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A TCI Book Review

Experiential Marketing How to Get Customers to Sense, Feel, Think, Act and Relate to Your Company and Brands

Bernd H. Schmitt
The Free Press, New York, 1999, ISBN 0-684-85423-6

This is the new book by Bernd Schmitt, co-author of the excellent Marketing Aesthetics (The Free Press, 1997). Here the emphasis is upon the marketing of experiences, and while he draws upon and expands the ideas presented in the 1997 book, he also goes well beyond in his development of a framework for experience marketing.

Like two other recent books that focus upon the experiential aspect of marketing (Pine and Gilmore's The Experience Economy, and Michael Wolf's The Entertainment Economy), Schmitt sees that this is a key trend in marketing today:

"In this book, I am proposing that these phenomena [the omnipresence of information technology, the supremacy of the brand, and the ubiquity of communications and entertainment] represent the early signs of an entirely new approach to marketing, if not to business as a whole. These phenomena provide the outlines of a type of marketing and management driven by experience. And within a short period of time, this new approach will replace the traditional approach to marketing and business...

Unfortunately, traditional marketing and business concepts offer hardly any guidance to capitalize on the emerging experiential economy. Traditional marketing was developed in response to the industrial age, not the information, branding and communications revolution we are facing today." (pp. 11,12)

In particular, Schmitt takes issue with the features and benefits approach of traditional marketing. In this (traditional) model, consumers are thought to go through a considered decision-making process, where each of the features or characteristics of a particular product or service are seen to convey certain benefits, and these are all assessed by the potential purchaser (either consciously or unconsciously). However, for Schmitt, this is far too limited a way of viewing the purchase decision, with excessive emphasis on the rational and logical elements of the decision, and not enough (or any) on the emotional and irrational aspects involved in the purchase.

The alternative framework that Schmitt proposes is based upon two elements: strategic experience modules (which he calls SEMs), which are different types of experiences, and ExPros (short for experience producers) which are the various agencies that deliver these experiences. Experience marketing is the discipline of creating products and services that consider all elements of this framework.

Schmitt identifies five different types of experiences or 'strategic experience modules' (SEMs). These are:

SENSE: These are sensual and tangible aspects of a product or experience that appeal to the five senses of sight, sound, scent, taste and touch. Sense experiences are particularly useful to differentiate products or services, to motivate potential customers, and to create a sense of value in the mind of the purchaser. Examples of sense marketing that are discussed in the book include the Tiffany & Co. box, and Nokia mobile phones.

FEEL: Feel marketing is devoted to inducing affect (i.e. the creation of moods and emotions) that adhere to the company and brand. Clearly, positive or negative feelings toward a product or service will influence the extent to which it is consumed. Examples of feel marketing referenced in the book are Campbell's Soup, and various fragrances.

THINK: "The objective of think marketing is to encourage customers to engage in elaborative and creative thinking that may result in a reevaluation of the company and products." (p. 138) Apple's 'Think Different' campaign and Genesis Eldercare are used as examples of think marketing strategies.

ACT: Act marketing is oriented towards the creation of experiences through behavior on the part of the customer, either privately or in the company of others. The goal is to change long-term behavior and habits in favour of the particular product or service. Examples cited in the book include the milk moustache campaign, the Gillette Mach3 ads (which try to convey the idea that this product will transform the daily experience of shaving into an incredible experience) and Martha Stewart Living.

RELATE: "Relate marketing expands beyond the individual's private sensations, feelings, cognitions and actions by relating the individual self to the broader social and cultural context reflected in a brand." (p. 171) In other words, relate marketing plays upon the identification of self with the context and associations bound up in the product or service used. Examples used in the book include (again) Martha Stewart, Harley Davidson, the community of Macintosh computer users, Palm Pilot users, and several others.

These five different types of experiences (SEMs) are conveyed to individuals through experience providers (ExPros), which are vehicles such as:
  • communications: advertising, external and internal company communications, public relations campaigns
  • visual and verbal identity and signage, including names, logos, colours, etc.
  • product presence, including design, packaging, and display
  • co-branding, involving event marketing, sponsorships, alliances and partnerships, licensing, product placement in movies, etc.
  • spatial environments: which include the external and internal design of corporate offices, sales outlets, consumer and trade fair spaces, etc.
  • web sites
  • people, including salespeople, company reps, customer service providers, call centre operators, etc.
The interaction of SEMs with ExPros generates what Schmitt calls the 'Experiential Grid': a comprehensive framework for considering all the ways in which experiences can be induced on the part of an actual or potential customer. The first two sections of the book are devoted to an elaboration of the underpinnings of this framework, which is conceptually illustrated in the diagram below:

In the third section of the book, Schmitt considers the integration of these various types of experiences. Ideally, companies will in the future be able to offer integrated (what Schmitt calls 'holistic') experiences, which will combine or synthesize the various SEMs into a more complete and satisfying experience (which presumably would represent a higher-value offering with a greater profit potential). He mentions the Volkswagen's New Beetle as an example of this:

  • Sense: the distinctive shape
  • Feel: the car elicits feelings of warmth, affection and nostalgia
  • Think: the design makes one think of retro and futuristic at the same time
  • Act: people buying the car are making a statement, showing that they are an individualist
  • Relate: there is a certain community of people who would buy such a car, a shared experience in being a New Beetle owner

In developing experiential marketing approaches, Schmitt offers the concept of the 'Experiential Wheel', which is sort of a Maslovian 'hierarchy of needs' model:

"If you start from scratch, the recommended sequence is the order in which I discussed the SEMs in this book: SENSE FEEL THINK ACT RELATE. SENSE attracts attention and motivates. FEEL creates an affective bond and makes the experience personally relevant and rewarding. THINK adds a permanent cognitive interest to the experience. ACT induces a behavioral commitment, loyalty, and a view to the future. RELATE goes beyond the individual experience and makes it meaningful in a broader social context." (p. 212)

In Chapter 10 of the book, Schmitt outlines certain strategic questions and issues that adopters of the Experiential Grid approach for a given product or service should consider. These are:

  1. Which SEMs are most appropriate given the product or service, and is a holistic approach realistic and applicable?
  2. Which elements of the experiential grid should be enabled? (some ExPros are more appropriate for certain SEMs than others)
  3. What sorts of experiential identities should be created for corporate brands and sub-brands? To what extent should they be distinct, versus sharing experiential elements?
  4. How should the experience marketing framework be used to introduce new products, brand extensions and partnerships?
  5. What cultural factors need to be taken into account when taking an experiential marketing campaign globally?
Towards the end of the book, Schmitt gets quite philosophical he talks about how the ideal organization to create experiences is Dionysian in character, rather than Apollonian, for instance, and how the ideal existential transforming experiences are Proustian in their effects upon the individual. However, despite this brief foray into this esoteric realm, most of the book is a quite straightforward and useful.

Experiential Marketing offers an excellent framework for incorporating experience and entertainment elements into a product or service. The ideas are clearly presented, with just the right amount of theoretical elaboration, and plenty of real-world examples. Schmitt has also created a web site where his ideas are presented and further elaborated upon: it is definitely worth a visit, and is located at





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