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Architecting Experiences

Inspired by Pine and Gilmore’s ground-breaking book, The Experience Economy, great companies have gotten into the experience business in a big way. Ask loyal cutomers about the “Starbucks experience,” the “Lexus experience” or the “Nordstrom experience,” and they can tell you stories to support their strong feelings about those brands.

Inspired by Pine and Gilmore’s ground-breaking book, The Experience Economy, great companies have gotten into the experience business in a big way. Ask loyal cutomers about the “Starbucks experience,” the “Lexus experience” or the “Nordstrom experience,” and they can tell you stories to support their strong feelings about those brands. At IDEO, we encourage even product-oriented companies to focus on the “verbs” not the “nouns” in thinking about the actions, the behaviors, the experiences that customers associate with their brands.

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If you are an Experience Architect who help crafts such offerings, look for ways you can provide more behind-the-scenes opportunities for your customers. Done right, they not only help build a bond with you customer but also help them understand your business better.

For example, when I moved to California a couple of decades ago, I was pleased and surprised to find that many of the wineries gave free tours, often with free wine tasting at the end. The tours were a money loser, of course, but I still drink some of those same wines to this day, yielding a pretty hefty longterm profit from those free tours. Never mind whether I can taste the aged-in-oak-barrels character of the wine in a blind taste test (that’s only about the product itself), my experience in the winery convinced me that it’s a better wine, and I still have a reason to believe.

The literal factory tour (like going to Europe to see your car come off the assembbly line) can be a powerful marketing tool, but only reaches a small percentage of the customer base. Now companies are finding a way to give lots more customers a glimpse into the production process. If you’ve been to Build-a-Bear workshop with kids of a certain age, you know that they are ecstatic to help the product throught the final stages of assembly. And, as always with the Experience Economy, price is completely overshadowed by other characteristics, with bears selling for a heavy margin.

And before you say “our business is different” or “that would never work for our industry,” here’s a piece of mail that just arrived on my desk today: Factory Mutual Insurance Company invited a selection of people from the business community to visit their research campus for a day of “fire, floods, destruction, and lunch.” The glossy brochure they sent me makes their tour looks like the fiery set of an action movie. If an INSURANCE company can do deliver a memorable behind-the-scenes customer experience, I bet most companies could come up with something. Try being an Experience Architect. Designing new customer exerperiences can be both fun and profitable.

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