experience economy“Oh, I’d much rather do stuff than own stuff.”

Words of wisdom spoken by my colleague, Alice, who has earned more air miles in her 23 years than I could ever dream.

Well-traveled and always planning the next adventure, she is typical of her generation.

In fact, Alice and her millennial peers are driving what is called the experience economy.

Rejecting the “collecting material things” mindset favored by Baby Boomers and Generation X, millennials find their motivation through making memories and sharing experiences.

In fact, research by Eventbrite shows 78 percent of millennials choose to spend money on experiences or events as opposed to material things, and 55 percent say they’re spending more on these things than previously.

And according to Forbes, consumer spending on experiences and events has increased by 70 percent since 1987.

What is Driving the Experience Economy?

Several factors are driving this cultural shift and psychology plays a significant part.

In fact, James Wallman, author of Stuffocation: Living More With Less, says rather than finding satisfaction in having more stuff, people are “finding happiness and status in experiences instead.”

Perhaps as you’d expect, social media is also partly driving this trend.

This article says documentation and sharing of experiences are as important to millennials as the experience itself.

Not surprisingly, this generation tweets, shares, and posts more about events they attend than any other age group.

In a world where we share life experiences in real time across multiple social media platforms, the fear of missing out drives millennials to show up, share, and engage.

So perhaps unsurprising, 69 percent of millennials say they regularly experience FOMO.

Why the Experience Economy Matters to Comms Pros

The rise of the experience economy is much more than a fad; it represents a seismic shift in lifestyles and spending patterns.

Communicators and the businesses they represent should sit up and pay attention.

Why? Because it’s challenging everything we’ve learned about how to grow demand for a product or service.

Merely highlighting the features and benefits of your brand’s offering is no longer enough.

Increasingly sophisticated and demanding consumers want to know how your organization can add color to their life.

And if you assume only consumer brands are affected, think again.

Brands of all sizes and across all sectors need to be agile, flexible, and quick to adapt to changing consumer needs and demands.

It’s not about what you tell the media, social media audiences, or influencers about your organization anymore.

Your executives must decide what they want their customers to feel when interacting with their brand.

You can help them come up with unique, immersive, and multi-sensory entertainment opportunities.

Then they can incorporate these into their offer, and wider marketing.

Brands Tapping into the Experience Economy

There are some great examples of brands tapping into the experience economy to surprise and delight consumers.

One is Brazilian bank, Itaú, which put karaoke machines disguised as ATMs on beaches to promote sponsorship of a Rio rock festival.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t expect to see a microphone next to an ATM (though I can’t help think it’d be a better world if karaoke came standard with ATMs. Imagine the dash for cash on boozy nights out…group renditions of ‘Money Money Money’ by Abba anyone?).

Anyone who knocked out a tune while taking out cash was surprised with free tickets to the music festival; a simple but brilliant idea, no?

And on an Australian beach, the Coca-Cola Company set up showers designed to look like giant Sprite soda dispensers to give beachgoers a truly refreshing, sand-blasting experience.

Then they did what anyone who rinses off under a giant soft drink dispenser would do; they shared the stunt like crazy on social media.

In the U.K., the Artesian bar at London’s Langham hotel creates “emotional cocktails” (as opposed to cocktails that result in emotional outbursts—which they ALL do eventually, right? I digress…) which capture a customer’s “mood and essence” in a glass.

I also admire the way Coffee-mate targets college students, recently setting up shop in the middle of an Ohio State University campus to hand out free samples during finals week.

And if students couldn’t make it to the shop, they could text or tweet Coffee-mate for a delivery. Thus creating a fun experience during an otherwise highly stressful time.

All these examples are things you’d tell a friend about or post on Instagram.

And you would be more likely to remember the brand in question.

Lessons for Comms Pros

So, what can communicators learn from the rising experience economy?

First, simply providing a brilliant product or service is no longer enough.

Businesses in every industry must put the customer experience at the heart of their strategies.

This is the only way to connect with customers in a way that builds trust and loyalty.

It’s time to get creative and offer memorable and exciting new ways for customers to engage with your brand.

Think about what else you can offer your customers beyond your products or services.

These experiences don’t need to be mind-blowing, either. They just need to be creative, authentic, memorable—and above all—shareable.

Sometimes this may result in spin-off sidelines or entirely new business opportunities.

The rise of companies such as srprs.me, a service much-loved-by-millennials, which lets you specify a budget and then arranges a trip to a surprise destination.

Or Eatwith, the  Airbnb of dining abroad, shows us there are opportunities to cater to a generation of consumers who value memorable experiences above all else.

Embracing Technology to Create More Memorable Moments

Think about harnessing technology to create meaningful moments for your target customers; retail assistants armed with tablets loaded with your online browsing history are delivering a slicker, more personalized, in-store shopping experience.

Or the Dominos app, which lets you track and share the status of your pizza, from dough ball to delivery by moped.

None of this is rocket science, but it helps provide a better experience for the consumer.

According to Statista, virtual reality user numbers will reach 171 million this year, making immersive experiences more accessible than ever before.

One whiskey brand is already using VR to transport drinkers into a virtual world to savor the various ingredients and processes that go into the final product.

Consider how augmented reality might bring your offering to life.

Admittedly, we aren’t all lucky enough to work with the Apples or Coca-Colas of this world.

But, even the most bog-standard B2B trade show presence can be jazzed up with an immersive experience idea.

As Maya Angelou famously said:

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

Thriving in the experience economy means businesses need to create authentic, brand-relevant experiences which make customers feel valued.

As communicators, it is our responsibility to drive these conversations and guide our executives or clients.

All it takes is creative thinking, a modest budget, and an executive willing to let you steer them into this brave new world.

Sara Robinson

Sara is Managing Director of Brighter Comms, a former print and broadcast journalist with over thirteen years’ experience gained in-house and in agency roles. She devised and delivered communications strategies for clients in a wide range of sectors including legal, construction, food and hospitality, environmental, B2B, education, government, health, technology, economic development, and property. Sara is a multiple award-winning member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and was the 2012 Institute of Directors’ Young Director of the Year. She takes a very hands-on approach to the delivery of client work and takes pride in getting under the skin of a business to deliver strategies and campaigns that support overall business goals.

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