There’s a new(ish) gig in town, and it’s all about experience. Not on-the-job experience, but experiential experience. This has lead to the birth of a new role that’s been given any number of titles—chief experience officer (CXO), senior vice president of brand experience, chief digital officer, or even chief people officer—but is designed to achieve the same goal: to define the experience that a company’s customers and employees have when engaging with their brand. And, because so much of experiential design today involves audiovisual media, the AV community is starting to encounter these people at the drawing board.

Paige O’Neill, Prysm

The first sightings of the CXO are generally in an outbound role, whereby their main concern involves creating experiences for their brand’s customers. More and more, however, companies are taking this approach and turning it inward. Paige O’Neill, chief marketing officer at Prysm, a collaboration solutions developer, believes this is being driven by younger generations who have come into the workplace expecting enterprise technology to perform as well as their own personal devices. “Initially, I think people kind of laughed at that, but they’re not laughing anymore because those demands have driven technology change in the workplace, and these millennial attitudes are bleeding over into other generations,” she said. “If a company doesn’t provide that type of experience with technology, [people] are going to go work somewhere that will. It’s causing a shift in the way that employers are thinking about recruiting their workforce.”

Jim Colquhoun, Avidex Industries

Jim Colquhoun, vice president and chief technologist at Avidex Industries, an AV design and integration firm, said that so far, his work with experience-focused folks has been for customer-facing projects; however, he is starting to witness a shift inward. “What we’re seeing is the impact of that internally: How do we support our company in a way that broadens our ability to do a better job, not only internally but externally?” he said. Clients are assessing how they can evolve their internal experiences to better serve their customers.

At AV&C, creating experiences is really about storytelling. The firm specializes in the design and deployment of interactive and responsive media systems for the built environment, and much of its work is dedicated to developing the platforms and software that define how spaces will behave to get the story told. “A lot of the storytelling we do is data-driven,” said David Bianciardi, founder of AV&C. He and his team tap into the data that a specific client organization collects on a day-to-day basis, be it case studies, performance metrics, sales results, or reports on recent company events and initiatives, for example. “That data about performance and other metrics can be infused into the space. It doesn’t have to feel like a dashboard that’s beating you over the head; it’s more of a sensory experience.”

David Bianciardi, AV&C

Bianciardi described one recent project whereby his firm created a program that combined the client’s passion for art with data-driven storytelling: across a number of canvases (of different shapes and sizes) located in the C-Suite, the software marries art with content that tailors itself to what’s going on in the executive ranks that day. Sometimes, the program generates a more abstract aesthetic involving surging colors and dynamic movement, while at other points, it delivers content—such as case studies—designed to engage executive-level visitors, such as potential clients. “These are skeletons for a conversation that needs to happen,” he explained. “There’s a content creation system that’s pulling in all these data feeds and all of this material that’s otherwise been used for other purposes, and it’s reassembling all of these into these stories.” In this case, the stories aren’t pre-produced; instead, they’re created by the software in real time and controlled by the end users. If, for example, someone is giving a potential client the company tour and wants to synchronize their arrival in a certain location with a specific supporting digital experience, they may do so.

“What’s great about it is that the story comes to you,” Bianciardi said. “You’re tapped into all these signals and you’ve decided on lenses through which you’re going to look at the data, and it teases out the narrative.” For some organizations (such as the one described above), the narrative plays out in real time, while in other cases it’s batched. “That means that if you’re asking the right question of [all of this] information, and you then have the right tools to interpret it, and then you have a design partner that allows you to create something beautiful with it, that’s the trifecta.” And, he noted, the data never stops: “You build the platform and the data just keeps flowing through, telling these stories that are current and relevant.”

O’Neill underlined that software is the crucial element behind the creation of experience. “[We need] to think more about what software is going to drive the experience, and be able to have a conversation about that versus just thinking about it from the components perspective, or a hardware perspective,” she said. She also noted that it’s important for AV designers and integrators to grasp what terms like “digital transformation” mean to their clients.

The client’s focus on experience—be it outward-facing or internally directed—tends to be more collaborative than conventional integration projects, according to Bianciardi. “These kinds of projects are really a team sport, and a lot of them are not being run through typical contracting lines,” he said. What this requires is AV project management staff that can not only perform traditional duties such as working alongside construction teams and keeping things on time and on budget, but also producers who are comfortable working in a more agile environment. “It’s not like, ‘We’ll run away with the specs and turn it into a price.’ There’s a lot of back-and-forth, because people are making choices about how the technology is going to be experienced, not just how it’s going to perform.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

Should You Hire a CXO?

As enterprises recruit professionals in charge of heading up experience, it begs the question: Should AV design and integration firms be hiring their own CXOs?

“If they’re able to do that, I think it would be a great idea,” said Paige O’Neill, chief marketing officer at Prysm. “I think it’s only going to continue to be the case—especially at the larger companies—that they’re going to have to start hiring experience officers, or people officers, or digital officers who are concerned with these types of implementations. And so having someone that can go in and speak that same language is only going to be beneficial to [AV companies] in the long run, and it will also show that they’re committed to understanding and fulfilling the vision.”