In late June, Forrester held its annual CX North America conference in the Music City: Nashville, TN. Carrying the theme, “Out In Front,” the conference included tracks that spanned the customer and employee experience. Forrester presented the latest research and insights and curated stories from brands that have made great strides in delivering on rapidly evolving expectations in the marketplace. Throughout the conference, we spotted a few important themes threaded through keynotes and sessions that CX professionals and marketers should prioritize.

Ubiquity in Digital Technology Innovation Calls for More Ingenuity and Creativity

Across several breakout sessions, Forrester analysts, brand leaders, and technology vendors shared statistics and stories of how investments in technology platforms have enabled companies to rapidly deliver on consumer needs. But one outcome of this rapid acceleration of digital adoption is an emerging ‘sea of sameness’ across many digital experiences from a functional standpoint. When you look at QSR, the leaders all have great apps for ordering, delivery, or curbside pickup. In the travel space, airlines all offer mobile ticketing and easy access to reservation and loyalty membership data. In the fitness space, companies offer heart rate, calorie burn, and activity tracking. Functionality is easy to replicate and is less and less differentiating. As Jay Pattisall, a Principal Analyst at Forrester put it, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”

So, what’s a brand to do when everyone has access to similar technology, processes, and capital?

Companies must focus more on a differentiating factor that can only come from their people: ingenuity. It’s the differentiating layer of an experience. When you combine technology, process, and capital with ingenuity, truly creative solutions come to life.

Research has shown that creativity energizes businesses. Creative businesses grow 2.6x faster than their peers. But there’s one challenge: a “creativity gap” between companies and their employees stifling most organizations from reaching their potential. 53% of employees believe they are creative, yet only 29% of employees say their company is creative. To build truly creative experiences companies must focus on three things:

  1. Embed creativity in work. Create an atmosphere where you give teams a license to feel free to create. Provide time for healthy debate and creative tension.
  2. Put emotion into the code. It’s one thing to deliver a functional product, it’s another to help customers truly feel emotion through the experience. Remember that it’s not only about what they are buying, but also what they are buying into.
  3. Create a total brand experience. From digital platforms to physical spaces, create a consistent, connected brand experience that evokes emotion at every touchpoint.

Focusing on creating a culture of creativity will enable brands to separate themselves from ubiquity and create more desirable and memorable experiences.

Extended Reality (XR) is Gaining Traction. It’s Time to Start Now.

The ‘digital acceleration’ is very real. Compared to only one year ago, consumers are spending 18% more time with smart speakers, 14% more time with Augmented Reality, and 19% more time with smartwatches.

In the world of extended reality, which includes Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and Mixed Reality, leading brands are beginning to make significant investments in the space for a good reason: they don’t want to get left behind. While it’s still early days for this technology, the potential is immense. Forrester Analysts offered one key perspective on where brands should focus as they venture into the world of extended reality. They explained that while there’s significant hype around the fully immersive metaverse through the use of Virtual Reality, the most potential lies in creating more ambient experiences.

Ambient experiences use very subtle approaches to overlay artificial stimuli, which enables users to interact with the virtual information as desired, but it is largely ‘out of the way.’ A simple example of the most ambient of experiences that has become widely accessible to consumers are the virtual assistants offered by Apple and Google. When asking Siri a question via your AirPods, you’re able to get the information you’re looking for without having any intrusive technology clouding your senses. Voice technology has continued to lead the way given its unintrusive nature, and Forrester noted that it’s a great place for brands to begin their journey. The most important thing for brands to keep in mind is that it takes significant time and investment to build these XR experiences, so it’s imperative to start exploring it soon.

Taking a Values-Based Approach is Becoming Table Stakes

From the opening keynote to the closing, the importance of focusing on establishing and delivering on brand values was omnipresent. The most notable presentation that focused on this topic exclusively was from the Chief Impact Officer for TOMS, Amy Smith. She described the transition at TOMS from their staple ‘one for one’ model of giving to something new that could carry the values-based company into its next chapter. They sought to introduce a new model that would better deliver on the most critical needs while also being more financially sustainable than the one-for-one program. To thoughtfully rebuild their approach, TOMS:

  • Assessed the market and perceptions of values-based organizations and models.
  • Listened to customers, and deeply understood what they cared most about.
  • Listened to their partners, the organizations they’ve served over the years, to understand what would make the biggest difference.

But given the financial challenges of the one-for-one model, the focus wasn’t entirely on the giving model. The key piece that brands must keep in mind is that at the end of the day you’re running a business. You’re selling a product or service, and that can’t be forgotten. Throughout the process, TOMS was very conscious of the fact that they sell shoes, and their model for values-based marketing must enable them to do that well. After a year of research and planning, TOMS developed their 1/3 Profits for Grassroots Good program. The new program focuses on making an impact on communities at the local level, with a focus on mental health.

To bring values-based initiatives to market, Amy Smith described the importance for brands to focus on the intersection of IMPACT, PRODUCT, and STORYTELLING. And that it can’t be a marketing program, it must be an enterprise-wide strategy that is embraced across the organization from the corporate office to the frontline team members. For TOMS, this came to life through their “Wear Good” initiative.

While Amy Smith’s keynote went deep into values-based marketing and experiences at TOMS, several other sessions touched on the topic. For example, a session focused on loyalty marketing showcased The North Face’s approach to injecting their North Face Renewed offering into their program, which allows people to earn points for shopping for renewed gear and apparel—reducing waste and environmental impact.

It’s important to note that in one of the later keynotes, Forrester Principal Analyst Katy Tynan reminded us that a company’s values can’t stop at words on a page. Values are what is said, but culture is what is actually done. Values need to transcend the employee experience and culture of a company in order for them to authentically resonate with consumers.

Learn more about the evolution of TOMS’ values-based business model on Forbes.

The Takeaway

If you’re looking to see the latest and greatest insights, case studies, and technology in the CX space, Forrester’s CX North America conference has it all. The 2022 edition was packed full of so many different trends that it left us with one overarching takeaway.

With the constant change happening in the world, in consumer expectations, in employee engagement, in experience design, in technology, to deliver better experiences and outcomes for your brand you must focus on