Printers Could Gain From The Experience Economy Phenomenon

What is the Experience Economy?

The term was coined by authors B. Joseph Pine, James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II in their book The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage. The concept is based on the fact that today's consumers are increasingly relying on the experiences they have with businesses to make buying decisions. Thus, experience has become a key value differentiator, since customers view price, quality and service as standard requirements. I found the lead chapter in the book to be particularly interesting in view of our industry's narrowing margins. Here's an excerpt:

"Merely mentioning commoditization sends shivers down the spines of executives and entrepreneurs alike. Differentiation disappears, margins fall through the floor, and customers buy solely on the basis of price, price, price. Consider . . . the coffee bean. Companies that harvest coffee or trade it on the futures market receive . . . little more than $1 per pound, or one or two cents a cup. When a manufacturer grinds, packages, and sells those same beans in a grocery store . . . the price to a consumer jumps to between 5 and 25 cents to a dollar. Brew the ground beans in a run-of-the-mill diner . . . and that service now sells for 50 cents to a dollar per cup . . . serve that same coffee in a five-star restaurant . . . where the ordering, creation, and consumption of the cup embodies a heightened ambience . . . and consumers gladly pay from $2 to $5 for each cup."

Not to be confused with service, experiences, the authors argue, are the fourth economic offering: "When a person buys a service, he purchases a set of intangible activities carried out on his behalf. But when he buys an experience, pays to spend time enjoying a series of memorable events that a company stages . . . to engage him in a personal way." Remember the printers' roundtable to which I referred in my last column? Several participants said that their sponsored events were some of the most successful marketing programs they conducted. Why? Perhaps it's because they provide that new source of value which is otherwise missing in customer/printer communications.

Agencies, designers and mar-commers are testing the waters.

While experience design and marketing may be new to most of us, many of your customers are already deploying the concept in their work. I just wrote the final installment in a series of four columns for a Bay Area designer who discusses with his colleagues the principles and practices of experience design. He advises starting with sound, then adding motion, and finally putting it all together to create an environment that immerses customers in time and space, and involves all the senses.

According to the above authors, Disney is regarded as the grandfather of experience design, and Disneyland as the ultimate in environment design. With entertainment at the core of its brand, Disney provides a great example of how experience design harmoniously integrates with a company's brand. They trace its origins from Disney's cartoons. As an innovator of such techniques as "synchronized sound, color, three-dimensional backgrounds, stereophonic sound, audio-animatronics, and so forth," Disney layered "new levels of experiential effects onto cartoons." By extension, Disneyland is basically a real-life cartoon into which consumers can immerse themselves. There's even a cartoon world for each consumer tier, from the outdoor-type (Frontierland) and the sci-fi aficionado (Tomorrowland) to children and the young-at-heart (Fantasyland).

Michael J. Wolff, in his book, The Entertainment Economy: How Mega-Media Forces are Transforming our Lives, suggests that Las Vegas casinos provide models for the future of marketing. He believes that the fierce battle among casinos to capture and build loyalty with patrons is all about how is best at entertaining guests. These designed environments house the full gamut of brand experience to attract and win loyalty to a brand: The Venetian is built on a canal infrastructure, complete with gondola rides. Aladdin casino employees are dressed in Saddam Hussein-like fatigues, complete with ammunition belts. Paris is a real-life replica of Paris, France, complete with Eiffel Tower and sidewalk cafÈs. The New York, New York casino is replete with the hustle and bustle experience of exciting city streets and evocative times.

I was amused at the news story about Washington Mutual's first test of the experience design waters. In the bank's attempt to create a friendlier, more comfortable environment, they redesigned six of its branches with an in-the-round layout. The new design features "a teller circle in the center of the floor, rather than a teller line along the side." The new style was dubbed occasion, Latin for "favorable opportunity." Unfortunately, bank robbers are also finding the new layout a favorable opportunity; there's been an increase in robberies since the redesign. Obviously, safety and security issues need to be considered in these experiential environments.

Retailers are paving the way.

Retailers, who comprise some of printing's largest customers, are also leading the experience design charge. The most recent edition of @Issue, which is published by the Corporate Design Foundation (and sponsored by Potlatch Corporation), ran a feature entitled "Sephora, Liberating Beauty Products." The French perfumes and cosmetics company employs "cast member" greeters who are theatrically trained, and who are clad in all black to draw attention away from the "person" to the featured product. The "open-sell environment invites customers to touch products and try them out" on their own, which goes against all conventions in high-end retailing. Every detail, from the exterior faÁade to the red, black and white coordinated interiors, including the plush red carpet, beckons visitors to enter. The response has been impressive enough for Sephora to announce it's opening new stores all across the U.S.

What does this mean to printers?

It might mean opportunity, but it certainly means a continuing focus away from print to other media. Experience marketing could be good news for large-format printers, since visuals likely will be larger than life in order to immerse the customer in that total environment. There even may be opportunity in commercial print applications, since an individual's environment experience could include personalized handouts, tour guides, product kits, etc.

(If this seems like a sneaky way to reiterate my point that printers should begin thinking in terms of expanding beyond print, it is. This was not my original intent, though; it came about in the research I've been doing for the designer's columns.)

I see experience marketing as a first wave in a series of changes that will transform how companies, including printing companies, market themselves. It's likely that events production will come back into vogue, even for the smallest enterprises. (If you recall back about 15 years, companies spent a large portion of their marketing dollars on themed parties.) However, the new events will be much more elaborate and will employ many media, not just a band or DJ, to create the experience.

We'll see a whole new breed of designers and corporate marketers specialized in experienced environments. They will be more like orchestra conductors, rather than solo instrumentalists, bringing together sound, motion, graphics and interior design specialists to create branded environments.

These experiential pros will want single-source providers who can take a digital file that's been prepared for print and extract elements from the file for use in, for example, a motion graphic, electronic signage, or a virtual tour. Printers could be those single-source providers. Then again, so could others.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2001 Charlotte Mills Seligman

December 2001
Print & Graphics
Col #33, 12/01
Printing Journal
Col#33, 12/01
Experience Marketing
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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