In what seems like an increasingly materialistic world, we are often reminded that experiences matter more than stuff, as the image above suggests. All of us have shelves, drawers, closets, even off-site storage lockers to store all the stuff we've acquired. One of the fastest growing industries is based on storing your stuff, and reality TV is replete with shows that depict bidding wars on left over storage units. George Carlin made an entire comedy routine about all the stuff we have and the difficulties we have in managing it. Increasingly though, stuff isn't what matters. People are starting to de-clutter, simplify and come to the realization that while stuff is important, meaning, inclusion, experiences and relationships are ultimately what lasts.
Challenge for entrepreneurs
This emphasis on experiences and to a greater extent meaning creates a real challenge for entrepreneurs. The trends are real and important. As consumers we have a lot of stuff, so new physical things must be really differentiated and valuable to replace what we already have, but simply being new or better isn't enough. New offerings must compose or integrate to experiences to have significant, lasting value. If you want to build new stuff, in other words, it must link to or play a valuable role in a meaningful experience.
This would all be simpler if the new offerings were just experiences, but those are even more difficult. Building, providing and offering the intangible experience would be the "holy grail" but offerings like that are hard to provide, hard to value and hard to sample, often making them hard to sell consistently, especially as a new player in a field. Perhaps a better way into the experience model is to look at examples like Orvis.
The Physical becoming meaningful
Full disclosure, I enjoy fishing, because it means I'm somewhere beautiful and peaceful, and also because fishing requires gadgets. Recently I took a trip with my father and daughter to Montana to do some fly fishing. Since my daughter had never done any fly fishing and I was at best rusty, we took lessons with Orvis, a fly-fishing retailer. There I discovered how the tangible and the experience merge and become a bit blurry.
The lessons were free, and Orvis even offered to take novice fly fisherpeople to a local river and help them catch fish. But beyond the mystique of fly fishing, dry flies, nymphs and so forth it was clear that the gear Orvis was selling is really about experience. Orvis has an entire sideline organizing fishing expeditions. Orvis sells great rods and reels, and a lot of clothing, but is also selling experiences, memories. The stuff--reels and rods--are merely an avenue to begin new experiences or create new memories.
Bricks and mortar meet memories and experiences
Just as virtual storefronts like Amazon attempt to adopt more physical presence, new entrepreneurs must embrace the idea that products and services must have greater value and meaning if they are to break through the breadth of offerings and reach the majority of buyers. Very few people need new things, but many people need or crave new experiences. Comapnies like Orvis that make physical stuff--rods, reels, flies and clothing --have recognized the value of meaning and experience. What can you offer or combine to your products and services that make them truly meaningful or introduce a larger experience? This is a key differentiator in future competition.