OK, I didn’t read the book but…..

I had looked forward to the Mobium lecture –unraveling the mysterious experience effect; and yesterday was no exception.  I was eager to hear new insights from the featured author Jim Joseph.

We all share a duality as consumer, and in my case, business strategy and marketing consultant. I had been aware of the “experience” hook, and coupled with other Mobium lecture experiences, my expectations were pretty high. I anticipated a vivid, imaginative, engaging  presentation including a series of insights new to me.  It wasn’t the vivid slides that disappointed; but the experience was flat.  I was not engaged, encouraged to be imaginative or offered new insights. It is that tragedy, that goes well beyond my own wasted hour, and the gap between expectation and experience that I’m sharing this story.

Jim Joseph began by telling his story– how he became a marketer, the brands he worked for and the brands he loves. His approach to experience is to view marketing as spectator sport. There are always opportunities to learn by observation, and yet spectators are in it for the experience. If this was the valuable insight, well no wonder I felt his presentation over promised and failed to deliver. I certainly did not feel any experience effect, in spite of his sharing of the obvious about Lady GaGa –whose very notoriety is widely reported.

Do you remember the cool teacher, or can you imagine one who dressed a little more hip than the average teacher? Who was interactive by walking around the classroom, inviting students to share their experiences and always supported and never criticized student comments. They showed you the new hip music, or knew the latest hip lingo. But how much insight was ever offered? Our positive memories of the teacher and classroom suggest the teacher’s style was truly different. There may have been a marked contrast between “the cool” and their peers.   But today? Interaction has a completely different feel, in fact computers and mobile communication devices have changed the nature of interaction…we don’t have to have a visible partner, we can interact virtually with real or fictional, scripted characters, or both. If you don’t know Joe Pines, co-author of  The Experience EconomyThe Experience Economy; work is theatre & every business a stage, let me be the first to introduce you. His neat summary, presented at Ted was, not “cool,” but the content was powerful.  In particular I want to share two of his clear insights.

First, Pines’ three column chart, duplicated below, expresses the evolution of commerce over time.  For each stage in economic output, a particular business imperative ensues to respond or heighten a consumer sensibility.  This progression in economic history begins with simple commodity trading at the bottom and rises to the current stage of economic output which is Experiences.

Economic Output





EXPERIENCES Render Authenticity
SERVICES Improve Quality
GOODS Control Costs
COMMODITIES Supply Availability

Second, Joe Pines elaborates on authenticity. The example and definition references Lionel Trilling’s work that in turn references Shakespeare.  In the famous speech of Polonius to Falstaff

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.

I offer both these citations to iterate that experience and authenticity does matter. Sadly, what Jim Joseph, for all his experience as a brand marketer and agency director, his false real interactivity lost him more than one sale. By not buying his book I may miss out on his insights; but, he missed his opportunity to persuade me to take that step. As Joe Pines would say, he was authentic to himself, but offered me no experience to support his credibility and thus I was unmoved to buy.

In ratcheting up the experience quotient, at the very least we need to push beyond standard presentation formats–see my post Thinking, sadly, is often under-rated . I don’t expect that every day I’ll be surprised; or that something unexpected will cross my path.  But I do expect it from the people whose role and livelihood depends on them having a  handle on Experience, the phenomenon, to offer or deliver  something authentic! It’s not merely about using creativity, or craft, because  experience when authentic is never overrated.  How do you over rate a memory?  or the foundations upon which we have constructed the way we see the world?  Spectators are part and parcel of an experience.  If you plan to produce, create or  play the talent requirements vary and so are the measures of success. But, to pull off an experience worth watching, or waiting to happen requires that your audience be fully engaged. That IS what Lady GAGA does and what Jim Joseph, if he were to internalize it in his presentation, might be able to help further our understanding and sensitivity to the effects of experience.

My takeaway? To create impact  the type, style of medium and quality of my presentation matters but I also need to consider scale, audience and what will really engage  not merely satisfy them.  No approach guarantees learning and yet  they are experiential. Is it impact, aka memorable that I’m after, or just  getting the job done?  As I sat listening to Jim Joseph in a room full of marketers who spend much of their time helping to frame brand images and perceptions, I heard no big Ahas  and no further clarification of experience as process or value delineated.  Oh, the importance of the value proposition came up, but Jim Joseph never delivered that value.  In short, I walked away with no clearer idea of  The Experience Effect.

OK, I didn’t read Jim Joseph’s book, but after hearing the man, I wouldn’t waste my time.  I’d rather go back and reread, or listen again to the end of Joe Pines’ TED talk, with these business recommendations:

“Don’t say you are authentic unless you really are.
It’s easier to be authentic, if you don’t say you are.
if you say you are authentic…you must be.
Consumers will increasingly be happy spending our time and money satisfying our desire for authenticity.”


Jobs, Ironing and Innovation

This morning, Peter Orzag’s impending resignation caught my attention; but a headline about ironing boards in the Washington Post awakened my curiosity. Reader comments spurred further thoughts. In spite of the usual descent into a reckless hash slinging competition, I found some tasty bites along the way. References to IIT inspired me to add my own two cents. My reactive comments included questions I had not seen addressed –either by readers or in the original author’s complete circle of points identifying the challenges and options the Indiana manufacturer faced in its quest to keep its 200 remaining jobs. In my tweet of the story, I put out a call for innovation to rescue the company. I also thought I’d take a few more minutes to quell my increased curiosity.

Who was Home Products International, HPI, other than the Chicago based parent company? Being privately held since 2004, I checked out the hedge funds who bought them. Neither the majority stake holder, Third Avenue Management, or HPI,  struck me as holding ideas painted in the original article as typical of  American manufacturers –e.g. eager for protection in the face of the inevitable onslaught of globalism. What exactly did a value based investment company such as Third Avenue find valuable enough to acquire a company painted as nearly doomed by The Washington Post article?  I persisted in my cursory research with the intent to assemble a case study to share with future clients; or better, I might include HPI as a prospect or future client. Increasingly, I found it harder to reconcile the article’s attributions of the Indiana company’s image and management team with what I was reading on the home pages of the investor holding company or that of Home products itself.

HPI is an international consumer products company specializing in the design, marketing and manufacture of quality, innovative housewares products.

Home products sells not just one ironing board, but among their 20 variations in ironing boards they also are the proud creator of an innovation in ironing. Yep,  HOMZ features this innovation in ironing boards on their landing page!   In the war for profits,  I was ready to offer a series of  ideas to help the company pursue innovation as a competitive tool in their arsenal.  Home products however, seems to have mastered the basics of innovation quite admirably. Here’s what core77 had to say about the Homz Revolution 360 ironing board in May 2008:

“Not only is its shape more akin to the human torso, not only does it hold shirts taut across its surface, but the entire ironing bed rotates so you don’t have to keep flipping the darn shirt. (Not horizontally, it rotates on the same axis as one of those kayak-rollers.)”

Take a look, judge for yourself!

a rotating axis that matches the human torso?

The suggested retail price is $99, currently exclusive at Bed Bath and Beyond for $129…a far cry from the simple $7 variety mentioned in the Post this morning. I tried reaching the Indiana plant this morning to learn just which of the 20 varieties of ironing boards available they manufacture. I count a voice mail asking to leave a message so I don’t have the answer.

How and why it is that The Washington Post chose this little Indiana ironing board manufacturer to profile this morning, I don’t know.  Certainly,  there are lots of little towns with small plants struggling to survive.   The article suggests  futility when choosing to innovate using traditional approaches that lower costs by introducing process efficiencies, or streamlining distribution or economizing along their supply chain. In the battle to equalize the basic costs, against emerging economies like China, India or any of the Central and S. American countries, these little American plants wont’ be able to survive using these tactics alone. Should the US continue the artificial supports that tariffs offer but complicate larger trade relationships?  These companies need to find the means and show themselves as competitors who lead not merely follow. They need to use some of their more promising tools in the innovation box…such as a new business model, or as HOMZ demonstrated product innovation that inspires us a little.

Home Products new ironing board inspires me, renewing my faith that positive rewards flow to those who innovate in the full sense of the word. Does it inspire me sufficiently to buy a replacement for my standard 30-year-old model? Well, not yet. I haven’t been able to track down whether it is or isn’t manufactured in the US. I know that it’s price tag is far from the $7 quoted in the article; which I did not find for sale at Target …their lowest price model is $23.99 online. Using Google as my first research tool, I inadvertently discovered that Williams Sonoma sells a very high-end ironing board for $180 manufactured by Brabantia, a Dutch company with locations all over the globe. Relative to the HOMZ product, it offers a resting shelf for completely ironed and folded items…not really revolutionary, and not reason enough for me to spend an extra $172. If I want to buy American, keep jobs and help the economy I still have some research to do. The questions for the policy makers trying to sort out these issues requires that we all learn more about the ironing board business, and how to find the equilibrium between creating or maintaining some domestic jobs based on innovation! I’m open to suggestions.