The Marketing of Experience

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[Excerpt] In their provocative and prescient Harvard Business Review article, Pine and Gilmore (1998) declared, "Welcome to the Experience Economy." Indeed, "experience" has become essential to market exchange in many contexts, with consumers desiring an experience from even mundane service offerings (e.g., quick service restaurants [QSRs] and coffee shops; think Chipotle and Starbucks) and marketers striving to deliver novel experiences as a means to differentiate from the competition and, ultimately, attain customer loyalty (Pullman & Gross, 2003). So strong is the experience wave that a major U.S. "legacy airline" recently announced a search for a new position—VP of customer experience. Even formerly engineering-driven manufacturing firms like Hewlett Packard are focusing on the "total customer experience" as key to their competitive future (Hosford, 2006). Arguably, the leaders in experiential marketing are hospitality firms, from the Walt Disney Company's themed fantasy experience to the Ritz-Carlton's orchestrated pampering. But is experiential marketing necessary for hospitality firms to be successful? I address this question by examining the ideas advanced by LeBel, Dubé, Sears, and Renaghan in Chapter 21 on strategic experiential branding, and I extend their thinking with the findings from the chapters on customer loyalty. Though a focus on customer experience is important to most services, I argue that strategic experiential branding does not require memorable experiences and emotional bonding between customer and company to drive loyalty. Depending upon customers' needs and the service context, emotional bonding may be difficult to achieve—and unnecessary. Instead, hospitality providers can follow an alternative path that focuses the service promise on benefits customers seek, which are more instrumental than hedonic or emotional. In this commentary, I contribute to the discourse on experiential marketing by describing this less heralded route to customer loyalty.

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hospitality management; hospitality industry; consumer relationship; customer experience; marketing


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Required Publisher Statement: © SAGE. Final version published as: Kwortnik, R. J. (2010). Commentary: The marketing of experience. In C. Enz (Ed.), The Cornell School of Hotel Administration handbook of applied hospitality strategy (pp. 386-392). Los Angeles, CA: SAGE. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

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