The show must go on

When Steve Brand goes grocery shopping, he can’t wait to get to the checkout counter. The interactive cash register, that is.

“I actually scan my own food products these days because it’s an interactive process for me and I’m having a blast — it’s like a little boy’s toy,” he laughs.

The do-it-yourself checkout counter typifies the experience trend that’s becoming a defining characteristic of a successful company competing in today’s experience economy, one in which goods and services offer consumers unique and memorable experiences. Richard G. Barlow put it simply in the April 17, 2000, issue of Advertising Age.

“What captivates us now is special stuff … that symbolizes something. And, more compelling than stuff, are experiences — events, trips, places, sights, sounds, tastes that are out of the ordinary, memorable in their own right … and fulfilling in a way that seems to make us more than we were,” Barlow wrote.

“That’s what I mean by the interactive cash register at Tops,” says Brand. “Not a lot of people are using it, so I don’t have to wait on line, and it makes buying easier. It’s an experience that takes me, the customer, out of the spectator role, and puts me into the interactive state.”

In their book, “The Experience Economy,” authors B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore point out that goods and services are rapidly becoming commoditized. Excellent customer service is no longer enough. Companies are now under pressure to create enticing experiences for consumers.

Of course, this trend is partially due to the advent of e-commerce. Spoiled by interactive buying experiences in which they have more control and more choices, consumers have come to expect similar interaction from bricks-and-mortar businesses — particularly in the retail and service industries.

“If you want your company to stand out from the competition, you have to create experiences that engage customers in a personal way,” Brand says.

As president of The New Enterprise Factory in Akron — a marketing firm dedicated to helping businesses create unique ways to add value to their offerings — Brand helps businesses do just that.

“It’s like the next step after guest services. The whole concept is to surround people with experiences because people want to experience life,” he says. “As consumers, we want to have enriching experiences that spark our emotions and our imaginations.”

Who better to help stage those experiences than this self-dubbed “branding expert.” Before becoming “chief imagination officer” of his own firm in 1996, Brand was president and director of Inventure Place–The National Inventors Hall of Fame; vice president of exhibits and education at Liberty Science Center in New Jersey; and new ventures consultant at Ford Motor Co.

Brand is also host of Enterprise Factory Radio, broadcast each Monday from 6 to 7 p.m. on WERE 1300 AM. A new concept in public entertainment and communication, the interactive radio and Internet experience challenges listeners to think in innovative ways about business, and life itself.

As an expert in experience development in museum and corporate arenas, here are Brand’s “Top Five Characteristics of Compelling Consumer Experiences,” spotlighting some of Akron’s most successful companies.

1.Surround the consumer experientially on as many sides as possible, tapping into as many senses as possible. Whether your image is a soothing or vibrant approach, it must consistently surround the customer on all sides, Brand says. “West Point Market appeals to the senses in a few ways. The aroma and taste of the food samples, the low ceilings and subdued lighting — these experiences make you feel like you’re at your hometown grocer. Appealing to the visual, Ken Stewart’s Grille surrounds you with gastronomic elegance that makes you feel you’re in a very important place.”

Borders appeals to senses of sight, sound and touch with interactive experiences that make you feel intelligent. All these experiences, in turn, generate sales.”

2. Challenge customers by building their self-confidence. “Customers actually want to be challenged because it makes them feel intelligent and capable. For example, I am not a handy guy — I hate home-improvement projects — but I go to Lowe’s and I walk out with projects,” Brand laughs.

“They have workshops and salespeople that show me how to do something, without insulting my intelligence. They sell me the products that will help me get it done. And they assure me they’ll be there as a resource if I need them.”

3. Intrigue multiple age levels simultaneously by creating an entertaining experience. “At Swensons, the carhops literally run out to your car as fast as they can, like they’re excited to help you, and they’re so interactive,” Brand says. “At Joe’s Crab Shack, every hour the servers start singing and dancing, and it’s hysterical. The Akron Aeros create experiences for all ages — the adults get into the excitement of the sport, and the kids get excited by the mascots, the vendors and the children’s competitions held between innings. These experiences are entertaining for all ages.”

4. Create memorable experiences that are not likely to occur elsewhere. “West Point does this by bringing in the foods you can’t get anywhere else. Akron General does it by having the best gym around and by motivating you to get involved in your health program,” Brand says. “First Night keeps people coming back because it’s so unique and memorable, it creates such a buzz. Where else can you see all the cultural arts, in one huge space, on one night that’s like no other night in the year?”

5. Connect to different types of learners when introducing them to your products and services. “Some people like to read. Others prefer to watch a video. Some like watching others learn. Others want to ask a barrage of questions,” Brand says.

“If you want to compete in this experience economy, you have to think differently about your business and stage memorable experiences that customers will want to have again at your establishment.” How to reach: The New Enterprise Factory (330) 864-1518 or

Victoria Reynolds is a contributing editor to SBN Magazine.