Experience Stacks: Top Gun, Star Trek, Spider-Man
What are Experience Stacks? And why is it important for businesses and customers for a wide range of industries to understand them?
By Brad Berens
Many companies refer to their selection and arrangement of software and hardware as a “Tech Stack” that focuses on the creation, management, production, and tracking of business activities.
On the reception side, we can think of the activities that people do over time with and around the things companies make and sell as an Experience Stack.
“Over time” are two important words in that last sentence because Experience Stacks sit between Customer Experience and Brand.
Customer Experience is about in-the-moment usability with a focus on whether or not the customer buys something. Brand is about a synthesis of the rational and non-rational reflexes a user or customer gradually builds up about a product or service. Brands exists to save people from having to think.
In contrast, Experience Stacks organize and connect different moments of thinking. Although synthesis occurs over time, the individual moments stay active in a thinker’s memory. Different thinkers have different, although overlapping, Experience Stacks around the same products.
An easy way to see this is to compare different people’s different stacks around entertainment, although Experience Stacks are important to all sorts of products and services.
Viewers of this year’s Top Gun: Maverick who had seen the original Top Gun in theaters in 1986, or at home in the intervening decades, had a slightly different experience than viewers who hadn’t seen the original. I say “slightly” because the movie does an outstanding job of educating new viewers about what bits from the old movie are significant to the characters in the new one. Top Gun: Maverick was a terrific, pulse-pounding action movie without a single moment of emotional surprise, so the Experience Stacks of new and experienced viewers were similar.
The season finale of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was understandable if a viewer had only seen all 10 episodes, but it was more enjoyable if the viewer had seen the first two seasons of Star Trek: Discovery. For longtime fans of Star Trek, the Strange New Worlds finale was a complex revision of and allusion to a 1966 episode called Balance of Terror.
Experience Stacks are useful tools for all sorts of businesses because they allow business people to think about the differences among their customers in terms of internal characteristics (the different moments of thinking) rather than external ones like gender, age, race, sexual orientation, geography, and politics. Instead of focusing on who I am before I start interacting with a product or service, Experience Stacks focus on who I become while I’m interacting with a product or service.
In contrast (and massive spoiler alert warning), although new viewers could enjoy Spider-Man: No Way Home, the Experience Stack of longtime Spider-Man movie fans was both qualitatively and quantitatively different because No Way Home…
- Immediately followed the final moments of Spider Man: Far From Home (2019);
- Was part of the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and refers to the five other MCU movies where Tom Holland (the current actor playing Spidey) has appeared;
- Included Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, which also set up Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness that came out a few months later;
- Brought two of the previous movie Spider-Men, Tobey Maguire (three movies in the 2000s) and Andrew Garfield (two movies in the 2010s), back to the role alongside Tom Holland;
- Featured the villains from all the previous movies, played by the same actors (Willem Dafoe, Jamie Foxx, Alfred Molina, and more); and…
- There was even a reference to the 1960s cartoon version in the final end credits.
Plus, Spider-Man has existed across other live action and cartoon adaptations, a Broadway musical, many thousands of comics, plus novels, fan fic, even rock and roll albums like this treasure from my youth that is now (shockingly, delightfully) available on Spotify! (I had no idea when I first heard it that the track “Gwendolyn” was imitating Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, which is now yet another part of my Experience Stack.)
To the right is a simplified illustration of the Experience Stack just for the movies featuring Spider-Man from 2000 to the present, starting with the first Tobey Maguire movie (2002) and ending with this year’s No Way Home:
The single box on the left is the Experience Stack for the new viewer who comes to No Way Home with zero prior experience of Spider-Man in the MCU.
If you add all 11 boxes together, that describes the Experience Stack of a Spider-Man movie fan… although it ignores 23 other MCU movies as well as the many TV series in the MCU across different channels and streaming services.*
The graphic is not just simplified because of all the Spidey stuff it leaves out. Experience Stacks are multidimensional in other ways. A viewer who is a fan of Andrew Garfield might have a stack that includes the film adaptation of Tick, Tick… Boom! (Garfield was the lead) that came out a month before No Way Home.
Although I’ve been talking about movies and television, Experience Stacks are useful tools for all sorts of businesses because they allow business people to think about the differences among their customers in terms of internal characteristics (the different moments of thinking) rather than external ones like gender, age, race, sexual orientation, geography, politics, etc.
Instead of focusing on who I am before I start interacting with a product or service, Experience Stacks focus on who I become while I’m interacting with a product or service.
Surprisingly, one of the all-time greatest business people to work with Experience Stacks was William Shakespeare, which is the topic of the book I’ve been working on over the past few months.
Next time: How the Facebook Experience Stack is different than the Experience Stacks around movies and television.
* For my uber nerd readers: yes, I know Tom Holland also had an uncredited cameo in the second Venom movie and voiced Spidey in video games.
Brad Berens is the Center’s strategic advisor and a senior research fellow. He is principal at Big Digital Idea Consulting. You can learn more about Brad at www.bradberens.com, follow him on Twitter, and subscribe to his weekly newsletter (only some of his columns are syndicated here).
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August 5, 2022