It's been a little over 20 years since B. Joseph Pin II and James H. Gilmore raised the idea of The Experience Economy. In the July 1998 Havard Business Review article, 'Welcome to the Experience Economy', they wrote, 'from now on, leading-edge companies – whether they sell to consumers or businesses – will find that the next competitive battleground lies in staging experiences.'
Much has changed over the last 20 years. From examples like the Apple store and AirBnB, we can see that our economy has shifted away from delivering and consuming goods and services, to focus on staging and selling the 'experience'. In today's world, things like storytelling, 24/7 customer service and company values, are all part of the experience, whether it's B2C or B2B. It has become the expectation and standard for companies to deliver a positively charged experience to their customers.
When we look at the denim industry, we can see changes are happening. Most denim brands are constantly pushing the envelope of staging a branded denim experience, especially when promoting the denim culture or a differentiated narrative within a cut-throat market. How about the manufactures? What can they do to adapt to the shift?
Before getting into the practicalities, let's have a look at the shift in the denim culture we're witnessing in the denim world.
Consumers today are omnivorous in their cultural interests, and they treat everything as an opportunity to flex their aesthetic muscles. -Ana Andjelic, Special Report: Creativity is Dead, Long Live Curation
Prior to denim becoming a staple item in our wardrobe, the sturdy textile was associated with a number of from 'Western chic' to 'anti-establishment youth' to 'high fashion'. When a consumer is buying a pair of jeans or a denim jacket, he/she is also buying into the ideals or perception that the denim piece carries.
In The New Luxury: Defining the Aspirational in the Age of Hype, Alexandre Arnault, CEO of Rimowa, wrote that the next generation's consumer will be divided into the ones who actively seek the next culture and the ones who consume the culture created (or curated) for them. They are more conscious about the value that the product represents more than ever.
Brands quickly picked up on this. They understand that 'value' is beyond the materiality or the service they offer but the experience - from manufacturing to design ethos to visual merchandising. Through curating and creating narratives online, like social media, and offline, like shop spaces, brands are able to capture the essense of their brand DNA.
Christian Dior 2020 Resort - A collection about luxury, globalism and culture. In collaboration with Uniwax, an Abidjan-based studio/atelier that makes authentic wax prints on cotton.
These branded experiences are the new cultural currency. The more consumers associate themselves with these experiences, the more it becomes part of their identity. In the long run, it forms the community. It is no different in the denim world.
Coolness is unquantifiable, but a term that comes close is cultural currency, or, a knowledge that creates a perception around a product that elevates it beyond reductive notions of cost and quality. This currency is minted, produced and distributed by elite consumers and the communities to which they belong, backed by a collective consciousness among those who ultimately determine its value. - Culture Culture Culture, Highsnobiety & BCG
Now, customers are more informed than ever, manufacturers can no longer hide behind a curtain. Customers are actively seeking information - not only about the cultural value of the garment but also about its provenance. Information about the savoir-faire of a garment helps build the narrative of the product, especially for brands that emphasise transparency and authenticity. This becomes an opportunity for manufacturers to differentiate themselves from their peers.
'This collection is a testament to the importance of remaining authentic while keeping up with innovation. At ISKO, we proudly stand for this and find the very same commitment in arena.' Elena Faleschini, ISKO Global Field Marketing Manager, talks about the ISKO x arena Icons collection
Manufacturers can differentiate themselves from their peers by integrating their company story, company values and technology through delivering content across digital and physical channels. Thus, helping brands and consumers gain a better understanding of the background of the company and to achieve the desired future together. Communicating through written and visual content catalyses the differentiating process and helps manufacturers to stand out from the never-ending price-driven rat race.
This means treating the manufacturing company as a brand - understand the clients (brands), understand the clients' clients (brands' customers) and stage the experience.
Think about the cultural currency the denim fabric holds. Identify what lifestyle the targeted communities (or micro-communities) buy into. Analyse how the company history, values and technology could connect with the clients. More importantly, rethink the influence that manufacturers could have to transform the denim industry.
We can see that more manufacturers are acknowledging the above. They move on from a competitive pricing strategy to compete on values. In order to compete on values; creativity, imagination and innovation are the requirements. Implementing strategised creative content on a branded digital platform would be a good way to start.
The creative economy may be having a bit of a moment. I’m saying this partly from feeling, but look at job postings or TV ads, or just listen to CEOs talk nowadays. And you get the sense that more and more companies realise that creative workers are key to value creation. Now, content has always been king, right? But there have been some significant developments lately. New technologies, the explosion of the gig economy, digitisation plus social pressures to give more credit to people behind the products. To say nothing of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is exerting new forces on workers and employers. - Curt Nickisch, How the Creative Economy is Changing with COVID-19
Especially after COVID-19, when fabric production, trade shows and physical presentations are delayed, manufacturers need to rethink and become flexible and adaptive to differentiate and demonstrate their capabilities despite a global pandemic, such examples include: building your own digital showrooms and creative storytelling.