In 1998, the publication of The Experience Economy kick-started businesses into recognising that goods and services were no longer enough.
Even in our real-time, always-on, frenetic, digitally enhanced world, the experience economy is one of the few economies that hasn’t been affected by Brexit, Trump or financial-market meltdown.
Why? We have a theory. We call it The Exponential Experience Returns theory.
It’s always been argued that perishable products have marginal diminishing returns – the fourth sip of beer is never as nice as the first. But the same is true of non-perishable items such as a phone, TV, or piece of art, even when it has an increasing net value.
While we might tell ourselves that objects are a worthwhile investment (we have something physical to show for the money spent), the reality is that once the "thrill of the buy" has passed, we quickly habitualise to what we purchase, gaining less satisfaction from them as time goes by.
Not so with experiences. Conversely, there is an increase in satisfaction with them over time, whether the experiences are physical or virtual. Long after, we relive them in our memories and stories, reflect on them with others, share photos and become nostalgic about them – feeding our enjoyment in the long term.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, experiences have greater power than material objects to enhance our identity and fuel our social relationships.
Brands have the opportunity to leverage this fact and then find ways to drive deeper emotional and long-term connections by creating experiences that are both immediate for the individual and also become part of the folklore of the brand.
Take Red Bull Stratos, a project I worked on for four years. This global "destination to view" project took someone to the edge of space. If you were being disingenuous, it was just a hot-air balloon brand stunt, but its impact was immense and long term. Eight million people livestreamed it (a record at the time), and it generated billions of social and earned-media impacts, hitting virtually every media outlet across the world.
Its success is not pure content distribution, however. The longer-term story of Red Bull Stratos was sales. In the six months following the event, they rose 7%, according to IRI, while rival Monster Energy experienced a sharp decline.
Whatever the experience, key to success is ensuring that as much energy is focused on the amplification as the experience. We’ve adapted the 1% internet rule for events: 1% will attend, 9% will like/interact and 90% will have a passive connection (watch/see/hear).
Success is ensuring 99% live vicariously through your experience – that the shared version, as well as the experience itself, is emotionally charged, rich and rewarding. We all feel like we’ve been to Glastonbury because of this rule.
But if brand experiences can have such a deep impact, why are they still so often judged superficially and only really in the short term?
The majority of the tools for measuring success (views, likes, opportunities to see) imply the impact of brand experiences is momentary but, at PrettyGreen, our managing director Jess is championing
the Institute of Promotional Marketing’s Experiential Council industry-standard ROI model to more accurately reflect the long-term value that experiences offer.
Good brand experiences can be the comms gift that keeps on giving. The best examples have the power to stretch beyond their brief, becoming the best content ideas, virals, PR campaigns – the brand stories that get retold over and over both by consumers and brand teams, creating life-defining moments for all involved.
Poetry in emotion
When did a brand last make you cry and why?
The #ItCanWait content piece. It sucker punches you with raw and real emotion.
When have you felt most guilty?
Whenever I have to deliver bad news to the agency. I always believe I should have been able to do something to put it right.
Name an ad that has affected you emotionally (and why).
John Lewis’ "Buster the boxer" ad – working with them to help deliver experiences that bring the ad to life is an emotional roller coaster.
What moves you most – music or words?
Music. It touches so many senses.What was the last experience you felt a strong emotional response to? Christmas Day, 11pm. My daughter and I, alone, looking up at the Northern Lights. She saw her first shooting star.
More at twitter.com/@StringsLondon
Mark Stringer is founder and CEO at PrettyGreen