The challenge facing experience marketing

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San Antonio, TX

What’s the biggest challenge facing experience marketing? By experience marketing, I mean the marketing of any experience, from a visit to the movie theater to a vacation destination.

Here’s what I see: the experience isn’t necessarily better than the routine. For example, take the simple movie theater. It used to be that for an amazing visual experience, you had to go to the theater. In a world where 90-inch televisions are obtainable for some households and 50-inch televisions can be had for under $500, the movie theater experience isn’t as compelling. You can get a private theater, your own popcorn, your own couch, fewer screaming children and fewer annoying people around you texting in the middle of the movie, and at considerable savings for an average evening’s entertainment. The movie theater experience is actually a downgrade – home TVs even offer reasonably compelling 3D experiences.

Take the average hotel room. When I was a kid, hotels were places of luxury, even middle-of-the-road two star places that I stayed at on road trips. The beds were generally better, someone cleaned up after you, and depending on where you stayed, you might even have had cable TV! Nowadays, consumers can buy luxury foam mattresses and mattress toppers that put the average hotel bed to shame, service at many places has declined, and your home internet is tens or hundreds of times faster than what you can get in a hotel room. The hotel experience can be a significant downgrade from your normal life.

In almost every experience-based marketing industry, the industries are being challenged by the fact that competing experiences at home can be better than the destination experience. The reality is that experience marketers cannot compete with the commoditization of luxury. The only way out is differentiation.

So what’s a marketer to do? The differentiator has to be something that you can’t get at home and that it would be impractical or undesirable to replicate. For example, when you go camping, you happily embrace an experience that is significantly worse in terms of comfort than you get at home. Rough, uneven ground, foil-wrapped meals, insects, etc. all make camping a downgrade, but for the people who enjoy it, the experience of being closer to nature is worth it. An antique hotel might consider going cutting-edge in terms of experience and offering a stay as it would have been in 1929 – no phones, no TVs, vintage everything, so that guests could experience what life was life a century ago.

What can you offer that is substantially different, even if it’s not better than what a consumer can get at home?

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