Millennials have gained a reputation for their tendency to prioritize experiences over products. A study by Harris Group found that 72 percent of millennials would rather open their wallets based on experiences rather than on material items. The media romanticizes this generation's wanderlust passion and often attributes these desires to be more worldly as compared to past generations. In fact, this is one of the few "nice" stereotypes ascribed to millennials.
But what is really happening? Why have younger generations been so eager to spread their wings and why have older generations been so quick to try to follow the trend? Over the past few years, the US has witnessed a tectonic shift in spending with 4x more spending devoted to experiences rather than physical goods.
In no coincidence, the "experience economy" burst into the mainstream vernacular in parallel with the rise of social media on-the-go. Everyone now not only has a camera in their pocket but also a host of applications to manipulate and enhance any photo within seconds. The braggadocious of social media, which includes most of us at some point or another, are able to constantly inform everyone of how great their lives are based on a wide variety of filters. This phenomenon perpetuates as we consume other's experiences and are forced to constantly compare and keep up.
It is fun to see your family and friends happy and enjoying life, but nothing will get you to book a vacation faster than scrolling through your friends' aquamarine beach shots while your bloodshot eyes are glued to a spreadsheet at 9 pm.
Whether you believe this behavior of envious consumption is healthy or not, there is a lot we can learn about these patterns that can be applied to marketing our own brands.
The camera is now the keyboard
Creating brand experiences is one thing, but constructing these experiences to be truly picturesque and video-worthy is where the winner takes all in the attention battles. In our mobile-first world, a photo can be enhanced within minutes of an experience unfolding and then can be shared and re-shared via a social network.
For marketers, this unlocks one of the most powerful, yet most difficult channels to tap, word-of-mouth (WOM). As opposed to old methods filled with click bait and trickery, now the onus is on marketers to provide value, and that value comes in the form of picturesque opportunities for their consumers to capture and share. Because, after all, no one knows you were there unless the evidence is posted on social media. Right?
Legendary street artist, Banksy, took the experience economy to heart as he sold off his famous "Girl With Balloon" painting for $1.4MM and had it programmed to shred right before everyone's eyes (and cameras). At the time people were talking about "refunds for the destroyed artwork" but really its value magnified as the story spread all over the globe.
Tap into the FOMO
One of the most instrumental elements of a successful marketer is the ability to understand human behavior. I have often thought I would rather have an advanced degree in psychology over one in business in order to really gain an advantage over competitors. What gets your customers to make decisions, what gets their friends to follow along, and what causes them to convert from a customer to an evangelist?
FOMO (fear of missing out) is described in the Oxford dictionary as anxiety, often brought upon by posts seen on social media, that some exciting event may be taking place elsewhere. Recent research found that nearly 7 out of 10 millennials experience FOMO and it is driving "millennials' experiential appetite". Decisions, whether conscious or subconscious, are often motivated by social pressure, exclusivity, and limited-time opportunities. Brands that are building experiences that are "FOMO-worthy" are cashing in as their customers share experiences with all their followers.
Bake Experiences Into Your Brand
The good news is that marketers are finally getting to liberate themselves from the spreadsheets and start becoming creative again. Marketing budgets now need a line item for real-life branding. I have written before about the decline of display advertising, or as I more bluntly put it, the death of the banner ad that is driven by the consumption that is happening on small devices. Even with the rise of native advertising, there is still a void that needs to be filled by new opportunities to connect.
Digital natives are everywhere and a side effect of the evolution is the majority of the population being oversaturated with digital media. Numbness to digital marketing is approaching and the only way to stand out is to cave a piece of your budget to break from the code.
With consumers equipped to market on brands' behalves, brands need to step up their game and invest in experiences that their consumers actually want to share. From storefronts and pop-up shops to innovative expo booths and interactive insta worthy subway ads, the experience economy is set to be the most lucrative brand channels to tap into.