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When people do business with you, do they go through a transaction or receive an experience? Build-A-Bear, a St. Louis based company that has gone international has become a huge success.  They sell a lot of stuffed bears – or do they?  The bear is the product that goes home in the shopping bag, but that isn’t what Build-A-Bear is really selling.  What they are really selling is the experience.  Customers actually make their stuffed bears.  They choose colors, clothes, etc. According to Mark Vogel, industry expert and brand manager at Avant Marketing Group, “The end product, what you take home in the box, is almost irrelevant.  It’s the experience. You don’t just go in the store and buy a bear, you participate in the manufacturing process. When you buy one of those bears, you have just added to your family unit.” Loyalty?  The proof is that 45% of Build-A-Bears stuffed animals are made by customers who live in a household that already owns a Build-A-Bear product.  (St. Louis Post Dispatch – July 18, 2005)  People love Build-A-Bear! I’ve written about Starbucks in the past.  Customers pay a premium price for a great product in a wonderful environment, and they keep coming back.  It is that combination that creates a customer experience that builds their and loyalty. I’m sure you’ve gone to a restaurant and had a wonderful experience, not just a meal.  You may have even used the words, “I had a great experience.”  Anybody can cook food. Combine culinary expertise with great service and personality and you create an experience for the customer. So, what are you doing to create an experience for your customers?  First, we have to define what the experience is for your customers.  That is tough, because an experience is intangible.  It is the sum of tangible parts, but the outcome is more of a feeling than anything else.  Look at the above examples.  They sell bears, coffee and food, and a big part of the business transaction is a feeling, also known as an experience. This short article is meant to be a primer.  It doesn’t have answers, just a few ideas to get you to think about your business.  But, you can find answers in many of the past Shepard Letter articles.  You can also find answers in one of my favorite books, “The Experience Economy,” written by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore.  A fitting close to all of this is a quotation from that book that will help you think about how to create an experience: “When the offering becomes more intangible, the value becomes more tangible.”

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