Beyond Experience: Culture, Consumer and Brand

Sharon V. Thach (College of Business, Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN, United States of America)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 2 August 2011




Thach, S.V. (2011), "Beyond Experience: Culture, Consumer and Brand", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 385-386.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Two essays are contained in this publication, which essentially sketches the vision and assumptions underlying the Arts and Business foundation. The first is “Using art to render authenticity in business” by James Gilmore and Joseph Pine, and the other is “The transformation economy” by Tina Mermiri. The two are linked articles and share an extensive set of tables, which summarize and organize the points made in both articles.

Per their web site, the purpose of the organization is as follows:

Arts & Business sparks new partnerships between commerce and culture. We connect companies and individuals to cultural organizations and provide the expertise and insight for them to prosper together.

The first essay sets forth a view of the role of arts in business and the role it can play in assisting consumers to achieve their desires. The basic argument is that art is not just useful to business in terms of design (products, ads, etc) but also in the ability to use its capital to provide creative insight in solving business problems, particularly those affecting users of business services and goods. Consumers are, to the authors, interested not merely in functionality, but are also hungering for authenticity and meaning through their purchases. It is in this area that the arts can play a significant role.

The authors have used graphic design principles to make it easy for the reader to identify the key points, refer back to them, and have a thought‐provoking summary set of charts, which suggest some possible actions. Liberal use of examples of well‐known products is used to illustrate each concept.

The first part of the first essay summarizes and extends the authors' ideas on the subject of consumer quests for authenticity. “In a world increasingly filed with deliberately and sensationally staged experiences, consumers choose to buy or not buy based on how real they perceive an offering to be” (p. 12). This then leads to their starting point for this essay: “…the management of the customer perception of authenticity becomes the primary new source of competitive advantage – the new business imperative” (p. 13).

From there, the authors move on to a set of interacting taxonomies: customer desires, management imperatives, and art's roles in business. The four basic roles of art are: as an object, as a cause, as an organizing principle, as a business in itself. Whether any of these “work” is dependent on the extent to which one of the five types of authenticity are involved:

  1. 1.

    Natural (as in connected to nature, e.g. organic foods).

  2. 2.

    Original (innovative or one of a kind, e.g. Apple iPods).

  3. 3.

    Exceptional (unusually well‐done or individualized, e.g. Harley‐Davidson police motors).

  4. 4.

    Referential (iconic cultural features, e.g. Japanese tea ceremony).

  5. 5.

    Influential (providing a connection to a higher purpose, e.g. conflict‐free diamonds).

How can art help people and businesses connect to these forms of authenticity in a satisfying way? “The perception of authenticity does not flow automatically from the mere placement of the art” (p. 29). For many of those engaged in art, this seems to imply a certain degree of “selling out,” but the authors argue that “selling out really does not stem from the act of selling itself but rather from how one goes about it and whether or not it changes the nature of the art” (p. 33).

The remainder of the essay consists of examples of ways in which this vision can be realized by using art as an organizing principle for the conception of the offerings and the customers desired. They used extended examples such as The Geek Squad for fully realized referential authenticity and Viking Culinary Centers as customer‐centered influential authenticity.

What follows in the Appendix may be the most useful section of the text: a series of thought‐provoking questions organized by types of authenticity. It is a creative exercise for the reader, but it also makes this a possible assigned reading for seminar courses in marketing or service courses in marketing for people in the arts.

The second essay, “The transformation economy,” takes off from the previous one to consider the effect of such approaches to product development and examines both the consumer desire and the impact of delivery of their desires. Noting that consumers face complex markets and offerings, they have chosen to use lifestyle, niches, and brand affiliation as ways of navigating the markets and defining themselves. “Consumers will therefore choose a product or service not according to how closely it matches their likes and interests (product preference), but also on the basis of how it transform them, their lives or their ways of thinking (political, social and moral inclinations)” p. 61,

The next section looks at the types of groups that exist and how the intersection of consumers, products, and the arts can successfully provide the desired experience. The premise is that the democratization of culture, the logic of consumers as the central focus of product development, and the desire for relationships based on shared values lead to a promising interaction, which will be advantageous for all three parties.

The final section contemplates the “transformative economy,” that is, one in which consumers both accept and supply meaning through creative engagement with the producers. The result is a hierarchy of consumer needs – the most successful offerings will include all five elements: availability, cost, quality, authenticity, and meaning. Extended examples show the possibilities – from low to high transformation. The more engaging the product and the more that a consumer cannot only experience it or acquire it, the more transformative the product and the longer lasting the relationship.

Finally, the author returns to the question of the role of the arts and the interaction with business. First, she notes that “the consumption of culture in any capacity is experiential” (p. 88) and that what the consumer gets depends on motivation. That interaction of the individual, the object, and the motivation context will lead smart businesses to assess and use these motivation segments to design the product experience. Further, they will be brought to recognize that the inauthentic use of art, rather than serious investment in art, will be counter‐productive. She follows with several extended case studies that could form the basis for grass roots participation and workshops. The final section is a lengthy set of tables that summarize the main points and their case study extensions.

This is an interesting monograph. It could be used in regular courses, executive education, and general professional preparation. It does not provide a cookbook but is rather intended to provide a framework for thinking about approaches to consumers and the role of creativity in new products or the redesign of old ones.

Related articles