Bear Experiences vs. Bare Products

Point: Innovate the experience, not just the product ckprahaladwif

Story: At the World Innovation Forum today, C. K Prahalad asked the audience about their experiences with “Build-a-Bear” — an e-commerce company that lets kids of all ages design their very own Teddy Bear. Audience members reported spending as much as $200 in choosing the look of the bear, the amount of stuffing in the bear, adding a custom sound to the bear, getting the bear’s birth certificate, buying clothing for the bear, and buying accessories and siblings for the bear. This culminates in making “The Bear Promise” to care for this personalized stuffed animal. Discussing the depth of the experience and the simplicity of the physical product revealed that the bear embodies both negligible product costs and priceless customer experiences.

One of the “trick questions” for job interviews is to ask the candidate, “How would you redesign a Teddy Bear?” This example shows that the design of the bear may not change much, but the design of the experience of buying the bear may be where the real opportunities are. In fact, Build-a-Bear is more about the customer redesigning the Teddy Bear than it is about the company redesigning the Teddy Bear. Therefore, C. K Prahalad recommended that companies think more about experience innovation to complement and enhance product innovation.

The Build-a-Bear phenomenon is not unique to toys. Other companies provide experience-intensive products. These include Medtronic’s pacemaker (the device is augmented with remote monitoring, health records coordination, and provider networking services), Bridgestone Tires (by-the-mile fleet usage pricing with value-added vehicle usage services), Nike’s iPod-connected shoes (shoe sensor feedback that drives work-out feedback and performance). The point is to think about the value chain of the experience, rather than the value of chain of the product.


  • Seek to solidify customer relationships through well-designed experiences
  • Innovate to improve the value of the experience, not just the performance/cost of the product
  • Leverage customer innovation through co-creating experiences and products
  • Create an ecosystem of collaborators to support the experience

3 Comments »Innovation, Strategy

3 Responses to “Bear Experiences vs. Bare Products”

  1. lawrence berezin May 6th 2009 at 09:55 am 1


    Excellent post. I am going to apply the theme of your post to my business and see how I can improve our customer experience. It reminds me of why I returned to “Best Buy”. I stopped shopping at the store because my time there was not enjoyable.

    The sales people were uninformed and uncaring. Prices were far from a “best buy”. No real help with techie kinds of questions.

    I tried Best Buy again about 10 months ago. Amazing transformation. Someone always says hello when you walk in the store. Sales people in computer department are young techies. Nice as can be and very knowledgeable. They have an Apple department and offer great customer service.

    Thank you for your very valuable insight about focusing on “the value chain of customer experience.” It makes a difference!

  2. Rosemary Carstens May 6th 2009 at 06:37 pm 2

    Of course, this is why social media is such an enormous success! It provides an EXPERIENCE, an inclusive experience where everyone’s opinions are welcome. It’s not just a passive reading of someone else’s experience. How often have we all watched the news, listened to a segment on the radio, or read a newspaper article–and had a conversation out loud with that person we perceive to be on the other end. To be a PART of what goes into a product, a conversation, an experience rather than feeling like an invisible cog brings something to a customer that will keep her coming back for more!

  3. Andrea Meyer May 9th 2009 at 09:31 am 3

    Thank you for your comments, Larry & Rosemary. I’m so glad to hear, Larry, that you’ll be applying the ideas to your business. It’ll be fascinating to hear more the ways you enhance the customer experience – keep us posted!

    Rosemary, to add to your point about social media adding to the customer experience: at the recent World Innovation Forum, the conference sponsors arranged for live-blogging and live-tweeting of the event. The results, according to the organizer, made “the World Innovation Forum the best ever.” People worldwide were able to follow the conference in near real time and interact with each other and with the tweeters & bloggers live. The participation personalized the conference while enabling a joint shared experience. As you say, “To be a PART of what goes into a product, a conversation, an experience rather than feeling like an invisible cog brings something to a customer that will keep her coming back for more!”