Bryan Taylor

Developing Brands for the Experience Economy

Every era needs its label, and it seems from recent business chatter that we are now living in the era of the experience economy. We have successively migrated from a business era that was predominantly company-centric, to one that was customer-centric, to the present era, which is experience-centric. This experience-centric philosophy isn’t exactly new, though its label seems to be gaining steam and may come to define this thing that we all have been practicing for a while now.

Before the turn of the century, the company was king. Iconic names and stalwarts of business were turned on their heads as we entered this new millennium with new heights of accessibility and the ability to reach people digitally, creating opportunities for disruption through better service. Brands emerged quickly with a focus on rethinking the customer experience, which made sense in a time where anyone with a phone could tell the world what to think of a product, effectively disrupting the advertising rhythm that had long held the podium.

As these customer-centric strategies have matured, we have found that those who become the fierce advocates of a brand, who broadcast their thumbs-up for all to see, are best won over when a brand is not just a widget, but an experience. I don’t just want to buy a thing; I want to belong to something bigger. And I belong to something bigger when I experience a brand, when I can share that experience, and when I feel connected to that experience with every recurring touchpoint. I want the transactional part of this new relationship to be an experience, of course, but I also want to hear about the experience from others, feel the experience as I probe to find out more, and I want every future encounter to feel like an experience. I want to read about experiences in the news. I want the company itself to grow fast and wide, to expand my experiential opportunities.

PublicHouse in Springfield, Oregon, offers a thoughtfully designed, communal experience that's bigger than the fare it serves. Photo/animation: Trask Bedortha/Drawn

It took me a while to realize that the “experience economy” and all of the fervor around creating experiences were simply the next steps in the evolution of the recent advertising craze to push for more storytelling. As we were looking for more ways to put customers at the center of our focus, we found that they were more engaged with stories rather than facts and features — and in many ways, it makes sense that we would move from telling stories to creating stories, of which customers can be a part; stories that turn into first-person experiences.

Developing brands in this experience economy requires an internal culture that is committed to design thinking. If you do not have an empathetic finger on the pulse of those on the street, you can’t create these connections they seek. If you don’t prototype and iterate and observe and prototype again in order to continually evolve, you will struggle in this demanding experience economy. There is a pace and there is an open-handed process to this approach that fight former philosophies. You simply won’t have time to do analysis before some stage of the cat will need to be out of the bag. 

And yet, while I agree with the need for this sprinting pace and iterative approach, I am also a fierce advocate for paying attention to every single detail. You cannot dangle an experience upon which your reputation depends in front of the whole world. If the release is incomplete, if details and implications and strategies have not been thoroughly thought through, it’s not ready for a real-life critique. 

There is a rhythm that must be developed to succeed in this experience economy, a rhythm to move fast and freely at a macro level, and yet, still appear tight and thorough at a micro level. Like a group of musicians, this requires a group effort. From top to bottom, your organization needs to buy into this rhythm, needs to constantly make an effort to understand people, all the while, pushing hard to release and iterate, but also fighting for time to dot all of the i’s and cross every t.