We’re All in Show Business

If businesses are stages for customer experiences, we’re all in show business and better become good at it.

T.J. Berry
Feb 22, 2019 · 7 min read
The first rule of show business: Know your audience. (Image credit: Netflix)

This Sunday, the 91st Academy Awards ceremony will celebrate the best films of 2018 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. But that won’t be the only stage honoring the great contributions of cinema. Much of the work in digital innovation stands on the shoulders of great storytellers that came before us.

A century after Hollywood became the face of American cinema, show business has found new life through connected mobile devices. Customers have all been armed with cinematic ways of seeing the world. And they all see themselves as the heroes of their own epic adventures. With access to more information than ever before, they have the power to shape their own narrative with the products and services they pull into their lives.

While many companies have followed the long-held belief that the customer is always right, this rule of thumb no longer goes far enough. The new power of customers means they can demand to have transforming experiences that enhance and fulfill their fantasy lifestyles.

Welcome to the Cinema of Customer Experience.

In theory, you may not be persuaded that taking a wide “show business” view of your business is a sound strategy. But contrast the customer experience of Peloton versus a traditional brand in the home fitness space and consider where you’d put your money.

Those who don’t transform will go the way of Kodak.

Roger Ebert once observed,

“The movies are like a machine that generates empathy. It lets you understand a little bit more about different hopes, aspirations, dreams, and fears. It helps us to identify with the people who are sharing this journey with us.”

The same should be said about your business. The only sustainable competitive advantage is to gain an empathic understanding of your customers’ realities and to stage an epic transformation that fulfills their dreams of what they hope to become.

There are a number of questions a business must answer to get this right. I’ve placed these questions in three acts…


Act I: Understanding the Reality

Who is your hero?

What is the treasure he seeks?

What is the obstacle he must overcome?

The second rule of show business: You’ve got to get out of the building to know your audience.

Act II: Staging the Transformation

What is the story arc?

How does the experience build emotional momentum?

How does the experience climax for the hero?

Act III: Fulfilling the Fantasy

How will the experience be implemented?

How will the change be sustained over time?

What’s the sequel?

The third rule of show business: There are no other rules. (Image credit: Peloton)

And the award for staging an epic digital transformation goes to… Peloton.

“We’re becoming a media company akin to Netflix.”

First, Peloton understood the reality that it’s becoming harder and harder for parents with young children to go to the gym. They understood many of these parents want access to fantastic instructor-led boutique fitness classes, because they provide inspiration, guidance, and community. But in an “always on” work culture, when both partners are living busier and busier lives, they need to work out on their time and on their schedules from the best seat in the house. Peloton set out to fulfill customer fantasies of becoming more unstoppable, by eliminating the obstacles that prevent busy people from working out at home.

Second, Peloton staged an experience that moves people. Daily workouts provide guidance, ritual, identification, community, reflection, spirituality, ceremony, and music — which progressively moves their members from a state of feeling overwhelmed by daily setbacks to a state of feeling more unstoppable through daily wins. It’s a total body transformation.

Third, Peloton implements the experience through a unique, vertically integrated business. They control the hardware, software, content, retail, and logistics unlike other companies in the fitness industry. An engaged community of riders, led by celebrity fitness instructors, enable customers to feel like they are part of something greater than themselves. As a sequel, they’ve extended the brand to other workouts beyond cycling to include running, bootcamp, outdoor, and strength.


If businesses are stages for customer experiences, we’re all in show business and better become good at it. Our task, in the Cinema of Customer Experience, is to become less like Kodak and more like Netflix. In the end, your business will be better if you focus on fulfilling the customer’s fantasy first. It’s the perfect blend of truth and spectacle.

T.J. Berry has blended a career in digital innovation by combining years of original content development and production at HBO in Los Angeles with product strategy and business design for leading companies in Silicon Valley. He holds a master’s from Carnegie Mellon University and a bachelor’s from The University of Texas at Austin and enjoys innovating at intersections of technology, media, business, and design at Handsome in Austin, TX.

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