Love ’em or hate ’em, Millennials are here to stay, and they’re a different breed of consumer than those of days gone by. They grew up with the internet. Maybe they vaguely remember the sultry tones of the AOL dial up, but just barely. They processed their teen angst in texts tapped out on smartphones and punctuated by emoji that may or may not be seeped in innuendo. They get their news on Twitter and their kicks on YouTube. They’re more likely to frequent Amazon than they are the mall, more likely to peruse Craigslist or Ebay than a garage sale. They’ve traded in suits and cubicles for flip flops and remote work.
And after fighting their way through the recession that greeted them at the gates of adulthood, they’re ready to spend. Just don’t expect them to spend like their parents and grandparents did. No, this generation is solidifying the dominance of the Experience Economy.
The term “Experience Economy” references a burgeoning marketplace where consumers seek experiences over products. Ownership is not central to consumer satisfaction in this world; the value derived, sensations felt, and memories created from use of a product or service are of greater importance.
There’s been much written about the disruptive emergence of the Experience Economy over the past six years. It’s been blamed for low home and car sales, floundering brick and mortar retailers, and a stumbling manufacturing industry. It’s been cast as a house of cards built on the shifting sands of trends and fads. It’s been maligned as the insidious influence of fickle youngsters.
But if we’re being fair, a great deal of this consternation misses the mark. Though the Experience Economy is most thoroughly embraced by Millennials, they aren’t the only generation eschewing traditional consumer purchasing patterns. The Experience Economy is not the offspring of their young coddled minds, but of rapidly evolving technologies in an economically fraught scene that makes material accumulation impractical.
Most importantly, the rise of the Experience Economy is nothing new. We’ve always had an Experience Economy. Every product, event, and service transaction in history has been an experiential transaction in some way, shape, or form.
Think about it.
Think about the fancy restaurant you take your date to in an effort to impress her. Think about the dentist you take your kids to because he puts them at ease in the chair. Think about the band you see every single time they come to town because they put on a damn good show.
Now think about the restaurant you never went back to after waiting over an hour for cold food to arrive. Think about the doctor whose poor bedside manner made you seek out a second opinion. Think about that band whose albums you love but whose concerts you pass on because they’re so boring on stage.
It’s always been about the experience. What’s different now is that our understanding of the consumer experience has shifted. It’s not just about how clean the store is or how big the staff smiles or how long the product lasts. It’s about the brand itself in a way that we’ve never seen before. Between websites and social media and mobile apps, brands have become more dynamic and tangible, and the consumer’s relationship with that brand has become part of the experiential transaction. This shift is particularly pronounced among Millennials because their attentions are concentrated in these digital spaces.
Which leaves us with both good and bad news. The good news is that this so called “dawn” of the Experience Economy is really just natural evolution in the face of economic and technological shifts to which companies of all shapes and sizes can adapt if they so choose. The bad news is that this adaptation is easier said than done, and requires some significant creative muscle.
How can you help your business
survive thrive through this transition? Well, if you’re trying to cultivate a good experience, satisfying each of the five senses (as best you can in a digital context) is a good place to start.
We all know we’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but we also know that we all do it anyway.
In the digital era, this is especially true. Millennials, in particular, have little patience for a poorly designed or slow website. They’re unimpressed by a Twitter account that is purely self-promotional. They snicker at marketing attempts that look like they belong on a 1990’s used car commercial. Invest in your aesthetic with sound design and strategy, because you last season knockoff quality is not going to suffice with this crowd.
Millennials have grown up skeptical. They’re more likely to troll an email from a Nigerian prince asking for money than they are to fall for the scam. They’re also more likely to raise an eyebrow if what you’re promising seems too good to be true. If you’re going to pass the sniff test, you need to make sure that the content you use to promote your goods or services is as real as it is engaging. Marketing is just a promise, and Millennials have been burned too many times to enter a relationship with your brand from a position of trust. So walk the walk. If you’re going to claim that your headphones provide the best audio experience in the world, for instance, pair it with a rating that says as much or some data that explains the science behind your superior wares.
It used to be that “word of mouth” was a sort of ambiguous, vague element of a brand’s story. There was no controlling or really monitoring it in any quantifiable manner. It just was. But in an era where no one goes to a restaurant without looking it up on Yelp or Urban Spoon, word of mouth is far more tactile than it was before Millennials bounced onto the scene.
Make sure you’re monitoring your brand’s digital reputation. A few well-placed reviews slamming your brand, a hit piece about your company’s practices, or an insidious hashtag can do a lot of damage. Stay on top of things and stay responsive.
More than that: steer the conversation. An effective content marketing strategy that leverages a myriad of social channels to distribute content and actively curate a brand’s image can help overwhelm chatter in the background. While it’s important to have a good defense in place in this game we call business, it’s even more important to make sure your offense is on point.
The internet has made it easy to do business with a brand without ever directly interacting with another human being. For the introverts among us, it’s a dream come true. But for brands, this reality presents some distinctive challenges. Like the sales person fretfully debating whether or not to approach the woman with the “I want to talk to the manager” haircut on the floor of a store to offer assistance, brands find themselves walking a fine line when it comes to digital touch points with customers.
You don’t want to be absent, but you don’t want to be irritating, either. As a rule of thumb, touch points should facilitate and inform first and foremost. Each touch should provide value to the customer in some way, shape, or form. Confirm an order, offer assistance if they abandon an order, inform them of a new service that compliments a past order. Keep your touch points relevant, and the line becomes easier to walk.
Ever bite into something that was delectable for the first few seconds but left a bitter, chalky taste in your mouth once you’d swallowed? You don’t want that for your brand. You want customers walking away from each engagement satisfied both with their purchase and their experience. The best way to make sure that’s happening is to consistently seek out feedback. Post-purchase surveys are not universally completed, but even partial capture can give you insight into where things are going right and where they’re going wrong. It can also give you an opportunity to rectify things if something didn’t work out the way a customer had hoped before it becomes a problem for you in the hearing category. This information, paired with data about return customers and abandoned purchases, lets you continually improve until the flavor is just right.
BONUS: The SIXTH Sense
Still, Millennials are not some homogenous audience. There is no perfect recipe for capturing their business. All you can do is keep striving to be better. More than anything, Millennials appreciate commitment to progress. Dedicate yourself to that, and you put yourself in a position to sit with the cool kids.