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The Experience Economy: Part 1

I have long contended that history goes in reverse—that is, time goes backward, not forward. If you want to know what is happening today—or, more importantly, if you want to know why it is happening, you have to look at yesterday and the day before that and so on to truly understand how we got where we are.

I believe that our current value system is amid a profound and permanent shift. Consumerism is dead. Experience is all. People no longer care about what goods you have; they care about how good you have it. Businesses built upon old value systems must change to meet these new expectations or fail.

How I came to this conclusion started in a Starbucks in Bethesda, Maryland in 2010, the day I founded a company known as Tahzoo. In many ways, our success is a product of these shifting cultural values and of the rise of social media and the sharing economy. It all comes together in what I like to call The Experience Economy.

Tahzoo works with FORTUNE 500 companies to perfect their “customer experiences” in the digital world. We use data to identify who our clients’ customers usually with great specificity and clarity. We use that data to understand those customers’ wants and needs. We create websites, mobile apps, and digital content that speaks to those customers as if they were a real person—a living, breathing human being. And, last, we use sophisticated technologies to deliver that content to them on the fly. Each potential customer receives not a one-size-fits-all, off-the-rack website, but rather a multichannel experience tailored to them specifically. Some people call it personalization. Some call it the “customer experience.” We call it the future.

But, as I said before, the story of today began yesterday, and yesterday began the day before that and so on. Back in 2010, I sat in a warm, cozy Starbucks contemplating the next phase of my life, enjoying a nice cup of coffee and some free wifi. I realize now that I was not just in a run-of-the-mill coffee shop, but rather I was ensconced in an experience that was carefully shaped by Howard Schultz and his amazing people over the course of the prior two decades.

Schultz had worked for Starbucks in the 1970s when the company sold only beans and machinery. He had a radical idea: he thought Starbucks might want to sell, you know … coffee. Eventually he traveled to Italy and witnessed espresso culture and wanted to bring that all-day, everyday, neighborhood coffee house to the whole of America. Now, if you know anything about coffee in America in the 1970s and 80s you know it was a miserable experience and what a radical idea Schultz’s brainstorm represented. If you don’t recall those days, trust me, it was miserable. Weak, lukewarm, served up by the ladle into squeaky Styrofoam cups. Anyway, in that idea was the spark of a revolution. Starbucks changed it all. Coffee went from a commodity to an experience.

Schultz dubbed his innovation, “The Third Place.” It was not home. It was not work. It was a place in between that hadn’t existed before; a place where people could meet and share their days over a good coffee—an affordable luxury to use another of Schultz’s phrases. In return, you got a comfortable seat, ample wifi and no pressure to leave until you were good and ready. Starbucks felt like home. And that’s exactly how I felt on that day in 2010…. for this and many reasons I am so proud to have Starbucks as a client and to be working with such an innovative and leading edge brand.

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