Lois Brayfield, CEO

My husband and I are on a quest to downsize and get rid of “stuff” that serves no purpose in our lives. This includes our two sets of beautiful Wedgwood china that we lovingly chose many years ago. But, to our dismay, no one wants it. Not even our sons. And it’s not just me. My friends who share a few gray hairs are experiencing the same.

It turns out the world has changed dramatically since our young days of hedonistic consumerism. And it’s probably changed forever. What’s going on? Consider the following:

  • According to Business Insider, millennial home ownership is at an all-time low. In fact, according to Trulia, 71% of millennials surveyed regret the purchase in the first place. They simply don’t like the debt, and they regret investing money into a permanent home. Furthermore, they are moving to smaller urban spaces that do not allow for the “collection of stuff.” In other words, “things” don’t matter.
  • The obsession with Tiny Houses. I can count at least four television shows that promote this streamlined type of living. Personally, I’m obsessed with the idea. According to a ValueInsured survey, millennials are not investing in large homes. And even more surprising, it’s the baby boomers who are more likely to purchase lower-priced homes.

What’s going on? People (not just millennials) are moving toward collecting experiences over things. The “Experience Economy” values more time with family and more money to travel, as well as more time and money to experience all that life might offer. Something other than things. In fact, one could argue that we are a society looking to simplify, even moving toward a minimalist lifestyle. What’s even more telling is the fact that our digital world takes the place of stuff we needed in the past (storage for CDs, for example).

Recently, I was sitting around a C-level roundtable discussing this very topic, and one gentleman even claimed that the move toward “experiences” is for social bragging rights. You’ve seen it – pictures of food, concerts, vacations, etc. – all over social media. Whatever the reason, the Experience Economy is here.

So, if you are a brand like Road Scholar, you are in pretty good shape. But what about the rest of you? Brands that listen to consumers and find opportunities among their evolving wants and needs, rather than in spite of them, are the ones winning today. Consider Nordstrom and their “tiny store” model that offers experiences over shopping. Or Bonobos, who has created a unique retail experience in which you cannot walk out the door with merchandise. Or even ThirstyNest who offers personalized wine gifts to newlyweds who are interested in creating memories over filling up a china cabinet.

So, with smaller living spaces and fewer dollars being spent on things, what’s a brand to do? Ask yourself the following three questions:

  1. How do my products create an experience or enrich the lives of my customers? If you sell puzzles, shouldn’t you really be selling family time, allowing loved ones to gather together and enjoy each other? If it’s a pair of shoes, are they comfortable enough for someone to enjoy the concert they’re attending, or are they lightweight and easy to pack for their next adventure? It’s critical you change the selling benefits of products to reflect how the world has changed.
  2. Are you evolving your product line to reflect the down-sizing of America or the Experience Economy? Are you moving toward products that provide simplicity, efficiency or multi-use? Or, are you developing products that provide unique experiences and allow for social bragging? A word of caution: Just because you have a best-seller today doesn’t mean it will fit into the lifestyle of your customer tomorrow. Evolve!
  3. Have you considered out-of-the-box ideas or shopping experiences with a unique twist that your customer will appreciate? I’m sure there was a time we might have laughed at brands like Bonobos, but who’s laughing now? And didn’t we think continuity programs were dead? Nope. Consider brands like Blue Apron, Birchbox or Stitch Fix that have turned consumerism into a streamlined experience.

Unfortunately, marketing has become more difficult! But, only if you are thinking about selling “things.” People don’t need or want your things anymore. The sharp marketers of tomorrow will be the ones who understand this strange new world we live in and wrap their products into experiences. As for my china? I’m going to change my Letgo description to: the perfect set of breakable dishes for your next Greek gathering.

Need more help understanding the Experience Economy? Email Lois at loisb@jschmid.com.

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