Marketing in the Experience Economy

There has been a clear shift in economics that has seen companies changing the way they do business and engaging with customers through enhanced services and experiences as part of the buying process. This transformation has partly been driven by online commerce and the imperative to differentiate themselves from the competition.

With more and more choices available to consumers, online searches are often the first step in researching potential purchases, which has made personalisation, word-of-mouth and online reviews crucial to the survival of many businesses.

This is symbolic of the experience economy that began with the likes of Yelp, eBay, and Amazon – all websites that operate on the basis of providing the buyer a personalised experience.  An experience that more closely emulates a physical environment with appropriate product choice recommendations. One that actively asks for customer feedback and user reviews because of the lack of human interaction in a virtual setting. Given the wide range of possibilities of online shopping, businesses can compete with established bricks-and-mortar retailers based on the strength of consumer experiences and the reviews those satisfied customers leave online.

As we shift focus to one that is built around the buyer and the experience, marketing’s role needs to focus on customer-centricity and ensuring that customers as well as prospective customers have a unique and memorable experience that they will potentially share with others. Data from Dimensional Research has shown that 95% of dissatisfied customers tell others about their bad experience and that 65% of consumers switch brands due to poor customer experience (Kolsky).

Late last year SAP announced plans to acquire experience management software provider, Qualtrics. Experience management is the process of monitoring buyer interactions with a company in order to spot opportunities for improvement. This includes providing a more personalised experience to enhance customer-centricity. This acquisition demonstrates SAP’s recognition of the power of the experience economy – the need to understand the thoughts and emotions of people. Experience data includes customer feedback, word-of-mouth and consumer reviews.

Combining experience data with operational data from core business applications means organisations can make holistic decisions. A better way to meet consumer expectations and deliver positive memorable experiences.

Whilst experiences have always been at the heart of some industries such as entertainment, selling a positive if not entertaining experience has moved into other business sectors. This means companies need to look beyond their basic functions and provide an engaging experience that will distinguish their brand in the market place.

In early February SAP engaged in some marketing tactics that divided the internet. Readers of The Wall Street Journal were greeted with a full-page advertisement that claimed to be ‘an open letter to anyone who will listen’ allegedly written by a 36-year-old named Nick Vitale from Milltown, New Jersey. This ‘open letter’ featured Vitale’s ‘constructive feedback’ for various businesses, listing the joys and grievances he had for airlines, ride-sharing services, restaurants, and subscription services.

The ad began trending on Twitter with users hailing Vitale as a hero, since many shared his point of view. Readers found the letter relatable and it incited online discussion – however, the ‘open letter’ was followed up by a full-page advertisement a few pages later that opened with ‘An open letter to Nick Vitale of Milltown, NJ”. It soon became evident that both full-page ads were part of an SAP campaign announcing the acquisition of Qualtrics.

Reactions were mixed to the advertisement, however my point here is that the ad shows the importance of the experience economy and the human aspect of marketing. People are more inclined to listen to an average consumer compared to a major corporation, especially if that consumer offers something personal that resonates with other customers. Customer feedback is a powerful marketing tool. We need to take on board feedback and up our game to provide unique and memorable customer experiences that are compelling enough to be shared with others.