Staging an Experience: Orchestrating Memories from Pine and Gilmore

Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore published Welcome to the Experience Economy for the Harvard Business Review in July of 1998 followed by the book, The Experience Economy: Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage, in April of 1999 with an updated edition in 2011. Pine and Gilmore provide us with the first description of the new economy that we are in today, the Experience Economy, as the natural evolution to follow the agrarian economy, the industrial economy, and the recent service economy.

Pine and Gilmore outline how leading organizations orchestrate memorable events for their customers, and that memory itself becomes the product – the “experience”. More advanced experience organizations (Experience Makers is what we called them in The Customer Experience Revolution) charge for the value of the “transformation” that an experience offers.

One of the key takeaways from The Experience Economy is events – interactions with products, services, and environments – orchestrate memorable experiences for participants. Experience Makers build their business around this to ensure that their customers have the best possible memory of their brand. Apple, Amazon, Disney, and BMW are some of the top experience brands.

The best Experience Makers know that great experiences can change people’s lives and revolutionize marketplaces. At the highest level, transformations make a permanent beneficial change to a person. Whilst experiences are memorable and are sustained for a time, transformations are inspirational and are sustained through time.

Staging experiences are not about entertainment but engagement. According to Pine and Gilmore there are four “realms” to an experience – Entertainment, Education, Escapist, and Aesthetic. These four realms fall on two continuum – passive to active and absorption to immersion:


The Experience Realms

  • Entertainment is passively absorbed through the senses
  • Education is active participation
  • Escapist is participation in an immersive environment
  • Aesthetic – individuals immerse themselves but remain passive

Theme the Experience – Scripting a Participant’s Story

Another key takeaway for staging an experience is determining, developing and delivering on the theme. You do this by scripting the participant’s story. Creating a map of their journey and understanding the impressions that are created along the way.

Pine and Gilmore share with us five principles of developing a theme:

    1. Alter the participants sense of reality
    2. Space, time, and matter
    3. Cohesive, realistic whole
    4. Create multiple interactions within an interaction
    5. Fit the character of the interaction

Impressions, Cues, and Memorabilia

Make a list of impressions you wish your participants to take away. Think about different themes and story lines that will bring the impressions together in one cohesive narrative. Winnow down the impressions to a manageable number – only and exactly those which truly denote cogent theme. Pine and Gilmore suggest that there are six dimensions of an overall impression:

    • Time
    • Space
    • Technology
    • Authenticity
    • Sophistication
    • Scale

Focus on the animate and inanimate cues that could connote each impression. Cues trigger impressions that fulfill the theme in the participant’s mind. Follow the simple guidelines of accentuating the positive and eliminating the negative – anything that distracts from the theme. Map out the affect of each cue will have on the five senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, smell – the more senses engage, the more memorable but do not overwhelm.

Add memorabilia – tangible artifacts of the experiences – extending the experience beyond the event.

We owe Pine and Gilmore a great deal for sharing with us the road map to staging great experience and transforming peoples lives and revolution marketplaces for the better.