The Age of Digital Experiences: An Interview with Joseph Pine

This year, we can pay for holiday gifts with our smartphones, get a ride with a click of an app, and download digital coupons while walking through the mall. This new mobile- and cloud-computing era is allowing brands to engage their customers in all kinds of innovative ways. It’s an exciting time for us here at Adobe, since our tools and services often have a hand in shaping these experiences.

techmuseumTo get a view into the evolving edge of the “experience economy,” we asked Joe Pine, a customer experience expert and author, to share his thoughts as we near the end of 2014…

Q: Joe, how do you think the quality of a company’s design or user-interface design relates to what you call the experience economy?

Joseph Pine: Well, the experience economy is all about how businesses need to create experiences for their customers that engage them in an inherently personal, memorable way. So to do that, you’ve got to reach customers deeply through the sensations that you create, and visual sensations are among the most important of all.

This is particularly true for companies delivering products or services through the web or mobile apps, where good design isn’t just important, it’s crucial. You absolutely need to have great design that engages people, that captures their attention, and that gets them to want to spend time with your company and see what you have to offer.

Q: Speaking of mobile, how has the ubiquity of smartphones changed how companies need to think about delivering great experiences?

JP: One of the key things about smartphones is how everybody makes them their own; these mass-produced devices end up being unremittingly unique. You put your own custom case on the phone, and you upload your own contacts, photos, videos, and your favorite apps. These devices become extensions of a person’s own identity—digital prosthetics, if you will, augmenting our human capabilities. And this creates all kinds of new opportunities to customize offerings to individual customers.

Q: Are there any notable examples you’ve encountered recently?

 JP: Yeah, one of the most creative things I’ve seen is at Neiman Marcus, where they have an app that identifies you as you enter the store, locates you using GPS, sends out a signal that you are there, and even alerts your favorite salesperson that you’ve walked in. That sales rep then has immediate access to records of what you’ve purchased in the past, what your favorite colors are, what your size is, and so forth, and can use that information to create a very customized, personal interaction with you to help you get the best possible experience of being in the store. You have to opt in and choose to use the app, of course.

These sorts of tools will be essential ways to help bridge the big split that exists right now between retail and online businesses by creating experiences that fuse the real and the virtual, the physical and the digital.

Q: Have you seen any examples of companies pursuing that fusion using other devices, such as tablets?

JP: Definitely. Lowes has a great thing they’ve created, which they call the Holoroom. They’re testing it out now, but the basic idea is that you take an iPad or other tablet, and when you hold this tablet up in an empty room and look through it, you see a virtual version of the room, which you can customize by adding in different cabinets, tiles, fixtures, and so forth. They’re helping customers to imagine what the possibilities are, through technology, and creating a great experience at the same time.

Q: In your opinion, how does analyzing big data translate into providing unique, personalized user experiences?

JP: Well, I think you always have to get that big data down to little data. You need tools that can identify very specific data about individual users, what they’re looking for right now, what market they’re in right now, and how you can put together exactly the right offer that perfectly meets their particular needs.

If you can do that, then you’re in a position to create what I call “learning relationships” with customers, where the more you interact with an individual customer the more you learn about them, and the more you learn about them, the better you can customize your offerings to them. It’s a virtuous circle. The better you customize, the more they benefit, and the more they benefit, the more they’re going to desire to interact with you.

You can collect all the data in the world, but where the rubber meets the road is always with the experiences you deliver to the individual living, breathing customer.


Joseph Pine II is an internationally acclaimed author, speaker, and management advisor to Fortune 500 companies and entrepreneurial startups alike. He is cofounder of Strategic Horizons LLP and written and coauthored a number of books, including Mass Customization, The Experience Economy, Authenticity, and Infinite Possibility.