Excerpt from the Harvard Business Review by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, “Welcome to the Experience Economy” http://goo.gl/npM029
How do economies change? The entire history of economic progress can be recapitulated in the four-stage evolution of the birthday cake.
As a vestige of the agrarian economy, mothers made birthday cakes from scratch, mixing farm commodities (flour, sugar, butter, and eggs) that together cost mere dimes. As the goods-based industrial economy advanced, moms paid a dollar or two to Betty Crocker for premixed ingredients. Later, when the service economy took hold, busy parents ordered cakes from the bakery or grocery store, which, at $10 or $15, cost ten times as much as the packaged ingredients.
Now, in the time-starved 1990s, parents neither make the birthday cake nor even throw the party. Instead, they spend $100 or more to “outsource” the entire event to Chuck E. Cheese’s, the Discovery Zone, the Mining Company, or some other business that stages a memorable event for the kids—and often throws in the cake for free. Welcome to the emerging experience economy.
Economists have typically lumped experiences in with services, but experiences are a distinct economic offering, as different from services as services are from goods. Today we can identify and describe this fourth economic offering because consumers unquestionably desire experiences, and more and more businesses are responding by explicitly designing and promoting them.
As services, like goods before them, increasingly become commoditized—think of long-distance telephone services sold solely on price—experiences have emerged as the next step in what we call the progression of economic value. (See the exhibit “The Progression of Economic Value.”) From now on, leading-edge companies—whether they sell to consumers or businesses—will find that the next competitive battleground lies in staging experiences.
An experience is not an amorphous construct; it is as real an offering as any service, good, or commodity. In today’s service economy, many companies simply wrap experiences around their traditional offerings to sell them better. To realize the full benefit of staging experiences, however, businesses must deliberately design engaging experiences that command a fee. This transition from selling services to selling experiences will be no easier for established companies to undertake and weather than the last great economic shift, from the industrial to the service economy. Unless companies want to be in a commoditized business, however, they will be compelled to upgrade their offerings to the next stage of economic value.
The question, then, isn’t whether, but when—and how—to enter the emerging experience economy. An early look at the characteristics of experiences and the design principles of pioneering experience stagers suggests how companies can begin to answer this question.
B. Joseph Pine II, co-founder of Strategic Horizons, is the co-author of The Experience Economyand Infinite Possibility: Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier. Follow him on Twitter at@joepine.