Think Leadership Ideas

Stand Out: Create An Experience

Want to stand out and win customers? Think beyond product and customer service. In today’s marketplace, quality products and services along with great customer service are the basics you need just to be in the game. The big question to ask is what is the experience your business creates? Your answer is a key to positioning, differentiation, and added value that can make your business a winner.

I meet many people who confidently tell me we live in a service economy, evolved from an industrial economy, which evolved from an agrarian one. I think that we have moved into a post-service economy where value is created by knowledge and creating experiences. In today’s marketplace, people buy experiences, not simply products or services.

I believe the marketing of experiences will become increasingly important for successful organizations. Technology, globalization, and a relentless 24/7 pace have pushed productivity, lowered prices, and turned many services into commodities – while also stimulating an increasing desire in people to find expressions of individuality. The information age gives us overwhelming choices to meet our needs. The businesses that win our attention are those that meet our higher-level needs – personal attention, belonging, identification, meaning, and image. Experience is the new value add.

When I talk about “creating an experience” I’m talking about when the interactions that people have with your business combine to form a coherent and meaningful whole in the mind of the customer. Starbucks makes a great cup of coffee, with friendly and expedient service – but a major factor that has fueled their success is creating the experience of a daily dose of luxury accessible to the common soul.

Any experience is multi-faceted, and includes behavior patterns, thoughts, images, and emotions. An experience taps into associations of what your company, product, or service is all about and whether that image complements the customer’s expectations, values, lifestyle, and self-image. Note that this perception may be on a subconscious level, outside the customer’s awareness.

Experience Is Relevant To All Businesses
As people shop for experiences, the customer experience becomes a differentiator for any business, not just in retail and entertainment. Service businesses in particular are well positioned to create experiences that win and retain customers. One financial services company can seek to create a customer experience of prosperous elite membership, while another makes the customer feel like a financial expert. One recruiting company can create the experience of being a seamless extension of their customers’ companies, while another creates an experience as an independent expert. Create a consistent experience and it becomes part of your brand.

You don’t have to be a national or global enterprise in order to create experiences that give you a competitive edge. Quite the reverse, creating experiences can put small businesses and sole proprietors at an advantage. My favorite local wine shop has competitive prices and good service. I believe the shop prospers in spite of competition from national chains because they excel at making customers feel both knowledgeable about wine and part of a special community. I know a portrait artist who does exceptional artwork and makes it easy for people to work with her. Her secret to creating raving fans is careful attention to how she delivers and presents the finished portraint, leaving her customer feeling that have treated themselves to a pampering experience.

By asking, what is the experience we create, you think differently about your business. Creating an experience requires intent focus on the customer. It requires connecting the associations that customers make with your industry, product, or service in a meaningful way to customers’ emotions, thoughts, and values. Businesses that are intentional in how they create customer experiences are relentless in shaping congruence in their behaviors, comunications, marketing materials, and surroundings.

Creating meaningful experiences for customers requires a deeper understanding of your business. When you deliver your products and services packaged in a creative and coherent experience you maximize the value you offer. You stand out and win customers.

by Tom Stevens (c)2005
Tom Stevens helps individuals and organizations create brilliant futures and make a difference. To contact him, visit

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