What companies need, therefore, is a new approach to demand creation that actually enables — make that forces — a company to be what it says it is. To borrow the phrase architect Jon Jerde made famous, that discipline is placemaking. Places are what provide the primary means for companies to demonstrate exactly what they are for both current and potential customers. Companies that embrace placemaking understand a fundamental dictum for contending with authenticity: The experience is the marketing. In other words, the best way to generate demand for any offering — whether a commodity, good, service, other experience, or even a transformation — is for potential (and current) customers to experience that offering in a place so engaging that they can’t help but pay attention, and then pay up as a result by buying that offering. Stop saying what your offerings are through advertising, and start creating places — permanent or temporary, physical or virtual, fee-based or free — where people can experience what those offerings, as well as your enterprise, actually are
Ugh. Pine and Gilmore are famous for their concept/book “The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage” – which posits, essentially, the death of the age of products and services and the rise of the age of elaborately staged customer experiences that suck in consumers and entice them to pay for those experiences. Gee, i wonder why business gets a bad rep?
It seems that Pine and Gilmore have made a (seemingly positive) shift to suggest that businesses, instead of advertising their staged experiences on trumped up billboard images that make the performance look better than it is, instead put the players themselves out on the sidewalk so that the customer can see a part of the actual performance, and thereby make an informed and authentic decision as to whether or not they want to pay for the full performance. This is a method, of course, that has been used for a long time in software – in the form of a time-limited trial period In other fields this is sometimes called “tryvertising.”
The loving post structuralist critique, however, would point out the fact that Pine and Gilmore seem to be missing a key implication of their own concept (and a valuable one) – that customers in “places” construct the conception of what “the enterprise actually is” – rather than just hear it from the company. And the loving post structuralist recommendation would then extend Pine and Gilmore’s idea to say that the smart enterprise will build “places” that allow the customers to express who the enterprise “is” – to explicitly involve them in the process that already occurs – rather than to continue to pretend that it doesn’t.
This of course is a key point for us to consider in a class on Interaction Culture. Our current culture of Interaction has enabled long-range, hyper-fast, persistent interactions through various connected digital technologies. From a post structuralist standpoint, we could say that identities are constructed for and with more people simultaneously, which means that a business, a person, or a software product has even less control (if they ever did at all) over who they “are.”
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No, I assure you, we did not miss that implication, or at least not entirely. The piece in Strategy + Business was merely an excerpt, and so could not go into all the details of what we espouse in the book.
We do talk about how “authenticity is personally determined” — not something a company can impose on its customers, as they create it themselves when encountering offerings that conform to their own self-image. We further discuss how you should let “customers construct a piece of your business. If customers create it themselves, then they will consider it real.”
Nonetheless, I so think what you’re saying here does extend what we say there farther, and is spot on.
Being in the middle of reading Goffman’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, I couldn’t help but read your post and immediately think of Goffman’s chapter on Regions and Region Behavior where he discusses the differences between front and back stage performance. Front stage being open to the public and in this case back stage being where the real business processes are taking place. What came to mind when I read the snippet you posted above was the idea that companies should extend the front stage further into the regions once thought of as the back stage, allowing potential customers to view more of what was once seen as back stage material. Basically allowing the audience to become part of the show.
“when a performance is given it is usually given in a highly bounded region, to which boundaries with respect to time are often added. The impression and understanding fostered by the performance will tend to saturate the region and time span, so that any individual located in this space-time manifold will be in a position to observe the performance and be guided by the definition of the situation which the performance fosters” (p. 106).
Hi Joe. Thanks for your speedy response. It looks as though i’ll have to read your book to get the full implications of your concept of authenticity. I think that your suggestion that the customer construct a piece of the business is perhaps the best way to guarantee that a) an organization does what it says it will do and b) an organization provides potential customers with more and more reliable ways to perceive that the guarantee is true and robust. As the proliferation of connected computers continues, and the correlated lowering of the effective cost of co-creation, expertise in facilitating customer co-creation of the business itself will mean an increased advantage for business. The businesses who make authenticity a goal over the mere perception of authenticity will have the greatest advantage of all, i think.
I will look forward to reading your book!
When I worked at Walt Disney World (a couple of hundred years ago), it was the practice for employees to use the terms “frontstage” and “backstage” to refer to whether we were in the part of the park in front of guests, or out of guest view, respectively. It was part of an elaborate conceptualization that we lived as employees, designed to reinforce that we were a sort of theater, creating experience, lest we not commit an act of “bad show”.
Years later, reading Experience Economy, and more recently, Goffman, I couldn’t help but make the connection. Indeed, I once read that Walt Disney (or maybe it was the more business-minded Roy Disney) said that “People [will] spend money when and where they feel good.” And what could feel better than a nice, theatrical experience?
Disney is a great example of this, since as you say, they make the primacy of experience quite explicit. One of Walt’s main goals for the parks, of course, was that guests would have a total illusion of being in another world for a day.
I worked for Disney on the west coast with Imagineering (Disney’s folks who build and maintain all the cool stuff) with a bunch of brilliant, motivated folks who referred to Imagineering (half-jokingly) as “Mouseschwitz”, due to the very top-down management style. Though Disney allowed periodic excursions of backstage people to the front stage (every new employee gets to play a character in the theme park for a day), and of front stage people to the back stage (they occasionally allow guest tours behind the scenes), i can’t help but think that, had they allowed more collaboration between my brilliant colleagues and guests, that Disney’s authenticity, innovation and loyalty – on both sides of the curtain – would have been much higher.