"We always take care with our employees that our customers have the opportunity to create their own experiences, that they get that feeling… If someone doesn’t get the snowmobile started, I don’t go immediately to help that person. I just let the customer try, to experience it though it would be a small thing.”
Nowadays – and especially in the tourism industry – the role and
meaning of producers (e.g. activity service provider) and consumers
(e.g. tourists) seem to be more intertwined than ever before. They tend
to switch places or to merge into a single role. Alongside consumers’
(and producers’) individual needs, there has been an increased
necessity for experiencing a sense of community. To which degree can the
idea of switching producer and consumer roles and the need for a sense
of community among customers be used in product development?
The boundaries between consumer and producer roles have disappeared: Ski shoe dancing in fell resorts
The prevailing idea in the tourism industry that producers and consumers are two different actors is not working. For example, in the legendary ski shoe dancing taking place in the fell resorts of Lapland, dancers have from the very beginning been creators of the experience.
Although the band and restaurant employees make dancing possible, customers are not just passive bystanders. They are active producers of the situation, experience and atmosphere. They ask each other to dance, watch others dancing and learn to dance, ask the band for songs and so they spend the evening and create the experience together.
Another example of the dissipation of boundaries between producers and consumers is Upitrek – a nature-based tourism company specialized in unmotorised activities.
On the treks organised by Upitrek, customers want to be active producers rather than passive consumers. Customers actually pay for implementing the programme.
Not only the brain but also the body of customers plays a key role in creating the experience. Customers search for firewood and light the fire. They do the dishes, set the table and make coffee. They use the snow plough and heat the sauna. They get water from the lake and clean the cabin before departure. Sometimes they are simple guests and sometimes they play the host.
On the treks organised by Upitrek the guide is not in charge of producing the programme. Rather the guide is responsible for providing the framework, within which the programme is co-produced. Hence, each Upitrek’s tour is unique, since the co-producers of the programme continuously change.
Local communities and employees as source of competitive advantage: Restaurant Pihvikeisari and experience restaurant Sarakka
Products that are strongly attached to local culture and community cannot be replicated as such somewhere else. Locality, local features and people can be a source of differentiation. A healthy working environment where a sense of community prevails and employees feel appreciated can have a positive impact on profitability and competitiveness.
Restaurant Pihvikeisari and experience restaurant Sarakka, which are situated in Ylläs in the Finnish province of Lapland, are owned by a business couple who has learned to live in harmony with their operating environment. As entrepreneurs, they have challenged the seasonal nature of the tourism industry by focusing on á la carte restaurant services during the high winter season and on the processing of berries and other natural products during the low summer season.
This business couple, not originally from Lapland, has understood very well the amenities of this Finnish region and they want to use that understanding to offer their customers meaningful Lappish experiences. Local nature and culture are an intrinsic part of their business, forming a harmonious entity. This can be seen in the decoration of the restaurant, menu design, the ingredients, the preparation techniques and in how partnerships are built up.
The values of the company are also reflected in how the entrepreneur couple recruits, trains and takes care of their employees’ well-being. All seem to form one large family together. Most employees are locals who have got the opportunity to settle down in their hometown. Sick leaves are rare and, for example, herbal medication is part of employment benefits.
What is this about?
Customers, competitors and other stakeholders, that are relevant for product developers, create meanings and form production and consumption habits together. These cultural habits and the market cultures they help to (re)produce are not “locked”, but always open to new actors and influences.
The boundaries between producers (e.g. an activity programme company) and consumers (e.g. tourists) are disappearing. Their roles and meanings are intertwined, making it easier to switch places and merge even into one single role. As a consequence of the role played by technology, multiculturalism, media, ecology, stories and experiences in our global society, consumers have become co-creators. Today’s products are co-created and situation specific.
Whereas this perspective highlights business relationships and consumers’ individual needs, it also draws attention to consumers’ need to belong to certain communities. As operating environments are filled by different communities, their features and practices, it becomes important for the product developer to work on products that offer just a means for constructing those communities. This is a particular challenge in product development: How do product developers learn to perceive the marketplace holistically and to develop products together with different stakeholders?
Open the product developer’s workbook (link on the right). It will help you to apply the content of this page to your own case.