Forum 2018 | Finding human truths in data

Shad Foos | Mar 14, 2018 Shad Foos 03/14/18

In today’s age of the consumer, businesses must keep the wants and needs of their customers in the forefront. At this year’s Forum, great minds gathered to connect, share, and inspire with the customer experience as the driving source of strategy and innovation.

This time, what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. Our client partners went home with actionable insights and best practices from the industry’s brightest minds to uncover challenges, embrace innovation, and create winning customer experiences.

For lasting success, brands must be willing to uncover their blind spots

SMG Chairman and CEO Andy Fromm kicked things off by announcing the launch of his up-and-coming book The Curiosity Muscle, a collaboration with New York Times bestselling author Diana Kander. The Curiosity Muscle follows the rise and plateau of a gym franchise to uncover why companies who reach peak success tend to lose their curiosity and crash into irrelevance.


Diana joined the Forum stage to dig into the first curious question defined in the book: What are your blind spots? In order to open your eyes to potential threats, you must be willing to:

  • Shed the natural human bias of being overly confident in order to see things you may not want to see
  • Get out of your comfort zone to avoid becoming a victim of your own success
  • Discover invisible customer grievances + be willing to remedy them
  • Stay curious + continue to ask questions to make sure your business never grows stagnant

The Curiosity Muscle is slated for release this summer.

The best disruptors are adept at both high tech + high touch

This year’s event featured not one but two keynote speakers. First up was Chip Conley, Head of Global Hospitality & Strategy for Airbnb, who discussed how the wave of disruption has become bigger and faster due to rapid technology advances. Companies who grow complacent by past success can lose touch with customers and risk being pulled under by new competitors.


Remaining fluid and motivated will help brands keep up with a dynamic environment and continue to meet evolving customer expectations. Drawing off his psychology background and inspiration from Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Chip listed 3 tips to uncovering what your customers need:

  1. Use feedback as your compass. Chip cited customer feedback as the number one reason for Airbnb’s success. By implementing improvements in their peer-to-peer reviews—allowing for simultaneous publishing of guest + host reviews and the option for private feedback—Airbnb now has a 70% feedback rate (a staggering difference from traditional hotels, whose rate is 5%). By coming up with better ways to hear the voice of their customers, brands are able to redefine themselves at a faster rate to keep up with the increasing pace of disruption.
  2. Find a tool to tap into your customers' identity + define their psychographics. When launching his brand of boutique hotels, Joie de Vivre, Chip’s team used popular magazines and types of cars to help identify their core customer. Joie de Vivre’s flagship hotel, The Phoenix, which opened in 1987 in San Francisco, was conceptualized after Rolling Stone Magazine and targeted guests from the music and entertainment industries.
  3. Discover the true essence of your business. This seems like a no-brainer, but Chip discovered too many brands don’t fully grasp their core concept. By asking a simple question “What business are you in?” companies are able to explore various layers and get to the heart of their brand. This simple exercise evolved Airbnb’s identity from the “home-sharing” industry to the more innovative, revolutionized “belong anywhere” business it is today.

Identifying the customer’s willingness to pay is key to price point strategy

Our second keynote speaker Frances Frei (who is no stranger to our Forum stage), finished off the event with an insightful look at price point strategy and how important it is to keep the consumer in mind.

Conventional wisdom tells us to set our price just below the customer’s willingness to pay. But doing this closes the gap of “customer delight” and diminishes the human experience. To keep your customers happy (and more importantly, loyal) you need to give more thought and strategy to the emotion behind a price point.


Frances listed 4 rules brands should follow when setting a price strategy:

  1. Test projects and initiatives for their ability to increase the customer’s willingness to pay
  2. If a customer is willing to pay more, your offering needs to be unique to your competitors’
  3. Evaluate the gap between non-customers’ vs. customers’ willingness to pay
  4. Uncover complements to your offering that will enhance the customers’ willingness to pay

When thinking about these price points, Frances also stressed the importance of keeping the future in focus. She recommends brands implement scenario planning for at least 3 future states in order to be prepared for a variety of challenges. By thinking of different ways an idea can play out, companies will be more successful in creating and maintaining a respected and evolving brand.

Just the beginning

Forum was jam-packed with even more incredible insight on how to put your customers first in order to drive brand success. We’ve already started planning next year’s event, so save the date—March 4-6, 2019. We’d love to see you there!

Shad Foos

Chief Marketing Officer

Customer Experience Update