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Oct 16, 2008 | Comments

I recently had the pleasure of attending a training session by Bernd Schmitt, self-proclaimed “experiential marketing” guru and professor at Columbia Business School. He runs a consulting firm called The EX Group, which helps companies create “fully-integrated customer experiences.” What are these experiences that Bernd creates?

Traditional Marketing

Traditional marketing assumes that a customer is rational. Recall the common product matrices that highlight functional differences between multiple products. Suppose Company A creates a matrix comparing a hard-drive from a competitor, Company B, to its own product. Company A might highlight that their hard drive is faster, has more capacity, and is the same price as Company B’s product. A rational consumer should pick Company A’s product in all instances. After all, what more is there to a hard drive besides its attributes and performance?

Experiential Marketing

Many industries embrace this type of consumer mentality. Credit card companies come to mind; they continue to market their cards in this matrix form, comparing the product’s APR, annual fee, and credit limit to competitiors.

Consumers, however, are NOT rational. In fact, customers will in some instances choose an inferior product if the experience is superior. Bernd proved this through an academic study. He presented participants two products that were functionally identical (same hard drive capacity, same price) but modified the experience. This could include improving the packaging, selling environment, communication channel, or visual identity. Bernd determined that adding these experiences not only significantly increased purchasing behavior, but could cause a functionally inferior product to outperform a superior one.

Conclusion: Improving the experiential elements of a product increases consumer engagement, positively influencing purchases.

Intuitively, this makes sense, and it had likely been mastered well before Bernd wrote several books about the subject. It is why an Apple computer or Starbucks coffee will outperform its competitors, regardless of whether the product is functionally identical or even inferior. This is the impact of creating a remarkable customer experience.

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