Business: It’s An Experience!

“Tell me and I forget. Show me and I remember. Involve me and I understand.”
– Chinese Philosophy

I curiously watched a commercial recently, demonstrate how a phone user can talk about, research, photograph, email and buy something all at the same time. “It’s the ultimate phone experience” was the final, but lasting message. Despite being in my thirties I remember the ultimate phone experience being able to successfully dial all the numbers on a rotary phone without having to start over and actually getting the person I want to answer.

The explosion of technology during the past twenty years has created the expectation that consumers can have anything at any time.

Our ability to browse the Internet and find an incredibly specific product or service has created the same demand from traditional business. Simple buy and sell transactions are no longer enough for the American consumer. It is no longer satisfying to just talk on the phone; we now need to take a picture and email it to the person we are talking to while we are talking to them.

Research suggests that our attention spans are getting shorter because of all of the technology and tremendous amount of information, imagery and options available to us. Therefore this creates a challenge for businesses to retain consumer enthusiasm and do so through more information, imagery and available options that provide the best consumer experience.

The word “experience” is aligned with a lot of new products and services. Cars are a driving experience; restaurants offer dining experiences; a massage is a spa experience; a store is a shopping experience; movies are viewing experiences. In a book titled The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore make the compelling case that for a business to avoid the fate of becoming irrelevant in today’s economy, they must learn to stage a rich and compelling experience.

Disney World and Las Vegas are extreme examples of brand development through experience-based products and services. However, consider how Starbucks introduced their brand as a coffee experience. Baristas, grande’ sizes, earth tone decor and living room furniture redefined the traditional elements of a coffee shop. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to matter that a cup of coffee tripled in price. Consumers are willing to pay for the experience associated with their product and service. It is why eating a lobster dockside with an ocean view costs $40 and only $10 at Red Lobster landlocked in a strip mall.

The idea of experiencing a product before buying it is not entirely new, as we have always tried on shoes and walked around the store before buying them, just as we test drive cars and ride a bike around the lot. What is changing is the platform of how products and services are sold. Stores give us spectacular showcases that capture our attention and captivate our imagination. Offices have become playgrounds, bookstores rival the best libraries and even churches feature rock and roll, big screen monitors and cafe’s. All of the successful places we go and shop are as Pine and Gilmore say: “Theaters and Stages” and those that are not, risk becoming irrelevant in the changing landscape of our experience based economy.

The movement has shifted from traditional businesses with lifeless shelves and drone sales people to modern “experiences” featuring highly interactive product displays- and this isn’t a fad or passing trend. In fact, technology will continue to create more ways to impress customers and involve them in the buying process. Movies like Avatar will become more common and trips to outer space more affordable. Here’s the point: whatever business you are in, start thinking how to make it more exciting and inclusive for the customer. Think about your business more like a theater and create a production that includes your customers, not as spectators, but as part of the cast. Involving your customers in the process will make them feel more invested in your company and less likely to do business somewhere else.