The value-led experience economy

Yamba NSW

By Matt White – UX Director at Icon Agency.

So, what happens when businesses bring their values to the experience economy?

Lockdown is not the same for all of us across the world, nor is it the same across the States and Territories of Australia, with most opening up with cautioned freedom.

In Victoria we’re confined to the couch, taking part in a collective contribution to dampen the spread of COVID-19 and protect our most vulnerable. Prior to the latest lockdown and while travel was encouraged to support the tourism economy, I was lucky enough to go on a family holiday to Yamba – a quaint family-friendly beach town on the northern NSW coast.

We went to experience the sun, sand and surf, and the hospitality on offer – shops, cafes and accommodation.

We arrived late on our first night in Yamba, all very hungry. I walked down the main street looking for food, speaking to a couple of takeaway restaurants that had just closed and were cleaning up for the night. With their grills turned off, they couldn't serve me, but they didn't want to leave me hanging. They wanted to help me solve my problem, investing in customer service beyond their business, something bigger, something that reflected on the culture of the town and their values and warmth. A Yamba experience.

They were very helpful in pointing out what might be open. “There's a really good chicken shop down the road, they usually shut the latest, they'll be your best bet.” I knocked on the window of the chicken shop, the door was still open, all the tables and chairs were stacked for the night. “Just seeing if you’re still open?” “Sorry, we’ve closed.” Bugger! “We should be able to help you out? We have a couple of chickens left and I can make you a fresh batch of chips. Does that work?” “Yep, you’re a lifesaver.” “That's why we’re here, we’re here to help!”

The warmth of hospitality coupled with the good food and community comradery was a welcomed first experience to Yamba, with many inviting experiences to follow.

Now I’m back in Melbourne with curfews, masks and lockdowns, and can only reflect on the memories of my experience and Yamba’s tourism economy.

Our lives are made of our lived experiences and ones we remember the most fondly are the ones that align closely to our values. Values motivate people, and a lot of those values relate to community, culture and most importantly a sense of belonging. It’s what motivates our allegiance to communities, businesses and brands. It’s also what we choose to invest our time, attention and money on.

In the 1998 Harvard Business Journal, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore coined the term ‘Experience Economy’ in their article on how more people are spending their money on experiences and the effect they can have on people's lives instead of commodities, goods and services. ‘Experiences’ are their own category in the economy, just like ‘Goods’ and ‘Services’.

Pine and Gilmore propose: “experiences have emerged as the next step in what we call the progression of economic value. (See graphic below). From now on, leading-edge companies — whether they sell to consumers or businesses — will find that the next competitive battleground lies in staging experiences.”

The progression of economic value

Do I still have your time and attention?

A long article, hey? This section delves into real-world examples of value-driven experiences I’ve encountered as a consumer. I talk about the importance of technology advancements leading our experiences, show an example of a brand-value being placed into the e-commerce checkout process, and an organisation reinvesting in the environment and local economies they play in. So, if I’ve still got your time and attention, please read on.

Lockdown and the saving grace of the digital experience

The Experience Economy has broadened its reach through the rise of digital and technological advancements. Technology has changed the way we connect, share, communicate and shop from our home and even from our mobile phone. Now more than ever with the lockdown, we’re reliant on this digital connection for our experiences to the outside world – for work, shopping, interests and most importantly human interaction.

Digital is about innovation. Innovation is about improving the experience at each touchpoint a customer has in their journey and relationship with a brand. So what happens when you add culture and values to their innovative experience?

Placing a brand-value into the e-commerce checkout process

The larger surf brands and manufacturers understand the foundation of the local surf shops to surf culture. They bring energy and a sense of place to the local surf community, plus employment to the younger generation and few of the older ‘salty’ crew. The big brands, most not all, will encourage customers to buy their products through the local surf shop first – before using their e-commerce website. ‘Support your local surf shop’ is the catchphrase.

‘Creatures of Leisure’, a surf accessories and products brand with team riders Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore have added ‘Support your local surf shop’ into their e-commerce gateway, stating: Creatures of leisure recognise surfers shop online – and they’re cool with that too. When shopping online, you can now choose to reward your local surf shop by giving them a percentage of your purchase from our store. Simply choose your local shop before you enter the checkout process. (Source Creatures of leisure)

An organisation reinvesting in the environment and local economies they play in

Being a digital experience designer and a surfer who is part of the surf-culture, I’ve been watching how surf brands engage with the broader community and consumer experience – from surf manufacturers innovating with eco-products, to the World Surf League’s competitions being cognisant of the environment and local economies on their tour. This includes reinvesting the cost of our tour’s carbon footprint into projects that safeguard marine life; eliminating all single-serve plastic from our events and partnering with local communities to make sure no one is picking up after them; and partnering with like-minded climate change, plastic pollution, and conservation foundations through their ‘WSL PURE, One Ocean’ initiative.

A final reflection on the Experience Economy

People-centric companies know it’s a priority to go beyond the product or service offering and package every touchpoint along the journey with exceptional, rewarding, and positive-charged experiences – Icon Agency included. The ‘experience economy’ expects more. We expect more. Something human that aligns with our core values, culture and sense of belonging. Something noble. Something we believe in – above all else, the best of humanity.

If you’d like to learn more about the coined term ‘Experience Economy’, check out the original article in the 1998 Issue of the Harvard Business Journal, written by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore -