Does the Experience Make the Product?

sailing on Lake Michigan ferry

My husband and I regularly travel to Michigan, which means we somehow have to get around Lake Michigan. Sometimes we drive down through Chicago and around. Other times we drive up through the U.P. and around. Last weekend we ferried our way across on the S.S. Badger and it was loads of fun.

Big ship, more fun!

The S.S. Badger’s been in the news lately and sailing on this old boat brings marketing waves rolling through my head. And because the Specialty Coffee Association of America just put out this cool sales trend poster, which, in my opinion erred by not including atmosphere as something consumers value in a coffeehouse, I’m wondering just how important the experience of using a product is in comparison to the actual quality of a product?

But back to the Badger—big ship, more fun!

The S.S. Badger began sailing in 1952 and has been ferrying people and wheeled-vehicles across the lake for more than 50 years. Compared to her sexier competition, the Lake Express, the Badger is bigger, slower and much, much older. She’s also the last of the coal-fired steamships, which doesn’t sit well with environmental agencies.

But the Badger’s not sinking to the role of a dowdy, outdated spinster. Instead she embraces her historical image and uses it to market herself with great sales promotions, an interesting online presence and a very fun sailing experience. Hey, my husband and I even played bingo, which I normally hate.

Big ship, more fun! That’s what the bingo caller had us all repeating after him. With enthusiasm, no less.

This brings me back to my question. Is the experience as important as the product? Is a winery’s setting as much an attraction as its wine? Does a coffee shop’s friendliness keep its regulars returning as much as the brew?

And what is this experience we speak of?

Wikipedia defines customer experience (CX) as the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods or services. It’s the physical and emotional response a customer feels when patronizing a business.

Let’s use my husband and me as typical examples. After we disembarked from the Badger (when sailing, you don’t just get off the boat, you disembark…we have to get the language right, right?)—anyway, we then hit the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail.

Both of us enjoy wine but we’re certainly not connoisseurs. Just as important to us is the experience of visiting the winery—viewing its vineyards, walking though an intriguing building (you know me, the old ones are my favorite) and talking with the host. I love seeing a winery embrace it’s character, whether that of its surroundings, its history or its owners.

What about you?

Do you think the experience is as important as the product? Does the experience then make the product? And how do you convey this in the product’s brand?


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