The Experience Economy Revisited Part 2: 10 Years Later

“If, and only if, you charge for the time your customers spend with you, are you in the experience business.”  — The Experience Economy

This is one of the most challenging concepts for business owners to understand.  At any scale.  It illustrates the fundamental gap between a service business (in which a company charges for people and products) and an Experience-based business.  After all, an owner asks, how can I charge for time when my team delivers hard goods (cars or air conditioners) and services (maintenance, follow up, tech support).    And so as a business begins to plan its way into an Experience mode the best way to understand this evolution is through correlation.  

I was 8 years old when Stars Wars (Chapter 4, New Hope) was released.  The hype was unimaginable for me, a second grader.  My mother took me out of school to see it on opening day.  We stood in a line that literally snaked around an entire Seattle city block in order to gain admittance.  And in the interim we both became emotionally invested in the expectation, the anticipation, and the final realization of seeing the film.  Naturally it was a game changer.  Thankfully my mother saw fit that I should skip most of second grade to stand in the same line (albeit shorter) and see the film again and again.  I was hooked.  Did I own the film?  Of course not.  Was I collecting royalties for my visits?  No.  Loyalty points?  Not one.  But I went back again and again and again.  The film had connected with what I’ll call and emotional subtext that became a siren song in my young life.  It made an emotional connection and for that I willingly paid to sit in the dark and watch the Imperial Cruiser loom overhead.

As a business begins to transform itself on an Experience scale it should be attempting to accomplish the same effect (odd as that may sound).  See, services and products are commodities.  As such they can be found almost everywhere and at very competitive prices.  They are inert, lifeless.  The customer knows this and, unable to really tell the difference between company X and company Y, will shop hard on price.  But at every level there is an emotional narrative or subtext to the process of making a purchasing decision.  And if a business is going to thrive in an Experience Economy then it must connect itself to the terrific power of this emotional narrative and align its story line and activities with this emotional current.  In other words, it must compel the customer to gladly stand in line, to happily buy a ticket, and to do it repeatedly.

What are a customer’s emotional needs?  I don’t think it’s too surprising to learn that they’re very much like yours and mind: to belong, to feel valued, to feel safe, to feel part of something bigger, to avoid regret, to be happy.  All very basic yet mostly overlooked by the service economy.  After all a product is just a product right?  Wrong.  Too many businesses fail to recognize that by overlooking the customer’s emotional core they themselves become commodities.  

After a business determines it’s story line, it’s cast of characters, it’s arc then it needs to extend this outline to the audience’s emotional needs.  Does the story line speak to a customer’s need to feel valued?  Do the characters connect to the customer’s need to both avoid anxiety and feel secure?  Does the arc reinforce the customer’s need for basic happiness when making an investment?  If the answer is yes then the journey has begun.  If the answer is no then the real growth begins: the moment at which a business recognizes and starts to repair the emotional disconnect it has with its customers.

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