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But, according to Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, the bar of economic offerings is being raised again. In The Experience Economy, the authors argue that the service economy is about to be superseded with something that critics will find even more ephemeral (and controversial) than services ever were: experiences. In part because of technology and the increasing expectations of consumers, services today are starting to look like commodities. The authors write that "Those businesses that relegate themselves to the diminishing world of goods and services will be rendered irrelevant. To avoid this fate, you must learn to stage a rich, compelling experience."
Many will find the idea of staging experiences as a requirement for business survival far-fetched. However, the authors make a compelling case, and consider successful companies that are already packaging their offerings as experiences, from Disney to AOL. Far-reaching and thought-provoking, The Experience Economy is for marketing professionals and anyone looking to gain a fresh perspective on what business landscape might look like in the years to come. Recommended. --Harry C. Edwards
The logic is understandable... Commodity goods have small margins, as they are undifferentiated from each other and relativly easy to reproduce. Manufactured goods take things one step further, providing higher margins due to some level of product differentiation and brand specificity. Above that are Services, where the products don't last long enough to be copied and are customized enough to prevent easy manipulation. The higher margins should lead to higher profitability and better staying power. Fair enough.
Where the book's logic becomes strained, however, is where it strethes out towards the next generation of higher margin offerings, "Experiences." While it is true that experience companies my be able to provide higher margins than can older economy companies, experience companies tend to suffer from a fatal flaw that has infected many of the companies praised in the book. That flaw is the utter lack of repeat business generated by most experience economy companies.
Take two of the companies mentioned in the book as companies to emulate -- Planet Hollywood, the restaurant chain, and Peapod, the online grocery store. Planet Hollywood is under bankruptcy protection, because people are simply unwilling to pay through the nose repeatedly for the same experience over and over again. Peapod ran out of cash and is limping along only after being bought out by a Dutch firm. Hardly two stellar companies to emulate when searching for ever expanding profits.
Throughout the book, by expounding the virtues of ever expanding margins, rather than focusing on goods, services, and 'experiences' that people would be willing to repeatedly pay to have, the authors make the mistake of ignoring the overall forest for the sake of a single tree.
In the real world, experience companies know their limitations and create their pricing scheme to represent that fact. Amusement parks sell season passes for less than the cost of two visits -- acknowledging the fact that people may pay more for experiences, but only once, and repeat business depends heavily on making the repeat worth the cost.
Had the book focused more on successful ways for experience economy companies to thrive, rather than spending its time drolling on about the virtues of failing companies with the right plan, it would have been far more believable and enjoyable.
Pine & Gilmore explain The Experience Economy; Wolf calls it The Entertainment Economy. Schmitt suggests that Experiential Marketing creates or sustains demand for this New Economy, however it is named. For all of these authors, "work" should be viewed as "theatre" and every business should be viewed as a "stage." If they are correct (and I believe they are), the quality of sensory experience is critically important. That is to say, it is no longer sufficient to offer high-quality goods or services for sale at competitive prices. Most (if not all) goods and services have become commodities. Competing on price alone seldom succeeds...especially against those which have superior purchasing power. Competing on quality alone succeeds only for those who offer what no one else has. The challenge is to achieve differentiation. According to Pine & Gilmore, this challenge is best met by understanding what the Experience Economy is (and isn't) as well as how it works; only then, thus informed, can an organization (almost literally) function as a theatre company: formulating a script which has both an exciting story line and interesting characters; assigning roles to those who have the appropriate talents; and then conducting rigorous rehearsals. Finally, it's "show time"!
Pine & Gilmore observe, "Since all commerce is moral choice, every business is a stage for glorifying something. Who or what does your business glorify? Your answer may not help you accept what is next, but it will certainly help guide what you do today." At its best, live theatre can delight, amuse, excite, inform and even inspire those who experience it. Why cannot it also be true of business relationships? Of course it can. It is certainly true of those organizations which prosper. Southwest Airlines is but one example. Its CEO once observed:
"I keep telling [those interested in Southwest Airlines] that the intangibles are far more important than the tangibles in the competitive world because, obviously, you can replicate the tangibles. You can get the same airplanes. You can get the same ticket counters. You can get the same computers. But the hardest thing for a competitor to match is your culture and the spirit of your people and their focus on customer service because that isn't something you can do overnight and it isn't something you can do without a great deal of attention every day in a thousand different ways. That is why I say that our employees are our competitive protection."
Kelleher's comments are relevant to virtually all organizations which now struggle to succeed in the New Economy (however it is named). To understand this economy, to understand what it requires of your own organization, I urge you to read The Experience Economy...as well as The Entertainment Economy and Experiential Marketing.
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