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A Six-Step Web-Branding Blueprint for the Experience Economy

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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 and dramatic consequences.

We are all aware of how modern economies have developed from those based on agriculture, to those based on industry, and then on information. But where do we stand now? Is the information economy dead? 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, have 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 (similar to the US Army's slogan: "Be All You Can Be"). This is the central defining issue of the new economic reality, the Experience Economy.

B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore, authors of The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, sum up 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."

"Experiences are memorable and transformations effectual" 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

Experiences are memorable and transformations effectual. What does that mean? To effect change—to turn Web site 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 offline. The growth of coffee giant Starbucks was not a result of great coffee but of the experience it provided to patrons; online, iTunes satisfied the ignored needs of music buyers and Amazon did the same for book lovers. Mac computers are finally gaining market share because the experience that consumers have had with iPods has been so satisfying they are now ready to bring that 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 who 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 Web site visitors into customers. But to do that, we must first 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 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 that 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. You must turn them into believers and proselytizers.

Step three: The product of your marketing is your audience. Turn your Web site audience into true believers who spread the gospel of your ability to satisfy.

The Methodology: Experience

Experiences are passed along and reinforced by the strength of the story you tell. The Springwise newsletter has a perfect example of the strength of 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 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 that forms the basis of the unique, satisfying experience you offer.

The Stage: The Web

Believe it or not, some businesses still 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, Web sites 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 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 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 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.


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Jerry Bader is senior partner in MRPwebmedia (www.mrpwebmedia.com), a website-design firm that specializes in Web audio and video. Contact him via info@mrpwebmedia.com or (905) 764-1246.

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  • by Ian Lockwood Fri Aug 22, 2008 via web

    I think we can safely assume from that line about SEO "carpetbaggers" and "snake oil" that your firm isn't very good at SEO then Jerry! ;-)

    I don't think video is necessarily the be-all and end-all of web experience by any means, but I also agree that it is much under-used by many businesses and those that can grasp the concept and what the user wants will get a good jump on the competition.

    Video, of course, can be a cornerstone of a good SEO campaign - think linkbait or "how to" guides that generate thousands of high-quality links. I would be careful of ripping SEO when actually the service your company offers could in fact be a key component of it...

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