Intangible Economy

What’s the difference between tangible and intangible?

Client experience is intangible in retail. It has nothing with what you have, and everything to do with who you are and team/store readiness.


I was working at the largest women clothing business in the US — on the store communications and client experience team — during the research, testing, integration, and launch of their omnichannel POS. This was around 2016 to 2017.


When I arrived at this company in 2013, I believe they still had a separate website for mobile. Meaning, responsive website design and content management systems had yet to integrate with each other. It's wild how quickly the gap's been closed.


The reason for omnichannel was real.

Clients were coming into the stores, taking pictures and comparing prices. As a business, we are allowed to set rules. One particular rule I don’t like is to not allow people to handle their phones around the product. It comes off as suspicious of the client and from a place of scarcity.


Technology was not going to solve this issue. Now enter company culture in action. We understood who the clients were, and how to engage them in meaningful conversation. Stories of associate tales of helping a businesswoman who flew in for a meeting had her luggage lost in baggage claim and needs a dress for dinner, work, and something to kick back in at the hotel began to happen more often.


From this experience, I learned retail is subject to the people and the place, and engagement. It was a vulnerable effort to step forward as brand ambassadors and address someone’s needs, and had major impact on the brand. I’ll have you know, I met my better half in a store. She was my associate at LuluLemon at Lincoln Center. Connection is real, no matter where it takes place.


I came across rich information from “In Capitalism without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy” by Jonathan Haskel and Stian Westlake. They discuss macro and microeconomics of market intangible assets and what they anticipate.



Today I’m going to unpack the 4S’s.

They are #scalability, #sunkenness, #spillovers, and #synergies which make up the utility of intangible economy.


The first one is #Scalability where assets can be used repeatedly at multiple locations.

Brand lens on scalability:
For a product, it is a dream to have unlimited inventory. The focus is communication, product awareness, and organization direction instead of inventory, product procurement, container ships in the Pacific. Additionally, this is when a profitable business can create good with their purpose and values.

#Sunkenness is an irrecoverable investment. Unless there is measurable IP, chances are the money spent isn’t worth anything until you’ve made something from it.

Brand lens on sunkenness: This provides adequate reason to activate the organization's brand. The system supports the adaptable, affordable, and effective. In other words, the organization needs to speak and engage and create relationships. Business opportunities are proliferating in a democratic way.

#Spillovers are from intangible R&D or a new product segment. This creates a sharing exchange which breeds competition and amplifies the organization’s capabilities of growth and ownership in the market. This matters specifically as Haskell and Westlake point out because An uncertain future begets less financial backing. The “company premium” stems from the intangible investments. With a pandemic fueled remote economy, industry professionals can gather in urban locations.

Brand lens on spillovers: Good communication and value from a company comes as an act of generosity to clients. With opportunities abound, it encourages organizations to reach out and connect in local, state, national, and/or global areas. To me, spillovers are a journey of refining product & service, and a fast & innovative ride.

The fourth S is #Synergies. With intangible items come more ideas to float next to them. Faster testing, bigger ideas, in-house development, “outside innovation,” all aggregate a market that has checks and balances based on “competitiveness and uncertainty.”

Branding lens on synergies:
“Branding is about synergies.” It’s better said this way: activating a brand enables increased ROI through better marketing strategies, industry research and forecasting, long-term engagement and outreach, creating & refining processes. Synergy is when two or more entities are greater than their sum.

There is a lot to unpack here.


In my own trade, productization is happening in the marketing and branding sphere. This makes sense. The creative industry has not fully embraced it's role as the content creators of mass media. We are seeing experts in marketing, branding, social media, branch out on their own and designing a business and lifestyle that works for them.


Agency guns are leaving an out-dated-model of bespoke branding/marketing time-for-value business. Now, productization is delivering design products or automated DIY services.


It can be as creative of a product as the services we provide, which is exciting to feel empowered to work less and create more impact.


Back to #scalability, #sunkenness, #spillovers, and #synergies — I think a good starting point is to acknowledge invisible assets.


  1. What makes your business unique?

  2. How do you deliver your product or service?

  3. What impact do you want to make?

  4. How can you leverage existing business levers to enhance customer experience?

  5. What is your client experience journey?

  6. What business operations can be merged or removed to create a better client experience?


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