Back in 1998, the Harvard Business Journal coined the term “Experience Economy” in their article on how more people are spending their money on experiences instead of commodities. Since then, we’ve been barraged as a society with scientific evidence that, in order to be happy, it’s not so much about what we own, as what we do and how we do it.
It really does make sense. How many times have you stopped someone because they had the same shoes, phone or fitness band as you? What about, instead, if you recognized them from a class you took, or if you sat next to them on a flight or shared a drink with them at a bar? Events are more memorable, and play a bigger part in how we view ourselves and the world than our possessions generally do.
The experience economy is defined as “an economy in which many goods or services are sold by emphasizing the effect they can have on people’s lives.” Experiences are their own category, just like “goods” and “services.”
Generally speaking, you need a combination of goods or services to make an experience possible. For example, if you pay to go on a skydiving trip you could break down your bill as:
However, it is the combination of all of those goods and services that results in an experience that is much more valuable than the simple sum of its parts.
The experience economy is the phenomenon that we’ve seen since the 1990s of consumers recognizing that there’s more to life than just having stuff. Blame it on the internet showing more people what’s possible and how to do it, or the fact that so many of our most valuable “things” are now freely available – music, movies, art, communication, education and more. You could also attribute it to the longer hours most industries are adopting, now that everyone is accessible via their phones 24/7. But researchers have noted a trend: material goods are simply not as valued.
According to an Eventbrite study, “more than 3 in 4 millennials (78%) would choose to spend money on a desirable experience or event over buying something desirable, and 55% of millennials say they’re spending more on events and live experiences than ever before.”
In an effort to experience rather than buy, young adults are shelling out serious cash for concerts, races, obstacle courses, travel and more. It’s the perfect opportunity for event marketers, and they’re catching on. Event marketing is topping growth in the entire marketing field.
A lot of companies are catching on to the fact that the more immersive and memorable their events are, the more it influences their attendees and even onlookers.
So how can the experience economy benefit your brand? Why does it matter to, for example, a pharmaceutical company, a furniture manufacturer or a financial software development firm? If they ever throw marketing events, then it’s their responsibility as brands to make the most of those opportunities and turn them into memorable moments in their consumers’ lives.
If you’re appearing at a trade show as an exhibitor, make sure to bring a hands-on display – either of your product or of some other relevant aspect of your brand, which will give your visitors something to touch and hold, not just a spiel to listen to. If you’re hosting an event of your own, make sure it’s not just educational, but entertaining and – importantly – shareable.
Some experiential ideas from brands we love:
Cadbury created a spa based on their new chocolate bar flavors. It was free, but only for one day. This promotion was the perfect combination of experience and exclusivity, since it was both free and a limited time offer, leaving those who couldn’t make it wishing they had had the time.
The ready meal company, usually associated with dieting, wanted to pivot and send out a more body-positive message. So they asked women to weigh themselves, in the middle of Grand Central Station. But the units weren’t pounds, they were something more:
You don’t often think of hotel chains and sneakers as having a lot in common, but we’re in love with the dual-campaign by Westin Hotels and New Balance. Hotel guests have been able to borrow – free of charge – a complete workout outfit, including New Balance sneakers, while staying at the hotel. What does that mean? Happier guests who are able to get their run in no matter what, and more customers who get to “test drive” New Balance gear. This campaign has been going on since 2010, which is a testament to how well it works! (They also partner with Fitbit now, too!)