.Who knows if Playboy founder Hugh Hefner's final wish was to rest in peace? (He did purchase the crypt next to Marilyn Monroe's -- not exactly the ideal setting for eternal rest.) Nevertheless, the pajama-wearing playboy will live forever.
It won't be for his provocative publication, but for his genius in imagining and designing what he called a lifestyle -- and what G-rated business people call an end-to-end customer experience, based on a simple premise to which the brand remained true under his stewardship.
Chances are, Hefner never heard of service design -- a discipline with roots in Europe that only first appeared in the U.S. in the '80s and has been gaining traction in the last decade. But his empire -- which at one point encompassed his signature magazine, TV shows, casinos, clubs open only to key-carrying members, and kitschy but (then-) cool merchandise -- embodied the principles and best practices of service design.
Here are lessons any entrepreneur can learn from the career of Hugh Hefner.
The customer is always right -- provided it's the right customer for you.
Hefner expertly zeroed in on his target reader/customer early: A self-styled sexual sophisticate who wasn't above dropping literary and artistic references to impress a prospect.
He never apologized for the nudity in his magazines, its literary ambitions in paying top dollar to respected authors like Ray Bradbury and Margaret Atwood, or the depth and frankness of the celebrated interviews, whose subjects were a decidedly upmarket crowd that included Steve Jobs, Miles Davis, Martin Luther King, and Stanley Kubrick. He may have actually created his reader, modeled in his own image, but he was faithful to serving that audience.
Don't surprise and delight your customer. Just delight.
Well, after that first issue, with its nude pictures of a by-then-famous Marilyn Monroe shot when she was an unknown model, there were no surprises in Playboy. The magazine clearly set customer expectations, and met them. There were none of the coy, bait and switch tactics common in magazines with a big come-on but no delivery.
Customer delight shouldn't require heroics on the part of the customer or the service provider.
Today, service designers work hard to map and improve what they call the customer journey, to make it easy reliable, and to manage the experience. A great magazine unfolds with the inevitability of a well-planned journey. Playboy magazine was masterfully designed and laid out, and luxuriously produced. The reader always knew where he was and how to get to where he wanted to go.
Playboy's readers were likely to start in the middle, of course -- the centerfold -- but could always and easily navigate to interviews, letters, "Playboy After Hours," and the magazine's other departments and features. Friends tell us that Hefner was so good that he could look at a magazine mockup and, without even knowing what the articles were, fix the sequencing and layout to make it flow better for readers.
Service design must deliver a coherent experience across all channels
Hugh Hefner and Walt Disney might seem like strange bedfellows, but they--virtually simultaneously and well before the Internet -- all but invented the omni-channel world, where each point of contact between brand and consumer has been considered, designed, and executed so that it grows from and reinforces the other.
Whether in the choreography of the "Bunny dip" -- hip-thrusting posture adopted for service drinks -- or the Playboy Mansion's cultivated aura of being just this side of a Roman orgy -- during Hefner's tenure, Playboy delivered on its promise at every, er, touchpoint.
Walt Disney had the same vision -- which he laid out in a famous drawing showing how he linked cartoons, theme parks, comic books, merchandise and other experiences. Both men managed their brands meticulously and ruthlessly. Just as Disney had (and still has) strict rule about behavior for its characters, Playboy had a strict rulebook for "Bunny" servers in its clubs, resorts, and casinos. The rabbit-ear logo, both sly and innocent with a wide eye and dapper bow-tie, is instantly recognizable worldwide, to at least four different generations, 64 years after its introduction.
You're never done.
Playboy pushed the envelope and its own borders with the ever-increasing frankness of its photography, branched out with its less-than-spectacularly successful Oui, and augmented its media presence by adding talk shows and videos. It never distorted its image beyond recognition by trying to be a competitor to hard-core magazines. If there was one truly serious branding misstep in the magazine's history, it was a brief retreat from nudity.
Hefner -- and the Playboy empire -- had a heyday that passed before Hefner himself did. It was probably inevitable that ground would be ceded. But for some three and a half decades, Playboy was an exemplar of branding, discipline, messaging, and service design.