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Selling Experiences

Does your club tap into the value of members’ experiences?  Engaging with the experience economy is the fastest-growing method of marketing services, and it will shape the futures of many clubs.

American Express now promotes hard-to-get tickets for special shows and performances. Red Bull promotes a super-terrestrial “Stratos Jump” to call attention to a life lived “on the edge”. Lean Cuisine promotes its “#WeighThis” campaign by asking potential customers to describe what they really wanted to weigh – as in, what really matters to you?

In the modern world, experiences are proving to be more engaging and inspiring than the long-standing product-features-and-benefits approach to marketing.

In their 1999 book, The Experience Economy, B. Joseph Pine II and James Gilmore offered an early glimpse of a then-current trend emerging… the swelling value of “experiences” over commoditized goods and services. Pine and Gilmore argued that people will place higher value on an experience than a simple transactional relationship.

Now, two decades hence, the experience economy is in full bloom, pushing top-performing clubs to create memorable “experiences” for their members. The memory itself becomes the product, and in private clubs today, members relish an unforgettable experience far more than a bargain.

What is the difference between an “experience” and a normal day at the club?

The term “Experience Economy” was first used in a 1998 article by Pine and Gilmore, describing it as the next economy following the agrarian economy, the industrial economy, and most recently, the service economy. The Experience Economy, as Pine and Gilmore described it, builds on concept that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

For affluent and accomplished people able to join a private club of almost any description, it is memorable experiences that deliver value to their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

“Experiences” in this context are pre-planned activities and events that are packed full of emotional, memorable, shareable impressions that are difficult for the uninitiated to duplicate. In their earliest uses in private clubs, these events were typically staged around dining and drinking entertainment events. Now, the sky is literally the limit in some clubs.

Experiential value is greater than fair-market value.

Pine gave the example of a birthday cake made faithfully each year by his mother who took her hard-earned cash to the grocery store for the eggs, sugar, flour and other cake ingredients. “Happy Birthday Joey” the cake declared, at an all-in cost of less than $2. However, when Joe’s mother eventually began to work outside of the home, she purchased cakes each year from the bakery for as much as $10.

Pine then fast-forwarded to another example from his own generation of parenting, during which he took his daughter and several of her friends to the American Girl store to buy dolls for each of the girls with all of the American Girl accoutrements – books, extra outfits, and a pre-packaged birthday party – all for roughly $300 per child. This experience prompted Pine’s question, “Do you want to be in the grocery business or the American Girl business?”

Club leaders face the same choice of selling either the parts of a happy event or the sum of the parts at a substantially higher amount.

What are examples of successful “experiences” in private clubs?

Clubs within clubs are often the basis for experiential opportunities in private clubs. The golfers schedule golf trips to Scotland, Ireland, and beyond. The wine club organizes travel to Napa, Sonoma, or the Finger Lakes region. Artistic members enjoy road-trips to Broadway, Hollywood and the touring shows across the country. Spirits and cigars are another point of interest for many club members.

Most clubs and club managers have introduced such programs already and wonder “what is next?” The next generation of interesting club experiences will come at the edges – both generationally and by interest segment. Following are three experiences to add new enthusiasm for your club:

Out of the mouths of babes – Most clubs offer decorating parties for children of the club by providing the necessary ingredients, like the gingerbread house and candies to adorn it. Using a simple handheld iPhone, clubs can record each child describing his or her gingerbread house and explaining why grandmothers and grandfathers will like certain parts of their festive creation.

Think bigger! Most clubs host parties and activities punctuated by music and a live band. Few clubs book cover bands “featuring” the Beatles, Rolling Stones, or the Beach Boys. Normally the bands are more expensive and – in most cases – worth it. Make the events at the club memorable.

The key is to book music that originated in the college-age years of the club’s members. So, if the average age of the club members is 60 deduct 20 years (to account for their average college age) and book music from 40 years ago. That means late ‘70s and early ‘80s is the music that will bring smiles to your members. Music makes most people happy and their happy music even more so.

Lifelong Learning – The value of new and interesting experiences is substantial among affluent and accomplished people who, generally speaking, make up most club members. Such people have the time and opportunity to learn throughout their lives, and private clubs can become a source of such learning experiences.

As aging Baby Boomers across the globe confront the trials of mental health, there is growing emphasis placed upon keeping one’s mind active, fit, and fresh. Private clubs are ideal settings to provide new opportunities for learning new lessons – whether a new language, a musical instrument, or the cultural history of a foreign land.


Pine and Gilmore were correct that the total value of an experience is far greater than its parts. The value of the experience economy is immense in private clubs, and so is the opportunity for those who have not yet engaged with it. There are plenty of options and alternatives that have already been proven in other clubs. The greatest success, however, will be found in innovative new ideas and unforgettable experiences.

This article was penned by GGA Principal and Partner Henry DeLozier

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