Service = System

In my previous posts I was talking about how a brand should disappear behind its applications / stuff that it does for people. Sure thing, this is not new, and was already very neatly summarized in the concept of branded utilityby Johnny Vulkan and Benjamin Palmer a while ago. I have hard time explaining people that’s not really what i am talking about, but words tend to fail me. Until i figured that i am talking not about brands-as-services but brands-as-systems. What’s the difference? I guess that a service addresses only a certain [single] type of action and builds a certain relationship around it. Service then operates only on the dimension “bad” — “good” — “great”. A system is many relationships collected together (so some of its parts can be good/bad). Actions/relations — shopping, chatting, searching, banking, reading news — never exist in isolation but are always part of a wider systems of action [call it people’s life]. There, everything is connected with everything else. So back to branded utility: what it provides is mostly PART of the bigger system. I guess it was just easier for us to regard the general statement “doing something useful” for people than thinking about specific actions that do so [i would love to put here “moments of truth” but will stay clear of the temptation]. That’s why i don’t think Nike+ is ONLY a service (it surely is that, but it’s not only that), it is a system that addressed every action of what the practice of running is [maps, speed, goals, motivation, music, inspiration, community, races, etc]. Sure thing, it is a closed system [designed for a specific type of runners and for a specific types of runs] and that’s why it breaks down so often (seeBrian Morrissay’s article for example) and is not very appealing to long-distance runners. Another example is Google — sure it does provide a great [search] service — but today Google is way more than search. It is a whole system [search, calendars, email, im, photos, maps, images, and now a browser, too]. All these elements are [almost] neatly connected so there is no friction in going from one point (service) to the next. And that’s exactly what Google was thinking about: how to address the people’s experience not by thinking about particular activities but the way they are all connected (online and offline). An update: a week after I wrote this post, I came across this sentence inDan Saffer’s book: “service design, like systems design, focuses on context — on the entire system of use … service design, really, is designing this whole system of use. The system is the service.”

This post was originally published on I [Love] Marketing, September 3, 2008