In recent years, Experience has become a fashionable word. A lot of people in marketing, and business in general for that matter, are even treating it like a new word. It’s not. Experiences have been a hallmark, even a trademark, of how brands have built themselves for a long time now. As a concept, as a marketing tool, as a way for people to understand what a brand does, how it works, how cool it is, what kind of excitement it can create, Experience – big “E” – is, as it always has been, one of the most fundamental elements in brand building.

What’s different today is that, especially with the rise of convergence, the very nature of Experience itself has changed. For marketers, managing that changing and increasingly fragmented nature is a challenge that requires breadth as well as depth, flexibility as well as discipline, a clear view of the brand’s definition as well as an appreciation for its ambiguity – and, maybe, the nerves of a good poker player.

A 3-E APPROACH TO EXPERIENCE

With the rise of the Service Economy over the last seventy years or so, businesses have had to become much more conscious of the roles various forms of experience – small “e” – play in the relationships customers develop with their brands. Initially, we understood experience in the context of the traditional world of “time, place and matter,” as the futurist Stan Davis labeled it more than 25 years ago in his visionary book, Future Perfect. Now, with the pervasiveness of the digital reality, that simple world has morphed into everything Davis envisioned and then some: a competitive free-for-all where the name of the game is doing business “any time, any place, no matter.”

For today’s marketer, the challenge now is to be able to integrate every kind of experience – small “e” – into coherent and persuasive forms of Experience, big “E”. To understand how the smaller pieces, combine into the larger whole, I believe you need to see three very distinct types of experiences at work:

  1. Experiences the business creates to entice or attract customers, which traditionally we’ve thought of as events and promotions.
  2. Experiences the business creates to educate customers, which today involves content that can either be communicated directly or, increasingly, through digital channels.
  3. Experiences customers create to engage with each other, also typically through converged channels – but often in ways beyond the knowledge, let alone the control, of the business itself.

From the above, it’s easy to see that we can no longer think about experiences, regardless of their sub-classification, as tactical marketing activities. Experience as a newer, more holistic totality – aided and abetted by marketing every step of the way, and in every sub-form it takes – needs to become a fundamental strategic activity that defines how the brand differentiates itself in the marketplace.

That’s more than just wishful thinking. It’s hard-headed business realism. In a world of faster change, tighter budgets, and decreased tolerances for false starts and wasted efforts, well-conceived and well-managed experiences provide both time-efficient and cost-effective ways through which a brand can set itself apart from its competition in the eyes of its customers and prospects.

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