36-118418786_7409c31de9_m.jpgWhen you go into Starbucks what are you buying? A product? A good? A service? Or are you indeed buying something far greater than coffee?

The idea of experience in marketing is not at all a new one, and indeed the general public can now observe that more often than not, the notion of experience is being used to sell a company’s goods or services.

But today it is no longer sufficient for a company to use experience to sell. Experience is itself the offering that consumers want. Experience is today’s currency. In a desperately over saturated market, an experience sets one brand / company / product / person apart from all the others.

Starbucks does not produce a quality bean (far from it), nor are its drinks made with the accuracy of an artisan local coffee shop or its pastries fresh. But, none of those matter. When you walk into Starbucks you’re paying for the experience of firstly ordering a drink exactly how you like it, waiting at the bar in anticipation as the barista makes your drink (not someone else’s), adding a range of condiments, sugars and milks, and the experience of walking out holding that green emblem in your hand and participating in the tribe of Bucks drinks all around the world. For that experience, you pay a premium price that is above that of any other coffee shop in sight.

Nor are Disney’s rides the scariest, customer service the best, or food great quality. But the experience is incomparable and the reason why it is the gold standard of family holidays. How about the trailer, ”Cinema, it’s the experience that counts”? What makes ordering a Philly Cheesesteak at Pat’s more than just eating a cheesesteak?

Or consider the iPhone. Many of the groundbreaking features (Touch screen, map, app store, VOIP) have actually been around for a good five, six, seven ten years on mobile devices (Palm, Vodafone Live, Nokia Communicator, etc). But these features appear to be new because whereas previously it was so hard to use and work those things out, the iPhone gives you the experience of exceptional ease. The whole reason why I have an iPhone is because from slide to touch to pinch there is an matchless user experience. It’s like Seth Godin’s tale of sliced bread. The thing was invented in the 1910s but no one knew about it for 15 years until Wonder created a user experience for slicing bread.

Consumers are cutting back… Yet… An experience is still part of the budget. Cinemas are packed this summer. Starbucks paper cups can be seen in bins everywhere. Apple sold over a million iPhone 3G S units in a week. Sure, the holiday might be scaled down, but the experiences that people’s days or weeks hinge upon are so compelling that they have become integral to their routine, and are pretty much non-negotiable.

Shift your thinking from using experience to sell, and instead customise your goods or services into rich, compelling experiences.