Are you experienced? Lessons in customer experience from Jimi Hendrix

by Mark Jones

It’s a rock cliche, but Are You Experienced? When the The Jimi Hendrix Experience released this iconic album in 1967, the response was electric, if you’ll permit the pun.

It fast became soundtrack of a generation as San Francisco’s famous Summer of Love bloomed that year – a melting pot of hippies, flower children, Vietnam War protesters and a rainbow of illicit substances.

Fast forward 50 years and the city is celebrating the anniversary of that famous summer. Ironically, modern San Francisco is the playground of wealthy entrepreneurs, VC money, startups and capitalism. I’m visiting as I write this, and I can testify that it couldn’t be further from its hippie roots. And no, carefully cultivated beards don’t count.

However, there is one thing that hasn’t changed. Experience is everything now, just as it was then. Customer experience, that is.

Follow me for a moment – Hendrix probably understood customer experience better than any marketer today. He got his “customers” at a deep level because he was one of them.  

Here’s Hendrix in Rolling Stone:

Are You Experienced was one of the most direct records we’ve done,” he told Hit Parader magazine in January 1969. “What it was saying was, ‘Let us through the wall, man, we want you to dig it.'”

People dug it all right. According to Rolling Stone, the album enjoyed 106 weeks on the Billboard 200 and sold more than 5 million copies in the U.S. alone.

But what about “getting through the wall”? It’s an odd phrase, but the Hendrix vibe was all about feeling emotions, elevating dreams, and expressing your inner creative weirdness without apology. Jimi Hendrix was all about honesty, love and just a touch of crazy.

The thing is, this kind of “experience” was shared. He wasn’t a manufactured pop star, tweeting, posting to Insta and Snapchat to build his followers. He made a record about life, take it or leave it. And people soaked it up.

Hendrix worked in part because the “supplier was a customer”. He could ask about your experience, because well, he had plenty.

Transplant that directly into the marketing world and there’s something really interesting going on.

Marketers are forever obsessed with leads and sales. We think about the demand side of customer experience, and not the post-sale world. Few marketing conversations focus on repeat business, customer service, and the ongoing customer experience.

Truth be told, we’re not really experienced when it comes to experience.

Signs are pointing to a future in which marketers will no longer be able to avoid experience.

Journalist and author, Doc Searls, told an audience of marketers at MarTech in San Francisco that he believed the world of “customer tech” was upon us.

In simple terms, he described a future where a yet-to-be-built online service will let consumers anonymously advertise to the marketplace. Think of it as the “want to buy” ads you see on eBay or Craigslist on a global scale.  

A comparison point might be Creative Commons, where people – not companies – can assert copyright, he told me at the show.

I think the idea has merit, because in a world of adblocking, streaming, ad-skipping, and avoidance we’re going to need to change the way we think.

The current advertising mindset, and by default experience mindset, seeks to use adtech, martech, and various types of analytics to understand what will give our customers the best experience possible. Wrapped up in that are all sorts of privacy issues and trickery that’s given rise to creative cartoons like this one.

Marketing Funnel

The next question becomes how do we get there? What will this customer tech solution look like? And what kind of financial incentives exist to make it happen?

In Searls’s view, it will use APIs to help consumers seamlessly connect to brands on the internet. And it will likely be built by a university, presumably because that’s where you’ll find innovators passionate about personal liberty and free from direct commercial interest.

Clearly we’ve got some way to go, but like all things in the world of tech innovation, it takes much less time that you think.

The point is this – if we’re truly serious about customer experience, we need to embrace everything that’s on offer. Integrate your martech and adtech stacks, dream about delivering delightful customer experiences, use emotional storytelling to move hearts and minds, and take away the barriers in your brand’s path to purchase.

And then when you’re done, step back and ask yourself if you’ve really put yourself in your customer’s flower-power, hippie shoes. Do you “get” them? Are you experienced?

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