Recent decades have seen rapidly increasing interest in the concept of customer experience. In the context of the contemporary economy where consumers have the choice of a great variety of products and services, companies need to differentiate from competitors in order to succeed (Boswijk, Peelen & Olthof 2012). To attract new customers and retain existing ones, it is no longer enough to provide a quality product or an excellent service. Customers are demanding the kind of impressions and valuable experience that can be gained through interacting with a product or service. Mehmetoglu and Engen (2011) state that companies that have noticed this need are beginning to manage the consumer experience to increase the effectiveness of their business. In this regard, the realms of experiential marketing and customer experience should be thoroughly analyzed to ensure that companies understand how to implement these practices as they design the required experiences.
Examining Four Realms of Customer Experience and Discussing Them in the Context of Experiential Marketing and Design of Experiences
The tourism industry is one of the most effective business realms paying attention to the experience economy and marketing, engaging customers in the process of value creation. Pine and Gilmore (2011) were among the first to examine the growing role of customer experience, discussing the economy of experience as a new era of development in replacing the agrarian, industrial, and service economies. At the same time, consumer experience was declared a new value proposition method to meet customers’ needs and anticipate their expectations. According to Quadri-Felitti and Fiore (2012), customer experience is considered as a separate construct, having different characteristics from a product and service approach. The core feature of experience is a customer’s personal involvement on emotional, physical, and psychological levels. Consistent with Quadri-Felitti and Fiore (2012), Schmitt (2011) notes that experience should be specific, impressive, and memorable over a long-term period. Examining Pine and Gilmore’s (2011) concept of customer experience, Tung and Ritchie (2011) also accentuate the deliberate nature of generating this type of product in a memorable manner.
A critical review of the recent academic literature illustrates that two dimensions of experience exist: consumer participation (active or passive) and the relationship between a customer and the event in which he or she participates (absorption or immersion) (Hosany & Witham 2010). Consequently, all impressions are divided into four realms formed in this coordinate system: entertainment, educational, aesthetic, and escapist (Pine & Gilmore 2011). In this case, it is important to emphasize that the strongest experience covers all four areas and concentrates on the intersection of the axes (see Figure 1 for details).
The first realm, entertainment, is a typical representation of experience, and it can be accomplished, for example, by means of visiting concerts or watching TV. Žabkar, Brenčič, and Dmitrović (2010) stress that companies operating in terms of an entertainment strategy attract more customers than their traditional competitors. In modern tourism, entertainment zones become an anchor, not only determining the services but also promoting as many return visits as possible. Touristic agencies have ceased to perform the mere function of selling the necessary goods and services; today, they provide conditions for meetings as well as communication (Hume 2011; Loureiro 2014). For example, Globetrotter, a company that produces clothing for extreme tourism, pours water over customers and lowers the temperature to demonstrate the benefits of their products in practice (Žabkar, Brenčič & Dmitrović 2010). Thus, entertainment is viewed as a source of positive emotional experiences and memories that a person wants to repeat.
The educational aspect requires the active participation of a person in the process of product or service promotion, and customers remain outside of what is happening rather than being immersed (Zeithaml, Bitner & Gremler 2009). In terms of the tourism industry, examples may include attending special courses, visiting museums with the aim of studying a specific area, or acquiring knowledge and skills in any other way. In other words, the pivotal goal is to enhance the quality of education and create conditions for combining pleasure and new knowledge, thus receiving wide opportunities for spending time in a useful manner. Radder and Han (2015) distinguish between such categories as education first and tourism first. The former refers to school excursions and studies in language schools, having the key purpose of education. The latter includes ecological and cultural tourism mainly for adults, targeting education as a secondary motive for the trip (Radder & Han 2015). It is possible to define the educational realm as a complex of individual tourist services that make it possible to travel and, therefore, can create a customer experience.
Escapism may educate or surprise in a similar way to the two already-mentioned types of experience, and it also engages customers more effectively. In today’s digital era, every individual seems to encounter a desire to occasionally escape from the monotony of life (Manthiou et al. 2014). Depending on income levels, some may fly to the Bahamas, and others go to a nearby lake or river by car. Stress and depression may force people to resort to escapism as a means of obtaining new experiences and avoiding reality (Atwal & Williams 2009). In this connection, the outgo from reality is integrated into modern social life, while pluralism offers various types of escapism as touristic recreation.
Aesthetic experience implies strong immersion and minimal participation. It is a journey having the main goal of the aesthetic observation of objects in museums, theatrical art or architecture as well as natural or artificial objects (Trinh & Ryan 2013). For example, visiting exhibitions in an art gallery may bring pleasurable emotions and lead people to return to the agency that organized this leisure. In their turn, Quadri-Felitti and Fiore (2013), studying the experience of customers in wine tourism to the Lake Erie wine region, state that aesthetic experience proved preeminent as revealed in the course of the interviews. At the same time, the educational and entertainment realms were less decisive when it came to the selection of trips.
The abovementioned realms may vary in terms of either active or passive participation as well as the degree of customer involvement. In particular, the level of participation entails creating a valuable experience in combination with a company (Won Jeong et al. 2009). Passive customers do not directly support the proposals of touristic agencies, whereas active participants make a significant contribution to offers that lead to experience. Absorption takes the attention of a person by bringing an experience to mind, and immersion becomes a part of a particular experience (Pine & Gilmore 2011). Based on the type and nature of realms identified in the previous paragraphs, it becomes evident that companies should thoroughly analyze their customers’ needs in order to provide the latter with the appropriate experience.
In the context of the four realms of customer experience, many scholars have determined the number of related concepts inviting discussion with the aim of an in-depth understanding of the given theme. In marketing, Walls et al. (2011) distinguish between product experience (interaction with a product), shopping experience (making a purchase), service experience (providing a service), and consumption experience. The experience of interaction with a product happens, for example, when customers search for a product, review and assess it. This experience can be direct, involving physical contact with a product, and indirect, when interaction occurs online or by means of advertising (Walls et al. 2011). The experience of making purchases and services occurs when a consumer interacts with the physical environment of a company, staff, or policies. Ultimately, the experience of consumption implies the direct use of products, and it is associated with the emotions, fantasies, and feelings of a consumer.
Along with the above concepts that are largely associated with various stages of the purchase process, Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009) present brand experience, discussing its measurement, importance, and applicability. The researchers note that in addition to the practical properties of a product that has an impact on a consumer, various brand-specific incentives are involved, including colors, design elements, and shapes as well as slogans. These incentives are the most significant source of subjective, internal consumer reactions, by which the experience of interacting with a brand is meant (Brakus, Schmitt & Zarantonello 2009). Accordingly, the authors define this concept as subjective internal reactions and behavioral responses provoked by brand-related incentives that are part of the design and identity of a brand, communications, and environment. This variety of terms, understandings, and applications indicate vagueness or even the absence of any firm concept of customer experience, pointing to the need to elaborate regarding both theoretical and practical areas of the given topic.
It is important to note that the concept of experiential marketing introduced by Bernd Schmitt contrasts traditional marketing that emphasizes the importance of customer needs and the high quality of services. By traditional marketing, Ali, Hussain, and Ragavan (2014) understand a certain canon of principles, concepts, and methods accumulated by managers and consultants, especially in the last thirty years of the twentieth century. These concepts and methods describe the nature of products, customer behavior, and market competition (Ali, Hussain & Ragavan 2014). For example, a creative customer experience may be noted as a vivid instance of a successful customer experience design that has been focused on innovations (Tan, Kung & Luh 2013). Finding the right key to sales growth can be done through surveys and interviews of potential customers. This helps in improving the advertising of a product or customer service.
The increasing number of services in the tourism industry is leading to more competition and oversaturation both by providers and customers. Therefore, brands should create memorable events for consumers to distinguish them from general advertisings. The most important issue is that from an empirical marketing point of view, services comprise a source of empirical consumer experience (Nasermoadeli, Ling & Maghnati 2013). Traditional marketing tools are not sufficient to achieve such an integrated impact, and thus, experience marketing seems useful. Generally speaking, any of the existing traditional advertising channels and alternative tools, among which event marketing plays a significant role, can be used in the framework of experience marketing (Verhoef et al. 2009). However, experts in this field mark special events as one of the most effective tools because of the unique opportunities that are open to a company in the process of direct contact between the brand and the consumers. The experience of the audience, a key point for experiential marketing, is exactly what the organizers of special events work with most of the time.
However, experience marketing is not built on the basis of only special events since this is a much more comprehensive approach to working with the target audience. At the same time, events play a crucial role in the framework of experiential marketing (Huang et al. 2012; Tynan & McKechnie 2009). In other words, in the context of experiential marketing, a marketer not only designates products and their competitive advantages but also engages customers, offering the generation of emotions that in one form or another will be associated with a company. According to various sources, elements such as sensations, reflections, actions, and correlation can be found within the framework of the concept of experiential marketing (Brochado, Troilo & Shah 2017; Ren, et al. 2016). Experiential marketing is designed to help consumers achieve an understanding of a product prior to the purchase. For example, advertisements of festivals, whether presented in video or audio format, inform people of the benefits of attending such events (Park, Oh & Park 2010). Empirical advertising allows the chance to verify the information personally while generating as many feelings as possible. In order to effectively use this approach, it is necessary to incorporate other marketing strategies.
Not only theoretical perspectives but also the practical application of the four realms of customer experience is important. By introducing specific features of one or another realm into a strategy, companies may attract more customers. Most importantly, it is critical for different marketing strategies to adjust them to the particular needs of customers, depending on their age, aims, social groups, and other critical characteristics. Therefore, various principles for how marketers may integrate the mentioned realms should be considered.
Based on the existing scholarly literature, it is possible to identify five key principles for building consumer experience. First, it is critical to clearly define the subject of the potential marketing strategy – the theme should be exciting and concise. It should not necessarily be stated in writing in the same way as the mission of the company but should bring all the design elements and experience components to a single story that is aimed to completely capture a client’s attention. As an example, Adhikari and Bhattacharya (2016) cite Forum Shops, a shopping center in Las Vegas built in the style of the Roman market with appropriate architecture and interior, including statues of Caesar and other prominent Romans as well as periodic marches of costumed Roman centurions. The authors note that the sales at this shopping center per square meter were more than three times as high as the average, suggesting that consumer experience is paying off.
At the same time, it is possible to assume that marketers should use memorabilia or events, especially for goods that are purchased mainly for the sake of memory. These include such items as postcards, T-shirts with the logo of a favorite sports team or rock band, souvenirs, et cetera. Any of these will serve as a reminder of a pleasant experience. Pine and Gilmore (2011) argue that companies aiming to create a positive experience for their clients should be offered similar souvenirs. This recommendation is associated with the message of positive signals. Experience should leave an indelible positive experience as impressions are what consumers take with them (Sands, Oppewal & Beverland 2009). The creation of the desired impressions can be achieved with the help of signals corresponding to and supporting the main topic. Among such signals, greetings, assistance across trips, and any visual, acoustic, or other stimuli may be noted.
The elimination of negative signals should also be targeted in order to ensure the integrity of the consumer experience and exclude anything that contradicts or distracts from the topic – for example, when administrators in a hotel interrupt a conversation with a visitor to answer a phone call. The solution may be to assign telephone conversations to employees who do not interact directly with the guests. According to Lemon and Verhoef (2016), the more feelings involved in creating an experience, the more interesting and effective the customer experience is. However, not all combinations are successful – it has been established that the aroma and taste of coffee go well with the smell of a new book; therefore, opening coffee shops in large bookstores seems to be successful (Mahrous & Hassan 2017). Practice, however, shows that any attempt to combine a bar with a public laundry failed; as it turned out, the smells of phosphates and hops do not combine well (Srivastava & Kaul 2014). It becomes evident that the creation of a memorable customer experience requires paying attention to different aspects and targeting their compatibility.
In providing recommendations on the use of the identified four realms, it seems appropriate to integrate customer experience with innovative technologies. Consistent with Wang, So, and Sparks (2017), Morgan (2018) claims that modern technologies should be implemented in the tourism industry to advance business prospects and provide customers with brighter impressions. For example, artificial intelligence may prove beneficial while searching for and selecting a special trip or analyzing guest reviews of hotels, theme parks, and destinations (Liu et al. 2016). Augmented reality, in turn, makes it possible to remotely access a potential location and decide on future travel. The Hub Hotel, created by the British resort Premier Inn based on augmented reality technology, allows guests to visit rooms and other places of interest virtually (Morgan, 2018). In addition, smart rooms that allow managing facilities by voice and chatbots for check-in or room service orders, as well as user-generated content, may be used to design a memorable customer experience.
Several scholars emphasize that the specified four realms overlap, and invoking only one type of experience is a rare situation. Following Pine and Gilmore (2011), Schmitt (2010) states that marketers should strive to create a holistic, integrated experience involving all five modules. The use of these strategic modules occurs through so-called experience providers and agenda co-creation (Binkhorst & Den Dekker 2009). These include communications, visual and verbal identity, spatial environments, signage, co-branding, and electronic media as well as people (Palmer 2010). To create an experience, a marketer needs to follow the three principles of managing providers: logical reasoning, chronological sequence, and, ultimately, attention to detail and the use of the full potential of every provider (Chen & Chen 2010). Using the mentioned principles in combination is likely to increase opportunities for designing exciting and long-lasting customer experiences.
In summary, customer experience is subjective and involves the engagement of a client at different levels, including emotional, physical, sensory, intellectual, behavioral, cognitive, and social. However, this does not mean that all levels will be involved in consumer experience at the same time. Evaluation of experience depends on the ratio of consumer expectations and incentives received at different moments of interaction with companies. The evidence presents four realms in terms of their educational, escapist, aesthetic, and entertainment components, which can be considered either separately or in several combinations. It should be stressed that customer experience management can be viewed as a necessary strategic ingredient for the tourism industry, which also leads to lower costs and greater economic efficiency. Systematic management of the consumer experience is also necessary to maintain clients’ emotional connection with companies based on memorable impressions, introducing a company and a brand to the style and character of life inherent in a customer, putting him or her and the reason for making a purchase in a wider social context.
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