Monday, June 27, 2011

Cowboys, Gladiators, and the Experience Economy

When was the last time you went to the gym? How about church? Would it be more appealing to go to church every week if, by doing so, you were also a cowboy?

The Daily Texan ran two stories today about, more or less, marketing. The first is about Camp Gladiator, one "boot camp" in a larger fitness (read: business) trend focused on such camps. The article outlines the benefits of the camps, promising "an abundance of high-fiving" and "no warm-up[s] or stretching." Sounds intense, right?

Meanwhile, Cowboy Churches are apparently spreading outward from Texas. These churches offer a cowboy theme to go with non-denominational Jesus-worship. Brisket with a side of divine flesh.

Both of these services are participating in what authors James H. Gilmore and Joseph Pine II call the "Experience Economy" (warning: PDF). Basically, businesses today sell not only products and services, but experiences. Sure, Cowboy Churches are "spreading the word of Christ," or whatever, but what they're really selling is the experience of Being a Cowboy (Who Goes to Nondenominational Christian Church). Similarly, Camp Gladiator isn't selling fitness so much as they're selling a boot camp experience - one that is gaining in popularity. Another example from the world of video games: guitar hero doesn't sell you a video game so much as they sell you a rock star experience.

The articles in the Texan focus on the experiences provided instead of the services offered. Instead of just religion, the Cowboy Church offers horse racing, catfish fries, bluegrass and boots. The creator of the fitness camp is a winner of the NBC reality TV show American Gladiator, so she has... experience in staging experiences. Instead of just fitness, Camp Gladiator offers high fives and encouraging words from professional trainers. These are great ways to get people to participate in specific programs, but I wonder how effective they are in getting people interested in fitness and jesus.

Right now I'm reading a book by the aforementioned authors called Authenticity. It's about how consumers perceive whether or not offered experiences are authentic. I haven't finished it yet so I can't flavor this post with that particular information juice, but I can offer the following advice: if you're interested in fitness, go get a book on fitness. If you're interested in religion, stay away from Texas.

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