Use Tradition and Ritual to Thrive In the Experience Economy

Smart design and new technology fuse to deliver what customers really want: a connection that resonates with the power of memory.

learn more about Allen Han

By Allen Han

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I spent most of my childhood in Taiwan learning the ancient art of the Chinese tea ritual from my grandparents. I visited different tea farms during the summer with my grandfather and searched local tea houses and shops for the perfect blend. These shared experiences became both a cherished staple of my childhood and a way for me to connect with my roots and family, even though we're now nations apart.

Today, I live a constant hustle and bustle within the always-on, 24/7 Silicon Valley lifestyle. My morning tea ritual is my escape. It transports me back to those early days in Taiwan with my family. My favorite Taiwanese-imported tea leaves put me in the fields of Pinling, and the infusion process lulls me into a zenlike moment of serenity.

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Performing this ritual in the hub of technology innovation is a personal reminder of the value shift our business has seen in "experience delivery" over the past few years. More than three-quarters of millennials report they would choose to spend money on a desirable experience rather than buy something desirable. It's important for entrepreneurs and companies to dedicate thought and time to delivering products that both meet a need and nourish the soul.

The growing 'experience economy.'

Experiences can be hard to commoditize -- though not impossible. In fact, many technology companies and products are capitalizing on the growing "experience economy."

  • The Airbnb platform serves as a portal for users to conveniently (and often inexpensively) book travel accommodations, getting them one step closer to their vacation goals.
  • Through virtual reality, adventurers who can't afford to travel can experience the wonders of exotic places from the comfort of their couches.
  • Soothe aims to deliver a spa-like experience to users' living rooms.
  • Blue Apron turns subscribers into master chefs.

Each of these businesses enables people to choose experiences over things. In the process, they're connecting better with their customers.

Related: Tell Your Startup's Story and Captivate Your Audience. Here's How.

Transforming an everyday commodity.

I ingrained this experienced-focused ideal in my own company, Teforia. Our intelligent tea infuser brings the ancient Chinese tea ceremony to our customers' kitchens. We know it can be a struggle to get customers to view a brand's products or services as "need-to-have" rather than "want-to-have" items.

The service economy faced a similar hurdle after the industrial revolution. Starbucks and other companies took an everyday commodity -- coffee -- and packaged it into a totally new experience. They transformed it into a beloved ritual. As Starbucks generated customer excitement, the business turned its stores into meeting grounds for students, professionals, parents and others. It used a commodity to connect people.

Related: Starbucks Unleashes the Unicorn Frappuccino

Transporting customers.

So how can companies provide customers with an immersive experience that transports them beyond their daily lives?

Leverage nostalgia. Including traditions, rituals or even personal anecdotes can conjure treasured memories and create a place of comfort or desire for consumers. Companies also can offer an escape from everyday scheduling or structure. Airbnb incorporates both of these strategies very well. It not only provides a service that gives users a break from the norm but also can introduce customers to new cultures, traditions and memories through travel and exploration.

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Prioritize education. The Blue Aprons of the world offer more than a simple meal delivery service. They provide subscribers with both the tools needed to learn a new skill and a solid education in how to master that skill. This results in an overall positive experience, often shared with loved ones.

Demystify and leverage technology. We know that people are willing to embrace technology to bring worthwhile experiences to life. Sixty-nine percent of Americans say having the latest technology is "totally necessary" to their lives. Still, companies must make new tech less intimidating for the average consumer. This enhances customer impressions and leads them to associate the brand with a positive experience. Successful entrepreneurs will ensure their products are well-designed, aesthetically pleasing, easy-to-use and intelligent. That memorable, sensation-rich experience must come at just the touch of a button.

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Allen Han

CEO of Teforia

Allen Han, CEO and founder of Teforia has a track record of delivering experience-centric product innovations that translate into business successes. He has worked for Nokia, Amazon, and Microsoft, won multiple RedDot, IDEA and Good Design awards, and holds more than 30 international and U.S. patents. Fluent in English and Mandarin Chinese, Han is passionate about perfecting that one perfect cup of tea every time. Teforia is based in Mountain View, Calif.

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