One of the newest marketing approaches (at least, new in that it's becoming recognized in the mainstream) is experiences. This goes beyond features, beyond benefits. Experiences. People pay a premium for the right experience. People recall experiences. The sharper, more vivid, more distinctive the experience, the greater the recall. Of course, this can work for you or against you.

Experiences differentiate. Experiences add distinction. Experiences enhance recall.

Experiences make entertainment, eating, and shopping an event, one that's enjoyable even to those that don't necessarily like that type of thing. Experiences attract people that would never patronize a business otherwise.

It Started With Disney
Disney's theme parks are little more than packaged experiences. They charge more and are more crowded than competing theme parks with less distinctive experiences. Walt Disney was the first person to consciously design an experience into his product.

Somehow, Disney manages to keep the experience fresh. Skeptics keep waiting for Disney to play out. Disney keeps rolling right along. After a rocky start, EuroDisney has shown that even the French aren't immune to the Disney magic.

Finally, others are starting to see Disney's genius as more than an isolated, one-of-a-kind fluke. His methods can be emulated, though not on anything like the Disney scale.

The Restaurant Experience
Restaurants have jumped into the experience fray. An Australian theme adds to the experience of dining at Outback Steakhouse. Without the theme, it's just another good steakhouse.

McDonalds added playgrounds to add to the children's experience when eating there. A trip to McDonalds is more fun than a trip to the park for most tots.

The Hard Rock Café and Planet Hollywood carry the experience theme further. Rain Forest Café carries it further still with dripping water, robotic animals, fog, foliage and other elements one might expect at a rainforest. The Wilderness Café simulates different outdoor environments, from a lake to a campground in the forest, complete with a huge fish tank, trees, and stars.

These experience-based restaurants survive, not on the quality of their product, but on the quality of their experience. It allows them to charge more. It causes people to line up at their doors, at least until they've had the experience for a time or two.

Retail Experiences
Retailers are becoming experience-based. Experiences has always been a part of retail, such as the way a mall decorates for Christmas. Nordstrom's uses a piano player in the middle of the store to enhance the experience of shopping there. Sporting goods stores like Just For Feet and Oshman's Supersports have one or more of the following: basketball courts, putting greens, indoor driving ranges, and tennis backboards.

Other sports and shoes stores have taken a different tact. Larry's Shoes displays shoes worn by famous athletes and celebrities. In some stores, the bouncing of a basketball and other sports sounds travel across the sports section from one side to the other, projected by speakers hidden behind the ceiling and walls. All Larry's include a cappuccino bar, free for shoppers.

Bass Pro Shops set up fishing tanks stocked with catfish. They have an indoor shooting range. There's a waterfall into a huge fish tank, stocked with sports fish.

Enhancing The Service Experience
Creating an experience for a service company in the customer's home is a little more problematic than creating one at a fixed location. Nevertheless, you can enhance the experience people receive when they call you.

Some air conditioning contractors make a real show out of a quoting equipment replacement. They arrive with an infiltrometer, or blower door, which fits into an external door and uses a fan to pressurize the house so that the contractor can identify and measure air infiltration into the home. They use flow hoods, which are large fabric tent like, funnel shaped devices that fit over a supply air register and use electronics to measure air flow and velocity, allowing for the fine tuning of a duct system (i.e., adjusting the air flow so that every room is the same temperature). They carry infrared thermometers, which resemble science fiction ray guns and allow them to calculate the R-value of the wall and ceiling insulation at a distance.

All of these tools have a purpose. Yet, the cumulative effect is a razzle dazzle, high tech experience that leads to more sales at a higher gross margin. It's a notable departure from "Bubba," in need of a shower and a clean tee shirt, scratching a figure on the back of a worn business card. How can you enhance the experience of your service?

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.