September 18, 2007
The C3 Team's Talk with Joe Pine (1 of 2)

Joe Pine of experience economy fame joined the C3 team and a few other interested folks for a discussion of his work yesterday afternoon, prior to his planned colloquium yesterday evening, for which the podcast will be available in the coming weeks. (Update: The podcast is now available here.)

C3 has encountered Joe's work on the experience economy in the past, although many of the arguments made there have become part of the ways in which may in the media industry think. On the other hand, Joe pointed out that, often, the problem was that the idea gets implemented in quite opposite ways in which it was intended.

For the next couple of posts, I thought I would share some observations based on our conversation yesterday, with this post focusing on our discussion of the experience economy, and the next one focusing on our discussion of authenticity, a subject which Pine and Gillmore are about to release a book on.

The point at which Joe says many people confuse the message of the "experience economy" is in relation to time. In other words, an experience-based transaction is one in which customers want to spend more time with the brand or in the experience, not make it more efficient. He points out that many of those in industry tasked with thinking through managing the consumer experience focus on how to make it more efficient, rather than making the experience one that draws people in.

We discussed, for instance, the ING Direct Cafe, in which the banking institution provides coffee but also provides consumers with information about the company's various financial offers simultaneously. The idea is to create a new experience for engaging with the ING brand and for reaching consumers.

The C3 side of the team talked about how this intersects with fan tourism, as Henry Jenkins discussed his experiences with his son in Australia touring spaces they saw on Survivor. He said that the site he was at drew both fans interested in experiencing the setting that their reality show was based in, and another group of people who were interested in viewing the environment as an interesting space of natural beauty on its own. As he talked with them, however, he found that most of the people who were there to view "nature" were there because they had learned about the space through Discovery. In other words, both were there because of their fandom, but just through different television programs...

My own thoughts about fan tourism take me to the most surreal famous example out there, the Kramer tour bus in New York City. For those who haven't heard of the tour, Kenny Kramer--the man who the Seinfeld character Cosmo Kramer was based on--started a tour of his life based on the popularity of the show, as a response to having his life represented by the show.

To make the event particularly "meta," though, the character Cosmo Kramer parodied the Kenny Kramer bus tour after many of his stories were included in the J. Peterman biography that Elaine was writing, so he started the "Real J. Peterman Bus Tour." Of course, this makes the Kenny Kramer bus tour even more interesting as an experience, after it is based on the Seinfeld show and then has a Seinfeld episode based on it.

We also discussed the ways in which the inertial force of commoditization constantly pulls a brand down and how brand managers should seek to counteract it by continuing to make their brand more than just the commodity they are selling, if they want to be more than that. Joe referred, in particular, to the famous February memo at Starbucks, summarizing that "It should take time to get a cup of coffee." Our discussion shifted to the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle as well, and how they transform a purchase into an experience. One could think about how the purchasing experience of the auctioneer model develops an "experience model" in general, and this example in particular made me think of the work of Ted Bestor on the Japanese fish market in Tsukiji.

The concluding points of our conversation was that, first, the idea of "work as theater" that is at the basis of experience economy is not meant to be a metaphor but rather literally...that any service-type job, at which the consumer is now an audience member as well, means that the employee is also actor, whether they are explicitly staging a performance or not. This gets back to the work of Erving Goffman about performance and identity-formation in everyday life.

The second takeaway is that, even as we talk about companies staging experiences as ways to build their brand, it is important to realize that all you can do is provide the stimuli for an experience and to always keep in mind that no two people will have the same experience. Even more so, as experiences branch across multiple media forms, no one even experience the same stimuli, or the stimuli in the same order, so managing an experience doesn't mean that brand managers and companies control the experience, or that they should ever make themselves believe they can.

For C3's use of the experience economy in the past, look here, here, and here.