In today’s intensely competitive marketplace, it’s a losing proposition to go into battle armed only with lower prices or the latest whiz-bang whoosy-whatsit. In the world of Web 2.0 and 3.0, word-of-mouth and innovation move at the speed of a submit button. Any feature you can develop, your competition can mimic. Any price point you can negotiate can be replicated. And customers are definitely sick and tired of hearing you talk about how great you are. Brands that try to muscle their way to the top of the food chain using these old school tactics are learning the hard way that their customers want something more.

But what?

They want you to walk the walk. They want an amazing experience with your brand.

Curtain Up on the Experience Economy
According to marketer Scott Gould (Aaron + Gould, UK) the “experience economy” is the next frontier in customer relationship marketing. In a recent conversation, Scott outlined a number of the framework concepts that he uses to explain the experience economy to his clients.

In a nutshell, Scott looks at a marketing assignment less from the perspective of features and benefits – what he’s selling and how it will help the end user – and more from the perspective of the customer’s overall experience with the brand. His approach considers the entire range of interactions in a holistic process that covers every touch point from initial exposure to post-customer care.

Also called “moments of truth” – a term coined by Jan Carlzon in his book of the same name – each of these key points presents an opportunity to wow your prospect or customer. Gould likens the scenario to a theatre experience. In his metaphor, your marketing efforts are the foyer of the theatre; this is where you educate while building excitement. He asserts that from that initial contact, through the main show, and beyond; a business must always be in performance mode. You and your employees are the cast that creates an “authentic illusion.” You are crafting an experience that will turn your customers into starry-eyed fans.

Apple’s Amazing Opening Act
Nearly two years ago, I bought my first iPhone. It was a relatively extravagant purchase which I still cannot logically justify. That was Apple’s first win – building up the anticipation around its product launch until it felt like the inaugural tour of the world’s biggest rock band … ever.

Not only did I plunk down my $300, I was one of the insane people who waited in line nearly three hours for the privilege of doing so (with my 4 ½ year-old daughter in tow, thank you very much). Amazingly, I look back on the experience and smile. The staff members of the Apple store were in performance mode – walking up and down the line talking to the tech geeks about the object their desire. In a joint effort, Starbucks baristas strolled up and down the queue serving up free iced coffees. The entire event had an air of expectant festivity. Customers chatted amiably – and most of their chatter was about the Apple brand. As each of us took our glossy, new phones in-hand for the first time, we felt like we had become part of something. Apple didn’t have to tell me about their great service – they showed me by delivering an amazing performance that I experienced firsthand. I can’t wait to buy my next Apple product. Ka-ching.

The Rave Reviews
Yep. When you can create a positive experience from the unpleasant scenario of waiting in line for hours to pay exorbitantly for a piece of technology that will be out-of-date in less than twelve months, you win. And the prize is nothing to smirk at. Positive experiences that your customers will talk about are worth more than their weight in gold. You will also enjoy the enviable side effect of nurturing a core group of customers who will be ever so happy to grant you more of their wallet share – extending your business through the very profitable strategy of increasing the lifetime value of each customer.

To perform well in the experience economy, you must do just that – perform. Consider yourself “on stage” at all times. When it comes to your marketing, don’t think of yourself as a big game hunter. Instead, think of yourself as the director of the show. Create a world that is just what your customers dreamed of – right down to the smallest detail. Practice the habit of putting yourself in your customer’s shoes so that you can watch the show from her perspective. Try to create an experience that will sweep her off her feet every time. If you do, you’ll be sure to hear enthusiastic cries of “Encore!” And isn’t that the ultimate goal of any marketing effort?

Now, go on out there and break a leg!

Image credit: alancleaver_2000