With Amazon and other e-commerce giants increasingly simplifying every purchasing process, it's become easy for consumers to be experts in buying and owning "stuff." But look around: while there may be a few can't-live-without-it items, most of that stuff has probably been silently collecting dust, stored away on shelves and in closets. And how much of it brings true, unadulterated happiness? I'll bet that number can be counted on one hand.
There's a societal shift happening--and it's moving people away from goods towards experiences. Material things bring temporary pleasure, but no longer satisfaction. And when a friend goes on that once in a lifetime vacation, a month-long retreat or bungee jumps off a cliff in New Zealand, you catch yourself wishing you were in their shoes. We all crave experiences (and young adults especially so).
Gifting--a practice traditionally rooted in material consumption--is changing significantly. Today, you might receive dance classes, game tickets, and spa sessions over expensive clothing, gadgets, or jewelry. Experiences trump objects and there's a status associated with places visited and events attended. More than ever, this brings greater value and satisfaction than the car you drive or the watch you own. If you're a business owner who sells to consumers, this insight is key to surviving and thriving right now.
But why are consumers no longer craving stuff? Because it drags them down. It makes them feel heavy. And they crave the more visceral value that experiences bring. Consider the following:
Experiences give us purpose.
They convert us from passive consumers, lazily eating up everything in our path, to active agents that prioritize wellbeing, excitement and adventure. The role is not only exciting, but results in self-made content to showcase it to the world. Or at least your social following. We're in the age of the prosumer. And as social media continues to reach new heights, a larger space will be created by the consumer's own drive to do, create and contribute more. Just look at the growth of user-generated content and the boom of fundraising platforms like Classy.
Experiences give a point of view.
They help us mold and evolve our identities. They shape who you are and become ingrained in your world view. Whether it's joining a political rally in the middle of New York City or hiking through rural India, experiences inform everything you do.
Experiences give satisfaction.
They are imbued with gratification. Scientific studies have shown that objects don't make us nearly as happy as experiences do. Though technology is meant to give us unlimited freedom and access, it turns out that the typical person has less free time than they did before the agricultural revolution. And with that comes the reduced attention spans and a constant state of distraction, often impeding wellbeing. Experiences are a getaway--the cure that breaks us out of the screens, and ultimately what satisfies us most.
What makes for an impactful experience? It's not as amorphous a construct as one might think.
There are three elements to experiences that entrepreneurs and innovators in any industry can employ in response to the trend that's just getting started.
Experiences must be sensorially rich, or the consumer can't be fully immersed in the moment. They must invigorate new parts of the brain in such a way that surroundings are seen and felt differently. This is especially important in a world that keeps humans trapped in their brains, largely ignoring their bodies. Take bungee jumping, for example. Why do people feel such a rush afterwards? Because they push their limits. They experience it with all five senses. The reward is a feeling of freedom, which is ultimately a more tangible value than any plasma TV.
Experiences must affect us emotionally, and an experience for experience's sake is void of the emotion the consumer seeks. It's the exhilarating, unforgettable moments that create new memories and knowledge that can be tapped into down the road for strength or perseverance. And the knowledge gained through our own experiences drives empathy for others, an openness that encourages ideation and innovation. Yet another value that beats "stuff"
Finally, experiences must be shared and shareable. Humans are social beings. A big part of what makes an experience successful is the ability to connect with others in real time through it, and the opportunity to fondly recount it afterwards. The connection that comes from shared experiences is extremely powerful: you immediately identify and build a bond with others who have had similar experiences. And ultimately, isn't connection what humans crave most?