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Personalizing the Experience Economy

Personalizing the Experience Economy

By Carly Reisner, Chief Operations Officer, American Pain Society and Brianna Johnson, Education Manager, American Pain Society

In the late 90s, noted that “The Experience Economy” is demonstrated when “a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event.” Likening the Experience Economy to a performance is as effective a metaphor today as it was then because it reminds us that we need to create connection to our products and services to engage our customers.

Nothing is stagnant though. Roughly two decades into the Experience Economy, we see a strong theme emerge. When we’re competing with other organizations, companies, and even ourselves for attention and dollars, we can’t expect for those connections to grow organically. It’s not enough to know your lines, wear something snappy, and give them the ol’ razzle dazzle. Now our customers want to choose their own adventure. They want a personalized experience that speaks to their specific needs, not something generically designed for their generation, career level, or gender. We see this playing out in public and private spaces and across industries.

Don’t believe us? Let’s look at a current hot topic: to keep or not to keep cable. With so many entertainment providers available, cable is going out of style as the ability to personalize one’s experience grows. Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and now Disney are on the scene to offer what a customer wants without the exorbitant pricing structure that comes with a 600-channel offering.  Even PlayStation and YouTube have joined the personalized Experience Economy by creating their own versions of cable channels, again without the cable cost.  It’s the pupu platter of the restaurant industry; pick three appetizers and a dipping sauce so you get to try a little bit of everything and reduce your commitment risk. I’ll take Hulu and Netflix with a side of HBO Now, please.

The association and nonprofit world has a reputation for being late adapters, but we’ve seen several ways adaptations have been realized. 

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The first is the education event. From the creation of tailored education tracks to “meeting within a meeting,” the association industry has acknowledged that our event audiences are diverse and multidisciplinary and require intentionally designed experiences to carry them through what could be overwhelming without guidance. Even the idea of an “event” has changed from an in-person experience to include a virtual, on-demand occasion during which you go at your own pace and watch it in multiple settings whenever it suits your needs. Do proceed with caution though. covered an article about a recent RAND study, commissioned by the Gates Foundation, about individualized learning. While its uptake has been quick, the evidence to support best practices lags behind.

Another cornerstone of the association industry is membership. While research abounds and the search for the perfect algorithm continues (e.g. number of benefits, divided by the number of members, multiplied by the ROI… no wait, that can’t be right), we have yet to find the solution. Through the lens of personalization, we again look to to learn about the tiered membership model. Much like the cable industry, our members don’t want to pay for benefits that they don’t actually perceive as beneficial to them. Access to webinars and a journal might intrigue some, while others are looking for access to industry leaders at member-only events. To create maximum value, consider a tiered model that lets the member have greater choice in what they pay for and receive. To further expand on that notion, we look at our own client, . We hired to conduct a needs assessment when recent analytics showed that a decline in membership was met with significant growth in our customer base. If our portfolio of benefits is not appealing in toto, we must examine how we can continue to bring value to our community through our other offerings.  

That’s really what personalization is, value creation on an individual level. It’s about being flexible in our product offerings and our framework of thinking. It’s about empowering the member and customer to choose your association for their education, networking, and community needs. 

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