23 May 2019 Leisure Handbook

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Leisure Handbook - Pine & Gilmour


Pine & Gilmour

The gurus who invented the concept of the experience economy share their vision

Julie Cramer
Pine and Gilmour have made their reputation writing about experience
Story – Rachel Shechtman’s retail space in New York – is a revolving pop-up experience which changes every four to eight weeks
Story – Rachel Shechtman’s retail space in New York – is a revolving pop-up experience which changes every four to eight weeks

They wrote the manual on themed experiences, and 15 years later Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore are still creating inspiration for businesses looking for authentic ways to attract consumers. They talk to Julie Cramer.

It’s been almost 15 years since authors and business partners Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore penned the title The Experience Economy – Work is Theatre and Every Business a Stage – and defined a new economic phenomenon.

At that time in the late 1990s, themed restaurants and giant amusement parks might have been the most popular ‘experiences’ being sold to the public. However, Pine and Gilmore were able to cut through the layers to identify and articulate a trend that has today become embedded across many sectors – from computer companies like Apple to individual entrepreneurs.

Pine says: “When we wrote the book in 1999, we talked about it as the nascent experience economy – we couldn’t quite say it was here but you could see the elements.

“It was growing faster than the agrarian, industrial and service economies and was going to overshadow them. Now it’s here – the predominant source of growth and job creation and primary economic offering.”

Pine and Gilmore’s first collaborative work has since been translated into 16 languages. In 2011, the edition was updated to reflect the new influences from technology and social media, and draw on many more examples of what customers now consider an ‘experience’ and how businesses go about creating them.

The main premise of the philosophy is that “goods and services are no longer enough,” and all businesses must learn to “orchestrate memorable events for their customers that engage each one of them in an inherently personal way.”

Gilmore adds: “Services are delivered on demand and are transactional, while experiences are staged over a duration of time. With services, people want to spend less time with you – they want to get out of the dry cleaners, the car wash or the grocery store as fast as they can. But when it comes to experiences, time is really the currency – it’s all about how customers can spend more time with you.”

A hotel, for example, can either be an experience or just a service, depending on how it’s offered to customers, as well as how they perceive it. Are guests paying for the time they spend in the hotel, or merely for a bundle of activities to be performed?

Pine and Gilmore are far from being academic theorisers – they’ve spent the past 15 years of their business partnership working with companies across North America and increasingly across the world – advising them how to apply a range of principles to stage engaging experiences.

Under their consultancy brand, Strategic Horizons LLP, they undertake speaking engagements, offer workshops, run a global certification programme, create ‘learning excursions’ for individual companies and lecture at colleges and universities.

Their flagship product is the annual thinkAbout event, which takes place in a different city each year and is personally designed by Pine and Gilmore to bring delegates a highly interactive, immersive and thought-provoking two-day tour around the ‘Experience Economy’ of a chosen city.

Since its inaugural event in Gilmore’s hometown of Cleveland, Ohio in 1998, thinkAbout has taken followers of the experience economy to such places as Hollywood, Baltimore and Nashville. Last year the event – which also names the top 10 experiences of the year and gives the top one the ‘Experience Stager of the Year’ (EXPY) award – was in San Francisco and in September 2013 delegates will be exploring the streets of Washington DC in pursuit of experiences par excellence.

The partnership between Pine and Gilmore has stood the test of time and renews itself with new ideas and vigour each year. The pair first communicated when Pine published his book, Mass Customization, in 1992 and Gilmore wrote him a letter. “My first thought was, oh shoot someone has gone and written the book!” says Gilmore. When Pine left his job at IBM six months later he ended up being engaged as a consultant by Gilmore – who has a background in logistics consulting. By 1996, the pair had formed a partnership and were writing The Experience Economy.

The pair maintain theming is still a key part of staging an experience, but it now has to be much more subtle, even subliminal. As Gilmore says: “What’s lacking in many of today’s environments is an organising principle. The theme is the essence of an experience and if you have to tell people what it is then it’s not sophisticated.
“Every time Francis Ford Coppola shot a movie he had a word he’d refer to -– whether it was the kind of raincoat or wine to use in a scene – he’d go back to that word, which represented the essence of the film.”

To show this perfectly applied in a business setting, Pine and Gilmore use the example of Joie de Vivre Hotels and the company’s founder Chip Conley – who’s a past recipient of an EXPY award.

In the late 1980s, Conley bought the Phoenix, a rundown motel in San Francisco’s Tenderloin district, and decided to theme it around Rolling Stone magazine. But instead of being an overt homage to what many consider the bible of rock, Conley went through past issues and extracted five principles he felt summed up its essence.

Pine says: “They were: adventurous, hip, funky, irreverent and young-at-heart. Conley thought if he could capture the sense of the magazine, everyone who loved it would love his hotel. And it worked. Without having to put an oversized guitar in the lobby, the Phoenix became the place for bands to stay when they played San Francisco.”

Conley went on to create venues such as the Hotel Rex, themed around New Yorker magazine, and the Hotel Carlton, themed around National Geographic. He now has a portfolio of hotels, restaurants and spas.

Pine and Gilmore’s formula for creating memorable experiences revolves around their THEME acronym:
- Theme the experience – design around a dominant organising principle.
- Harmonise impressions with positive cues – create memories with signals from the space (set) or the staff (ensemble).
- Eliminate negative cues – remove whatever runs counter to the theme or desired impressions.
- Mix memorabilia – let guests attach memories to physical objects they actually use in the experience.
- Engage all five senses – richly stage all sensory phenomena.

Gilmore says eliminating negative cues is the most simple to address, yet often the most overlooked. “Anything that doesn’t contribute to the theme is a negative cue. It might be something as simple as a staff member who doesn’t smile.”

As a model of good practice, Gilmore cites the John Robert’s hair salons in Ohio, which from the start in the 1990s focused on creating a personal guest experience.

Gilmore says new customers are given a white gown to wear, while regulars are given black, enabling staff to tailor their greeting without that client ever knowing they’ve been signposted. Similarly, instead of the receptionist having to tell a stylist their next client has arrived within earshot of a current client – potentially creating the negative cue of making them feel rushed – the stylist is buzzed via a device hidden in their pocket.

Of course, the world has moved on since the publication of The Experience Economy, and social media is responsible for creating a whole layer of consumer experience. Pine explains: “You learn about a place much more readily from other people now. Your first impression may not come from discovering it yourself, but from friends or strangers.

Pine cites the now-celebrated example of musician Dave Carroll, who had no offer of compensation from United Airlines when luggage handlers broke his guitar. So instead he took to YouTube with a song of complaint entitled United Breaks Guitars.

“The song went viral within hours and attracted over 12 million hits on YouTube. It’s estimated that United’s stock price dropped 15 per cent as a result. That’s the power of social media” says Pine.

Interestingly, while Pine is passionate about new technologies (he recently co-authored Infinite Possibility – Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier with Kim Korn), Gilmore confesses to being averse to such “anti-social” pursuits as Twitter and doesn’t own a mobile phone.

Perhaps like many successful partnerships, Pine and Gilmore’s personalities and skills are complementary rather than similar. “He likes cigars, I don’t. He’d spend time at Disney, I wouldn’t,” jokes Gilmore.

Of the two, Pine is the one who keeps abreast of what’s happening, with “a keen set of antennae to spot things of significance,” as Gilmore puts it. He’s the more inventive, creative type, coming up with fresh ideas for business exercises and workshops and facilitating group dynamics. “I’m playful and highly strung, he’s calmer and more academic,” Gilmore adds.

Despite Gilmore’s light-hearted protestations over the proliferation of technology, the pair know well that the experience economy must contend with digital realities.

Pine says: “It’s increasingly difficult to get people’s attention as they spend more time online or in virtual worlds.

Pine and Gilmore recognise customers still want to experience authenticity. In Authenticity – What Consumers Really Want they wrote: “In an increasingly unreal world, consumers choose to buy or not to buy based on how real they perceive an offer. Business today is about being real, original, genuine, sincere and authentic.”

According to Pine, this brings us to the “final offering” of the progression of economic value, which is when experiences start guiding life transformations. “Places like gyms are one step ahead, because they’re already in the business of transformation – people don’t go for the workout, they go for the change it will bring.

“I remind leisure businesses, they used to own the experience economy – until everyone else started getting into their business. They must enhance their experiences if they are to continue to compete.”

What’s the Story?
Pine and Gilmore say the big buzz they get from their jobs is seeing their clients “get it”, changing their mindset, and doing things differently as a result. One past participant of their exclusive thinkAbout event is former brand consultant Rachel Shechtman, who recently opened the highly innovative retail space Story on New York’s 10th Avenue. Described as “a retail space that has the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store,” the 2,000sq ft site is like one imaginative, revolving pop-up shop. Every four to eight weeks, Story changes all its merchandise, design, fixtures and reinvents the store around a different theme.

Spelling and superheroes
Each year at their thinkAbout event, Pine and Gilmore choose one standout business as the recipient of their annual EXPY award to honour their exceptional contribution to the client experience. Last year it was awarded for the first time to a non-profit organisation called 826 National. The business is a network of eight writing and tutoring centres that help under-resourced students aged 6 to 18 explore their creativity and improve their literacy.

Pine says: “What’s interesting is the planners stopped them opening up their first tutoring business in a retail zone, so their answer was to put up a fun little store in front of it. Their first was a Pirate Supply store selling hooks and eye patches and wooden legs. Every place they go now they open up a store. In Brooklyn, there’s a Superheroes store. It also helps take away some of the stigma of kids having to walk in for extra tutoring.”

EXPY winner 826 National

EXPY winner 826 National is a network of eight writing and tutoring centres in the US that help under-resources students aged 6-18 improve their literacy. When planners stopped them opening their first business in a retail zone, their answer was to put up a fun little store at the front of it. Their first was a pirate supply shop, selling eye patches and hooks. Now every centre has a theme – including a superheroes shop in Brooklyn. It also helps take away some of the stigma for kids.

EXPY winner 826 National
Get real – get virtual

In his most recent book, Infinite Possibility – Creating Customer Value on the Digital Frontier, Pine identifies the problem of “the migration of virtuality”.

He says: “People bring all this technology with them and they’re just a click away from leaving your experience. How do you get them to engage with their technology so they are more fully immersed in your experience?”

He cites the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure that played at Disney’s Epcot centre last year. “For teens and tweens, Epcot is the most boring part, but this exhibit used digital technology to allow them to go on an adventure within Epcot that had nothing to do with the park.”

Kids were given special mobile phones and used the technology to find clues around the park as if they were in an episode with the Kim Possible tv character, leading to a special area where they got to save the world from Dr Evil.



Get real – get virtual

Originally published in Leisure Handbook 2014 edition

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