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Experience And Influence: The New Status Symbols


Experience And Influence: The New Status Symbols

How we earn status has evolved from owning things to living unique experiences. In 1988, Professor Belk argued that our self was “extended” by our possessions. The notion of extended self is “a superficially masculine and Western metaphor comprising not only that which is seen as me (the ‘self’), but also what is seen as ‘mine’. . . . The more we believe we possess or are possessed by an object, the more a part of self it becomes.” Today, this extension of the self happens through experiences we broadcast on social media.

Experience Defined

An experience is a subjective episode in the construction and transformation of the individual, which emphasizes emotions and senses during the immersion, at the expense of reason. Simply put, when on vacation drinking martinis by the beach, we enjoy the moment rather than bothering about the credit card balance we’re building up.

Experiences trump ‘things’. As the baby boom generation ages and younger consumer segments shape spending trends, it’s becoming clear that consumers prefer spending money on experiences rather than physical products. Millennials and GenZ, in particular, seemingly reject materialism and are fueling the demand for real-life experiences. Indeed, a study by Harris Group brought to light that 72 percent of millennials prefer spending money on experiences rather than on material goods. That’s because nearly eight in ten of their best memories come from a live experience or event they participated in, as experiences connect them to others. While conspicuous consumption of goods might be on the decline, conspicuous leisure is booming. Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms, experiences become tangible through the plethora of pictures and videos we broadcast to the world. Collecting memories and turning these memories into souvenirs has never been easier, as everyone who owns a smart phone carries at all times a camera, camcorder, and imaging app that replaces and far exceeds the performance of any of the devices and software we were using a few years ago. To satisfy our appetite for conspicuous leisure, the entertainment industry has created experiences that have the sole purpose of being broadcast on social media. Enter the hyper-sensory, instagrammable visits to so called “mansions,” “factories,” and “museums.”

  • Candytopia is “an outrageously interactive candy wonderland.”
  • Color Factory is filled with “participatory installations of colors.”
  • The Museum of Ice Cream, pioneer of them all, claims in its Pint Shop to “inspire and empower audiences to be their most creative selves.”

All these places are staged as backdrops for Instagram pictures. The bright colors, enormous ball pits and emoji props are all designed to stand out through the lens of our smartphones. Broadcast in near-realtime on social media, these pictures act as evidence that we visited seemingly exclusive and desirable places.

Less Is More

Make no mistake, you can’t compete with online vendors on inventory. Your restaurant serves sushi OR pizza OR curry. Grubhub delivers all of the above. Your clothing store has twelve tops on the rack, Amazon has 12,000. Your gym has 20 weight and cardio machines manned by three or four trainers, MyFitnessPal stores nutrition facts for over 200,000 foods and virtually unlimited workouts. To wow customers, you need to offer FEWER options. Focus on what you do best, what makes you unique, what is going to generate word-of-mouth and social media buzz. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. As a restaurant, focus on five or six dishes for each course: shared plates, starters, main course, and dessert.

With the exception of The Cheesecake Factory (which proudly offers over 250 menu items), people will keep coming back for THESE crab cakes, or THAT chocolate soufflé, or even your famous homemade steak sauce. If you are in retail, curate unique or limited-edition items. Since all retailers (rightly) complain about “showrooming” anyway (when people visit your store to examine products that they’ll end up buying online), make your store a showroom that mixes art, craft, and fashion. Offer three options—Good, Better, Best. Your skill or expertise is to pair the options for your customers and guide them toward the combinations that work, not to get the customer to try everything that’s in the store. Shelley’s Stereo in Woodland Hills, California used to have 30 pairs of speakers on display and as many receivers. They now showcase fewer than 10 of each, because they know what receiver-speakers combinations work best. Having people trying out all thirty speakers is just as nonsensical as going to Starbucks and asking for a matcha-green-tea-frappucino with hazelnut and cinnamon.

You will find many more case studies and tips in my new book Brand Hacks: How to Grow your Brand by Fulfilling the Human Quest for Meaning.

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