Why We’re All in the Experience Business Now

by Kevin Lindsay

posted on 09-08-2016

Once upon a time, not too long ago (think 1950s and 60s), businesses operated with much different focuses. Big companies had three key concerns: their customers, shareholders, and employees. And, employees tended to remain with the same company for decades—more often than not, their entire careers.

Fast-forward a few decades, and suddenly, all eyes were on the shareholders with customers and employees lagging far behind. In 1997, Business Roundtable succinctly stated that a business’s primary function was “to generate economic returns to its owners.” The report also warned that, for businesses and their executive leaderships who failed to rally around this goal, “it may be less likely the corporation will realize that value.” A few years later, shareholder value was dubbed “the driving force of 21st century business.

Quite a shift from the customer/shareholder/employee trifecta.

But not everyone was so quick to jump on the shareholder-only train. Famously, GE’s Jack Welch called it “the dumbest idea in the world”—and he wasn’t alone. The pendulum had swung fairly far—too far in many business leaders’ minds. “Maximizing returns,” explains Forbes, “is an outcome, not a strategy.”

Then Came All Things Optimization
Interestingly, during this two-decade period, there was a game-changing force bubbling below the surface: Big Data and, with it, major opportunities to test, optimize, and personalize. As our capacities and optimizational maturity levels expanded, so did our collective ability to touch a customer’s entire journey and deliver spot-on relevant experiences every step of the way—and, in turn, pull audiences deeper and deeper into our brands.

So the pendulum swung again to today’s “era of experiences.” As a result, marketers from every industry, every niche, and every corner of every company are now in the experience business. And that’s as simple as it is complex.

Nowadays, a marketer’s job is to develop and deliver meaningful experiences to our increasingly diverse—and increasingly demanding—audiences. Done right, we excel. Customers feel that pang of connectivity the minute they land within our brand universe and transition from passive consumers to diehard advocates with limitless lifetime values and social influence.

What about the Shareholders and Employees?
For those who still have their eyes locked on shareholder value, know this: there’s no way to meet anyone’s goals if we aren’t transforming into an experience business with customers driving our core key performance indicators (KPIs). When customers connect with those spot-on experiences, shareholders reap the benefits of their increased engagements and conversions.

And what about the employee—specifically, the marketer? Marketing is still about brand and demand—the core of marketing since the beginning of time—but now, that’s an increasingly nuanced task because experiences are at the center. Brand and demand are all-encompassing experiences today, enveloping seemingly endless touchpoints, experiences, and customer journeys. Today, “brand” happens from a consumer’s very first exposure to your organization, and “demand” can happen at any point from there forward. And—thanks to the proliferation of data, optimization, and personalization—no two customer pathways are the same.

Today’s New Marketer
Given how massive this newfound notion of a “brand experience” has become, marketers are being pushed to new extremes in an effort to deliver consistent, cohesive, and spot-on relevant customer journeys that are littered with meaningful touchpoints at every turn. For marketers, that means virtually everyone in the organization is a marketer because virtually everything fuels those critical customer experiences. A great example is Disney. A Disney marketer wouldn’t have thought about a guest’s room key five years ago. But today, being able to tap your MagicBand against your door to unlock it is an experience, which means that room keys—or the lack thereof—matter to Disney marketers.

So now, we ask the million-dollar question: What does all of this mean for the new marketer? What skills does the next generation need to excel in this quickly evolving marketplace? More to come next week.

Topics: Personalization