Innovation at first hand.

A trip through Silicon Valley.

How does Silicon Valley do brand management, idea management and everyday corporate life? Having spent a week in the digital future together with Uwe Tännler of Swiss Marketing and 22 other managers and CEOs, I present to you an update from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Fail early, fail often: Design thinking.

In order to better understand Silicon Valley, it’s worth taking a quick detour to Stanford University, the home of design thinking, an approach that is fundamental to the US innovation industry. The dos and don’ts of design thinking offer good advice, for example, don’t make discussions stagnate by saying “But”, and instead spur them on with “Yes, and …”. According to this approach, testing an idea is far more important than criticizing it. The motto is “Fail early, fail often”, because we learn by making prototypes and not by debating theories. Moreover, in the Valley, everything is less complex and organizations are flatter. Processes and procedures are made as simple as possible, and hierarchies are flattened out on the spur of the moment to allow effective and innovative work to take place.

Mark does live communication: Facebook.

Menlo Park is a world of its own. Not until you have visited this “Million-Square-Foot Campus” can you really begin to understand the size of this company and the diverse scope of its involvement. In the very first presentation we attended we were straight away introduced to the global “Aquila” project, an Internet connection via solar aircraft that will make the World Wide Web accessible to every person on our planet, no matter where they live.

We didn’t see Mark Zuckerberg himself, but we did at least see Zuckerberg’s Stage, an old crane arm that has been converted into a stage especially for the CEO. The man whose net worth is $56.7 billion uses this platform to address his employees directly as they congregate on the plaza next to it. Fantastic – Mark does live communication, too!

No limits: Experience design.

It was exciting to experience the strategies used to promote the future-looking products of Apple, Tesla, and organizations like Citibank in a way most suited to the markets of the future. To find out more we visited experience design agency Eight Inc., where the old marketing adages of the consumer goods industry have long since been abandoned. This agency, which operates across the globe, believes in thinking without limits.

Thinking without limits.

Design-Agentur Eight Inc.

For the 170 strategic designers and business creatives, these statements are a roadmap: “We believe people are far more interesting and complex than the narrow roles like ‘users’ or ‘consumers’. We think beyond purely ‘digital’ or ‘physical’, reality is more fluid and interconnected.”

It’s better to be good than perfect: Google.

Anyone travelling toward Mountain View to visit the Googleplex would be gripped by anticipation: How does Google present itself to visitors? What does the much-touted brand experience actually feel like in reality? And what does the visitor find out about the company’s plans for the future? From the minute we arrive to the minute we leave, we experience a degree of enthusiasm, commitment and typical US hospitality that transforms this corporate giant into an approachable company.

We get an insight into the areas of Search, Consumer Analysis, Mobile Design, Security Design, Machine Learning and Brand Development, and our hosts are high-level specialists and experienced communicators. At the Googleplex you don’t feel like you’re surrounded by secret algorithms and cryptic projects, but rather you find yourself in an atmosphere of concentrated activity. Google is not just all about IT, but is a world where the users – including us as a group of visitors from Germany and Switzerland – are at the centre.

Big ideas, big success: Idea management.

Everything starts with an idea, and sometimes a big idea. In Silicon Valley too, these are the magic words. A big idea is always the starting point, both for the acquisition of venture capital and the acquisition of new talent, and for both of these there is fierce competition (something that we can relate to in Switzerland).

Win first customers. Don’t think about making money.

Those wanting their big ideas to become big successes need to pay attention to the lessons learned in the Valley, for example, “Win first customers. Don’t think about making money.” And a little further along the path to success, “Let the huge number of customers you have collected so far be involved and contribute their ideas too.”* So yes, successful brands open themselves up; they are products of collective experiences and emotions. And no, Silicon Valley is not a world of nerds, but a place where emotions play an important role. At Eight Inc., for example, they believe that, Emotion is greater than form follows function.

The customer experience journey live: Airbnb.

Brand experience and customer experience are also important topics at Airbnb headquarters. We have now left Palo Alto and are on our trip through the digital future in downtown San Francisco, one of over 65,000 cities where you can find Airbnb. And its headquarters fits the bill perfectly, in that all the rooms are designed just like those you might choose for your stay.

We want to create a home for travelers.

Here you find the physical proof of what you see online – every room is an experience, or perhaps we should say an experience journey. We want to create a home for travellers, a place where they immediately feel comfortable and where they enjoy spending time – that is the vision of our company, says Jason Beckham, our host at Airbnb. Building a brand means making it an experience on the inside and on the outside.



Conclusion: Be emotional!

Our 6-day trip into the future in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area at large showed us that there are many digital futures. At Tesla the future looks different to how it looks at eBay or Salesforce, but (almost) all the companies have one thing in common, which is that a very carefully constructed customer experience journey is a key part of that future. Our brief visits to the many companies showed us the importance these new brands place on the emotional brand experience. As a live communicator myself, I enthusiastically tanked up on inspiration. In terms of work spirit we still haven’t quite achieved the relaxed way of getting things done that the people in the Valley have, but we’re working on it – especially in Neunbrunnenstrasse.

About the trip:

The sixth Silicon Valley study trip organized by the Institute for Marketing at the University of St. Gallen took place from 4 to 10 February 2017 and was run in collaboration with Google Switzerland and Swiss Marketing.


Thanks to Cristoph Bürge for these statements and the excellent summary map.

©Picture Header: Rob Bye