too, rising to the challenge of providing innovative, memorable experiences for many B2B businesses.

A revolution in thinking was needed and the CEC stepped once more out of the shadows. Not to be confused with innovation labs, the brainchild of silicon-valley R&D and worthy of their own discussion, new CECs are being launched all the time – Gap Inc, Belden and Fisker are due to launch their inaugural spaces this autumn. Agency advertising and thought leadership in this area is growing and CEC enquiries abound.

Brand identity

This was particularly important to 2Heads client Belden, the US network and connectivity giant, which wanted to connect its staff and contractors for the first time in a continual experience beyond an intranet. Launching its virtual and physical CEC in Stuttgart this summer, it now has plans for two more hybrid centers. For that business, its CECs created a structured brand identity from which its teams could launch the next chapter of products.

Storytelling and narrative are always high on the agenda for an experience center. It’s not about telling every company story; that just generates noise. It is about finding a compelling reason for the CEC’s existence that can generate press/peer excitement and involve visitors in the journey even before it launches.

The new office

PWC’s experience center’s ethos is of flexible environments, virtual or in-person, that use real-time simulations and advanced technology to help employees navigate challenges. This extends the PWC service to a new audience, and it allows them to white label their own internal CECs. Clever stuff.

Embedding change

Social leveling

Hybridization is not about getting a virtual audience attached to a moment of live experience, but a more continuous connection that avoids brand splits. CECs may be the perfect hybrid experience.

Scale and cost will always be a factor, but growing CEC demand will generate a new level of peer competition that will push creativity and innovation, reducing those factors’ impact. And with intuitive profiling and AI experience curation, the world of CEC is changing, bringing to life brands in a way we’ve not yet seen before.

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CECcustomer experience centerLou Carbonebrand innovation centerBelden