Companies must keep pace with customer demands and know how to meet them. That often means tuning into trends. Marketing experts say we’re now in the experience economy, and catering to customers means something different now than it once did. It’s not enough to merely sell people products or provide services to them. Successful brands have to go further to shape the overall experience positively.
What Is the Experience Economy?
Harvard Business Review coined the term “experience economy” in 1998, which should confirm for you that this is not a new concept. It describes an approach where businesses focus on creating memorable experiences for customers.
When done right, the experience of doing business with a brand is more valuable than the service or product the company provides. In that case, many customers don’t mind paying more if the experience is truly outstanding. Consider the straightforward example of paying for a horse-drawn carriage to take you and a partner around New York City’s Central Park. Sure, you could have walked around the grounds on foot. Hopping into a carriage, however, provided something you won’t forget.
The rise of the experience economy means many marketers will need to adopt new strategies, mainly if they have not focused very much on rich customer experiences before. While it’s still important to offer high-quality products, marketing professionals have to think about the surrounding experience-related aspects that could drive sales and boost brand loyalty.
Here are eight tips that can help you do that.
1. Keep the Brand-Consumer Communication Lines Open
You can’t merely assume you know what people want and then race to provide it without ever checking with them. Keeping the lines of communication open so that customers can get in touch and provide continual feedback is an excellent way for brands to ensure they’re on the right track.
The ways of encouraging people to communicate are up to you. However, the vital thing to remember is it should not be challenging for customers to get in touch. If it’s too hard, they won’t bother. Then, instead of contacting you, they’re more likely to take their frustration to the large audience that social media provides.
The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival gives people dedicated email addresses based on the topics of their queries. There’s even a phone number they can use to send messages by text. The Customer Service section of Costco Wholesale’s website also has a “How can I provide feedback?” section, complete with different instructions for people to follow based on the platform they’re using.
Concerning your marketing materials and overall efforts, highlight the fact that feedback is something your company wants and appreciates. Then, people shouldn’t hesitate to give it, especially if they feel like doing so is building your brand.
2. Consider a Customer’s Possible Participation Level
Brands that thrive in the experience economy typically understand that many experiences have various participation levels. For example, a person can participate in a concert by singing along with the songs, cheering and being present to show support for favorite artists. However, some people pay extra for VIP packages that give them backstage passes, autographs, front-row seats and more.
In a scenario that has various options, consider the level to which a customer can participate and touch on that element within marketing materials. Cruise ship brands do this expertly. A person can go to a spa, sing karaoke or cool off at a water park without ever leaving the ship. Then, there are shore excursions, where people can swim with stingrays, explore rainforests or go on safaris once the boat docks.
As you create experiences for your audience, consider that what someone finds enjoyable may differ based on their needs and preferences. Going back to the cruise ship example, everyone who gets on board wants to have fun, but each passenger has varying opinions on what that means. Brands aim to please by offering stuff for people who want to stay active, relax or anything in between.
3. Gather Data for Better Understanding
We’ve already talked about how you should make it easy for customers to weigh in with their opinions. A related thing to do as part of an experience economy-tailored marketing strategy is to collect data and use it to influence future decisions.
Feedback cards were once familiar sights on the tables of chain restaurants. “Tell us what you think!” they urged, asking people to rank how they felt about various aspects of their dining. Now, it’s more common for people to submit surveys electronically and perhaps get freebies for doing so.
When audiences come out of Broadway musicals where the casts are still performing previews, people with cameras often ask attendees how the show made them feel, who their favorite character was and which songs they liked best. The team working to make those shows happen, then, often take the input into account to improve results.
You cannot always count on people to give feedback unprompted. Some will only do it independently if they were thrilled or sorely disappointed with their experience. Experiment with ways to urge people to provide their thoughts, and then go further by using the data to understand what your target market wants. Next, develop marketing strategies and services that cater to those identified desires.
4. Personalize Customer Experiences at Every Opportunity
Personalization is an integral part of doing well in the emerging experience economy. Look for ways to personalize consumers’ experiences and make each interaction with your business memorable for all the right reasons. For example, if you’re a retailer, have regular interactions with your customers and leverage them to personalize experiences during each shopping trip.
Delta recently unveiled its plans to bring personalization to air travel with a specialized app. Many people now feel that flying is a costly, stressful way to get around. However, Delta wants to change that by creating what it calls a “parallel reality” for airport users.
It’s not clear what all that entails yet, but one of the possibilities is a digital sign or departures board that looks different to individual people based on their languages of choice. Additionally, Delta’s ground staff members and flight attendants will have handheld devices that make it easier to take care of personalized requests.
In the travel sector and elsewhere, people don’t want to feel like a number. If you can call attention to the fact that you care about their preferences and want to cater to them alone, that framework could help your brand prosper in the experience economy.
5. Make Your Experiences Photo-Worthy
Now you can confidently answer the question, “What is the experience economy?” It’s probably not surprising that the desire for amazing experiences goes hand-in-hand with how much people love to take pictures they share on social media.
This reality led to brands creating temporary installations designed explicitly with picture-taking in mind. Take the example of one devised by American Express Canada that ran for 11 days. The goal was to teach attendees more about how the brand impacted their daily life. Despite its short run, the installation resulted in 17.3 million impressions on social media.
Another example is the recently opened Britney Spears pop-up museum in Los Angeles. The 10-room exhibition was once a Kmart, and it takes attendees through experiences related to some of the pop superstar’s most iconic moments. Visitors can pose on sets from Spears’ music videos, all painstakingly recreated for maximum authenticity.
The thing for marketers to remember is that most people have camera-equipped smartphones. These devices help them relieve the memories you create for them. Plus, the experiences need not be as elaborate as entire museums. Many brands offer cardboard photo frames for people to hold up in front of themselves while others snap pictures.
6. Call Out Exclusive or Limited-Time Aspects
If there is exclusivity in what you offer, or you’re making something with limited availability, capitalize on it. People are more likely to find your products or services appealing if it means they’re part of a select group or that they have to act fast to avoid missing out.
Disney, arguably a brand that could teach a master class on how to attract customers in the experience economy, did this recently. They announced that the Soarin’ Over California attraction is coming back for approximately two months to Disney California Adventure. The timespan of reopening the ride coincides with a food and wine festival also happening at the theme park.
What’s more, visitors who have Annual Passes can experience the ride for an extra hour after the park closes for a few select dates. Disney’s approach here features both the limited time and exclusive components of an experience.
If you do something similar, emphasize that all participants can look forward to incredible things. Reward people who are willing to pay extra for features that allow them to participate more, but don’t penalize those who can’t or won’t.
7. Get Creative When the Situation Warrants It
Don’t be afraid to capitalize on creativity in marketing or otherwise. Being imaginative can show your customers that your brand is eager to stand out and will push the boundaries to do so. Connecting with people on an emotional level could also raise the overall quality of the experience.
When speaking at a conference called Inspire Fest 2019, Tammuz Dubnov, the founder and CEO of Zuzor, performed an aerial hoop routine for part of the presentation. Dubnov’s company specializes in interactive, motion- and gesture-activated displays, and he talked about the experience economy. Dubnov’s choice made sense because his performance was a lesson for the audience.
When you decide to think outside the box, ensure that the experiences you offer increase genuine value for the consumer. They should also align with broader company values to appear maximally authentic.
Consider another place where you’re much more likely to see an aerial hoop routine — a Cirque du Soleil show. These productions showcase creativity on overdrive, featuring gorgeous costumes, emotion-sparking music, ultra-talented performers and a unified theme throughout. People know that when they go to these shows, they’ll feel wowed and have their senses dazzled.
Experiment Carefully With Marketing in the Experience Economy
Finding success in the experience economy is not a goal you can meet overnight. When brands try to become experience-focused all at once or too quickly, customers will likely get suspicious due to the sudden change and decide that the efforts are nothing more than an attempt to boost profits.
Metrics can help brands determine which experience economy marketing efforts work the best over time. No universal tactic works in every case. Determine what kinds of experiences support your brand and appeal to your audience. Then, craft the experiences and adjust them as needed.