Separating ‘generic’ and ‘expected’ from ‘augmented’

A great overview from Neill Archer Roan [link now broken] explores an essential marketing and audience experience model for arts and cultural managers. The model, originated by Theodore Levitt back in 1980, suggests why so many marketing and experience efforts in the arts fall flat: because they never rise above the generic expectations of the audience.

Generic, Expected, Augmented

cc Flickr Nina Matthews

In a nutshell, Levitt’s model suggests that all elements of a product, service, or experience fall into three value categories for consumers: generic, expected, and augmented. Generic elements are things every such product or service would offer (ie, you would expect every grocery store to have food for sale). Expected elements are those things beyond the generic, but still expected from a quality provider (you would expect a good grocery store to be clean, well-stocked, and well-staffed). Augmented elements are the surprises, what Roan calls the ”wow” that consumers don’t expect from the experience (having your standard monthly order waiting for you in a shopping cart when you arrive at the store, for example).

When you try to differentiate yourself based on generic or expected values, you can wind up screaming into the wind. Yes, we know you have a beautiful space with thoughtful repertoire, extended program notes, and nice color photos of your artists. We expect that from any cultural organization in your class. With these elements, you can lose points for not providing them, but you can rarely gain points by marketing them better. They’re expected, tell me what else you’ve got.

Roan also notes that the elements of experience tend to shift inward on the model as innovations become standard practices. He gives the example of web sites:

For example, it wasn’t all that long ago that only large arts institutions had web sites. They were uncommon enough that they weren’t expected; they were in the augmented product level. Today, audiences expect even small organizations to have web sites.

Having one isn’t enough, either. It must be well-designed, easy-to-navigate, intuitive, and anticipate the information that audiences want to retrieve. As innovations become more broadly diffused throughout a category, these innovations migrate inward from augmented level to the expected level. A strong argument may be made that some innovations become so integral to a product that they become generic. Today, web sites (which were once part of the augmented bundle) are part of the expected bundle. You’re expected to have one. Period.

So give Neill’s overview a read, then take a look at your most recent season brochure or exhibition preview. Are you selling yourself entirely on things your audience expects you to provide? If so, how could you add the augmented, the unexpected, to your public descriptions of who you are?


  1. says

    I think that Levitt’s model can potentially be helpful, but it is a fundamentally conservative tool for seeking ways to differentiate products and services.
    For example, if you start with premise that every grocery store has to have food for sale, than you aren’t going to ask the more disruptive question of whether you need a store in the first place to sell food (e.g., Peapod – – that delivers food to your home).
    Also, I don’t agree with Roan’s premise that once a feature or capability becomes generic, you can no longer differentiate your product with this item. For example, he considers a website generic and thus you only destroy value by not having one, but you don’t add value by having one. This is not possible. Just consider the community website for the Off-Broadway hit, “Altar Boyz” – This is one engaging, interactive site that supports and enhances the show’s loyal addicts.

  2. says

    Thanks for the comments, Doug, although I would tend to qualify both of your points. I wouldn’t call the model ”fundamentally conservative” from the perspective of an organization that already has a mission and a means. It’s just one way, among many, to look at your messages and audience experiences.
    And I don’t believe Neill was saying that any channel of communication was a waste of energy once it had been adopted by most in the marketplace…just that a competent effort was no longer enough to make anyone care. So, it used to be that ANY web site was an augmented element. As that became expected or generic, a competent and functional website became the augmented element. Nowadays, a web site has to be fairly extraordinary (which it can be) to make an incremental difference in your public impact. The point is that time and change tend to draw elements inward, away from augmented and toward generic. The thoughtful organization will always be striving to reach for the unexpected and innovative.
    Which again suggests that the model doesn’t support conservative behavior, but challenges such behavior. If you really want to be distinctive, you have to live in the outer ring, and get away from your comfort zone.
    But then again, that’s just my opinion. All models are open to — and in fact demand — individual interpretation.

  3. says

    Andrew, thanks for sharing your thoughts about my comment.
    My knowledge about Levitt’s model is based upon reading your and Neill’s description of it. So I may not grasp the entire concept.
    That said, this model appears to presuppose that the competitive marketplace for any product or service is clearly defined, relatively stable and that new non-traditional competitors will not suddenly spring out of the woodwork. For example, the marketplace for razors that Neill describes consists of companies that make razors and the incremental cycles of improvements that are made to blades over time. But once electric razors were introduced, how does this model reflect this new competitive threat from a product that is not a razor blade but performs the same function?
    Getting back to the arts: The music business has been transformed over the past few years as a result of the digital revolution. When a performing arts venue creates a competitive matrix to determine the optimal way to differentiate their musical programs, they can no longer limit themselves to an evaluation of what is happening at other performing arts venues, festivals and related events. They must constantly consider the larger ever-changing landscape of how music fans consume and enjoy music. What are the alternative ways in which music enthusiasts can create/listen to/share/contribute to music today? And how will music fans want to consume music over the coming years? Is Levitt’s model designed to take this dynamic marketplace into account? Or, as you point out, is it one of many ways that can be used to analyze audience experiences. (To digress, I like reading Greg Sandow’s book-in-progress on “The Future of Classical Music,” who’s a fellow blogger of yours on Arts Journal.)
    In terms of websites, I think that the problem that I have with Levitt’s three-layer model is that I find it too limiting. Yes, there are some shared elements and capabilities in all successful websites that can be compared and analyzed. But as a starting point for creating a website or re-doing an existing website, I wouldn’t start with this model. In the arts, in particular, a website (really an Internet presence since websites are now just one element of an overall Internet gameplan) should, I believe, be a reflection of the unique “spirit” and “personality” of an organization. I’m much more interested in hearing how people talk about what they do and listening to how customers/audiences describe their experiences of how they interact with the offerings of an artist or arts organization. I think an art organization’s Internet presence should then grow out of these conversations. Then, at a later stage in the development process, it is important to do a comparative assessment just to cover all the bases and ensure nothing obvious is missed. But in the end, I don’t think the feature set and capabilities are of primary importance. What matters is that the Internet presence properly reflects an organization and helps it achieve whatever goals it wishes.
    Andrew, thanks again for an always thought-provoking blog!