Let Donors “Experience” Your Mission

It’s all about the experience. Whether it’s gumballs, coffee, car insurance or even charities, consumers are looking for experiences rather than things, according to B. Joseph Pine II, the author of the best-selling book, “The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage.”

Take for example, gumball machines. Rather than the traditional gumball machine where you deposit a quarter and get a gumball, today there are machines that still offer up gumballs but not before coming down a circular ramp several feet long. There’s no functional purpose whatsoever for this device, said Pine, as it doesn’t provide a better gumball or better service, but it has more value. “It’s a slot machine for kids,” he said.

Pine presented a litany of examples about the experience economy Friday morning to almost 1,500 fundraisers and marketers at the 8th annual Bridge to Integrated Marketing & Fundraising conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Oxon Hill, Md.

“It’s not the things you’re getting but the experience,” Pine said. America has gone from an agrarian economy based on commodities to an industrial economy based on goods and now has shifted to a service economy where goods have become commoditized.

“Experiences are what consumers are looking for,” Pine said, and one of the reasons behind the rise in theme restaurants, like Hard Rock Café. He pointed to other examples like REI, the outdoor sporting goods store, which offers rock climbing, kayaking or cross country skiing at stores around the country, or the Library Hotel in Manhattan, which is themed like a library, based on a Dewey Decimal system. “Every experience needs a good theme,” said Pine, but it doesn’t have to be an over-the-top Disney-like experience; it needs to be an organizing principle for your experience.

“Nonprofits too can recognize they’re in the experience economy,” said Pine. Nonprofits are competing for the time, attention and money of consumers. Time is limited, attention is scare, and money is consumable, Pine said, but “the experience is the marketing.” The best way to generate demand for any offering, he said, is through experiences that are so engaging that people can’t help but spend time with you, get their attention, and give you their money as a result.

American Cancer Society (ACS) is one of the nonprofits that understand the experience economy. ACS will scrap its new acquisition direct mail program and instead invest that money in experiences, like its Relay for Life events. “They recognize that the experience is the marketing,” Pine said, adding that what ACS is doing may not be appropriate for everyone but embracing that principle can be. Habitat for Humanity International offers a mission-based experience where people can get the experience of what slums around the world are like. If someone has that experience, he said, the more likely they will be to give to Habitat for even build for Habitat.

Authenticity is critical. “Marketing has become a phoniness generating machine,” Pine said, stressing three rules for marketers:

  • If you are authentic, you don’t have to say you’re authentic.
  • If you say you’re authentic, you better be authentic

It’s easier to be authentic, if you don’t say you’re authentic.