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A Web-Branding Blueprint For The Experience Economy

Feb 9, 2008
Change is inevitable; as an economy matures, ages, and ultimately evolves into something new, adjustments must be made to our business development, marketing and branding. Failure to adapt to new realities results in potentially unwanted dramatic consequences.

We are all aware of how modern economies have grown from agricultural, to industrial, and on to the information-based, but where do we stand now? Is the information economy dead and if so what's replaced it?

We need look no further than Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to see parallels between personal and economic growth in a sophisticated modern economy. The agrarian economy satisfied the first level of Maslow's hierarchy by fulfilling basic physical needs like food, while the industrial age provided the goods necessary to satisfy a variety of concerns ranging from safety to social acceptance and status; the information economy provided answers to our cognitive needs, the desire for knowledge, but things have changed. The Web has disrupted business as usual: the effects on the music, film, television, newspaper, book publishing, and software industries, just to mention a few, has been not just dramatic, but traumatic. The adage, 'adapt or die,' has never been truer for business. So where are we now on the personal and economic pyramid?

Be All You Can Be

At the top of this pyramid is 'self-actualization' the desire to make the most of our existence and as the US Army's slogan states to 'Be All You Can Be.' This is the central defining issue of the new economic reality, the Experience Economy.

Authors B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore state the issue of what business needs to focus on in this new economic era: "While commodities are fungible, goods are tangible, services are intangible, experiences are memorable and transformations are effectual. All other economic offerings have no lasting consequence beyond their consumption." - 'The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage.'

Experiences are memorable and transformations effectual, this should be your new marketing mantra, your marching orders to fulfill what the market demands: to be all you can be.

Experiences Are Memorable, Transformations Effectual

What then does this mean: experiences are memorable and transformations effectual. In order to effect change: to turn website audiences into customers, marketers must deliver something more than commodities that are replaceable for a price, goods that are made irrelevant by technology, and services that are mere conveniences. The businesses that will succeed in this new experience economy are the businesses that will provide an experience and not just goods and services.

We are surrounded by examples of the experience economy both online and off. The growth of coffee giant, Starbucks, was not a result of great coffee but of the experience it provided to patrons, while online, iTunes satisfied the ignored needs of music buyers and Amazon did the same for book lovers. The Macintosh is finally gaining market share because the experience consumers have had with iPods has been so satisfying that they are now ready to bring that same satisfying experience to their desktops. The key to business survival is not a new feature or even a lower price, but rather an experience that satisfies the soul.

Experiences Satisfy The Soul

Traditional business thinking has lagged far behind the sophisticated psychological desires of the experience-economy consumer. Business schools have produced a cadre of bean counters and statistical idiot savants whose grasp of this new experience-driven economic reality has been outpaced by Web-savvy mavericks bent on delivering the essential emotional need of consumers to gain some measure of satisfaction in a hectic, demanding, frustrating world.

The Web is not without its own version of mindless number crunchers, selling the search engine optimization snake oil of Web-traffic nirvana. These new age carpetbaggers play on the conventional wisdom and comfort food of spreadsheet statistics. Like Texas Hold'em poker, you can play the math or you can play the man, and it's the latter that generally walks away the winner.

The Six-Step Web-Branding Blueprint

The Goal: Transformation Through Self-Actualization

The end result of our efforts is to transform website visitors into customers but in order to do that we must take a step back. The experience economy demands a new way of thinking about your audience and exactly what it is you're selling. Every marketing decision you make from now on should relate back to one simple priority: what element of self-actualization do you deliver? Find that element and build your marketing campaign around it. Forget price, quality and service; they are all discounted in the minds of a highly cynical marketplace bugged more than enlightened by heavy-handed old-school marketing presentations and methodologies.

Step one: understand your marketing goal is to transform your audience from unsatisfied cynical viewers into satisfied contented clients.

The Prerequisite: Expectation

Successful marketing is about creating a set of realistic, believable expectations that can be fulfilled by the offering. Almost daily we are bombarded by over-hyped, silly direct marketing Web-advertising that is structured to take advantage of consumers' weaknesses, their desire to improve, to be the best they can be, and to gain some measure of satisfaction and relevance in their lives. Creating false expectations may lead to a onetime sale but not a long-term client.

Step two: create appropriate, believable expectations that you can actually fulfill.

The Product: Audience

One way of wrapping your head around this new approach is to think of your audience as if they were your product; you are transforming them from unsatisfied browsers to satisfied evangelists - that's your job. You just don't want to make a sale you want to make coverts, an army of satisfied consumers telling everyone they know how great you are. Getting people onto your emailing list is not good enough; turn them into believers and proselytizers.

Step three: the product of your marketing is your audience, turn your website audience into true believers spreading the gospel of your ability to satisfy.

The Methodology: Experience

Experiences are passed-on and reinforced by the strength of the story you tell. The Springwise newsletter has a perfect example of the strength of having a unique and interesting story. Emil and Magnus Gerbola of Denmark import Italian wine and sell it to wine bars, restaurants, corporate clients and consumers. But the experience of buying a bottle of Gerbola Vin is different from your usual trip to the liquor store. These two brothers, the sons of an itinerant Italian circus clown have set up shop in an underground candle-lit bunker built in 1942. What could be better than sitting with your friends enjoying a bottle of imported wine and entertaining them with the story of the circus clown's wine merchant sons operating out of a World War II bunker.

Step four: enhance your offering with a differentiating story forming the basis of the unique satisfying experience you offer.

The Stage: The Web

Believe it or not there are still businesses that can't quite grasp the necessity of using the Web as their marketing centerpiece. And then there are those that just don't recognize that the Web is a multimedia platform, and not just a reservoir of digital brochures and catalogs.

The Web has multiplied the Paradox of Choice, the principle that the more choices you have, the harder it is to make a decision. As a consequence, websites must deliver well-crafted differentiating marketing messages using experience-generating multimedia Web-techniques.

Step five: the Web is no longer just a dumping ground of random information; it is a highly sophisticated stage for creating experiences through the delivery of entertaining, informative, compelling, and memorable stories.

The Vehicle: Video

There is just no better way to cut through the remoteness and isolation of the Web than video. And when we talk of video we are not talking about slide shows of still photos and bulleted points. Just because it moves doesn't mean it's effective. The way to tell your story and deliver your message is with a real person that can express emotion, emphasis, charm, personality and impact.

Step six: Deliver your marketing message, your unique differentiating story, your identity and brand through the clever and sophisticated employment of memorable Web-video.

A Final Thought

If you run a business you're busy and that leads to a satisficing tendency to over-simplify, to reduce things down to an elevator pitch, to create meaningless mission statements and lists of bulleted points delivered by a boring PowerPoint slide show; unfortunately clients are complicated and business is complex, but Pine and Gilmore say it clearly in the title of their book, 'The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage' or if you prefer just remember what old Will Shakespeare had to say, "All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players." If you want to be a 'player,' you have to learn how to effectively communicate with your audience through the power and impact of experience marketing.
About the Author
Jerry Bader is Senior Partner at MRPwebmedia, a website design firm that specializes in Web-audio and Web-video. Visit http://www.mrpwebmedia.com/ads, http://www.136words.com, and http://www.sonicpersonality.com. Contact at info@mrpwebmedia.com or telephone (905) 764-1246.
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