Experience Innovation

Business Week has a new article by Ziba’s Sohrab Vossoughi on the silver bullet of experience innovation:

There is still one frontier that remains wide open: experience innovation. This is the only type of business innovation that is not imitable, nor can it be commoditized, because it is born from the specific needs and desires of your customers and is a unique expression of your company’s DNA.

The problem is, experience innovation can be imitated, and Pine and Gilmore argue that it can also be commoditized. The interplay between Starbucks and Peet’s Coffee exemplifies this problem precisely. Chuck-E-Cheese is another example. Its experience was imitated, lock-stock-and-barrel, by a competitor called Showbiz Pizza in the early 1980s.

Vossoughi also frames experience in a way that seems strange to me. He cites the “experience” of a pair of Lululemon Athletica yoga pants. He’s talking about the brand experience, and I’m willing to believe that shopping in one of their retail outlets could qualify as experience, but not simply the act of wearing the pants. Products aren’t experiences in and of themselves. They need to be incorporated into a service layer and only then incorporated into an experience offering.

My final point of contention comes later in the article when he claims that there are three areas of innovation: technology, product, and experience. I don’t necessarily disagree with these areas, but they’re each contained within Doblin’s far more comprehensive Ten Types of Innovation framework which includes important facets like service innovation, process innovation and business model innovation.

Ziba is a fantastic design firm, and one of only a handful actually working in the field of experience design here in the US, but this doesn’t present the discipline in its best light.

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