How often have you fallen prey to the science of the impulse purchase? A magazine or candy bar at the grocery store check out line. The today only "amazing deal", but WAIT, there's more. Gadget guys like me have bought 100+ iPhone apps only to find that I use few of them. My wife buys home decor that magically appears and, when discovered, is blamed on my lack of awareness of all things furnishing. Do these purchases offer lingering satisfaction. Not really and research has just confirmed it.
It turns out that spending on EXPERIENCES, not possessions, generates more long-lasting satisfaction. In an economy where much of society could be struggling for quite a while, how do we choose what to do with scarce resources - time AND money? The suggestion is save up and spend on a concert or an exotic trip. Hop in the car with the family and explore a region nearby that you've never seen together and camp out. Take Salsa lessons together. Go paddleboarding together early in the morning.
Let Them Eat Cake - Luxury Is Personal
I first came across this phenomenon when I read the book "Let Them Eat Cake: Marketing Luxury to the Masses - As well as the Classes" by Pamela N. Danziger. I was trying to understand as a marketer why people pay amazing amounts for certain things in their lives even when they have limited means. It's also a wonderful study in "what should I REALLY do if I win the lottery?". Pamela does an excellent job of explaining the dynamics behind lifestyle luxury. She notes how very PERSONAL luxury has become. The fancy cooking craze highlighted with the Food Channel shows and "Hell's Kitchen" and their effect on your friend, the neighborhood's new top chef, is a great example. And what about all that top of the line cookware? Suddenly we all want the best EVOO, fresh spices, fine wines and we even cook TOGETHER. "Luxury is what is uniquely your own and your unique experience of a thing. It's not anti-materialistic so much as it is interpretive" -- Dominique Browning, Home & Garden Magazine (p.9). Luxury should no longer be thought of as class-centric. As Pamela suggests - "Rejecting status and prestige, today's new luxury consumer embraces a democratic ideal of luxury -- that it's for everybody and different for everybody."
Some neighbors, my wife and I were floating together at our lake shore a few weekends ago and the conversation shifted to this topic with a guest who is in advertising. He spoke about a client hotel that was floundering and then hit on the experiential marketing idea. They had all of the same luxuries that other hotels had from pillows to customer service, but they wanted to take it to the next level. For the "best" clients, the hotel employees would listen intently and ask exploring, but subtle questions to explore client interests. One client had a favorite pair of running shoes and his were wearing out. The hotel bought a brand new pair and the maid service put them in his room next to his old pair. Another client was having his family join him for an extended stay and he had mentioned that they loved Icies. The hotel put an Icie machine in the room for the family to use during their stay. Imagine the impact and memorable stories that spread from these thoughtful, and personal/unique actions that far surpassed anything a uniformly great pillow and bed experience would generate.
Again and again, what data shows is that we remember outstanding and unique experiences that we have more than the routinely excellent. Seth Godin would call this a "Purple Cow" experience.
Wired Magazine today declared that "The Web is Dead". They argue that based on traffic data by data type, browsing the web is in decline versus video and social media. They share that simplified user experiences focused on specific tasks such as Twitter, SMS, Facebook interactions and YouTube videos now dominate traffic. Word for the wise - simplify user experiences too to keep up with society. I'll be drastically simplifying my site in the next week.
Simplify Your Life
My wife and I have bought into the storyline. For years we have lived in a somewhat HUGE house on a lake. We thought that IT made us happy and we had three young kids and their friends to which to cater. I was traveling to Dulles, VA to work with AOL on turning the corner from dial-up to broadband and was rarely home. We even acquired a second property on the lake and rented out the cottage seasonally. My wife started her own interior design firm in Brookfield, WI and I became a consultant which made us BOTH small business owners. Recently, a business networking colleague turned insurance agent and now friend told me at Starbuck's after reviewing how many boats and properties that I had, "Why don't you simplify your life?" It hit me with such clarity. Wouldn't we truly have more fun if we had a smaller house, fewer possessions and traveled more? To be fair, my wife had been saying this for a while. As empty-nesters starting this Fall, we decided it was time to downsize and simplify.
We are selling our luxury lake house, a beautiful place that was even featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and we will build a smaller home on our other property and focus on each other and EXPERIENCES. We'll be thrilled to watch others cherish our former, larger home next door.
Pursuit of Happiness
Several vignettes in a recent NYT article "But Will It Make You Happy?" reinforce the story that we are living. More people today are deciding that the quest to "die with the most toys" is not all that fulfilling.
They highlight Roko Belic, a filmmaker, who moved from San Francisco to a Malibu trailer park so that he could surf more often. One couple shed most of their possessions freeing themselves to travel, be outdoors and volunteer. "The idea that you need to go bigger to be happy is false," Ms. Strobel's mother says. "I really believe that the acquisition of material goods doesn't bring about happiness."
New studies of consumption and happiness show, for instance, that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects, when they relish what they plan to buy long before they buy it, and when they stop trying to outdo the Joneses. ...
Current research suggests that, unlike consumption of material goods, spending on leisure and services typically strengthens social bonds, which in turn helps amplify happiness. (Academics are already in broad agreement that there is a strong correlation between the quality of people’s relationships and their happiness; hence, anything that promotes stronger social bonds has a good chance of making us feel all warm and fuzzy.)...
Buying luxury goods, conversely, tends to be an endless cycle of one-upmanship, in which the neighbors have a fancy new car and — bingo! — now you want one, too, scholars say. A study published in June in Psychological Science by Ms. Dunn and others found that wealth interfered with people’s ability to savor positive emotions and experiences, because having an embarrassment of riches reduced the ability to reap enjoyment from life’s smaller everyday pleasures, like eating a chocolate bar.
Alternatively, spending money on an event, like camping or a wine tasting with friends, leaves people less likely to compare their experiences with those of others — and, therefore, happier.
Shared, Simple, Earnest Experiences
Sincerely meaningful experiences shared with close, earnest friends are what my wife and I have put into focus. When we encounter one-upmanship around us, it's like smelling ammonia. It widens our eyes anew and reaffirms our new direction. Will we leave the lake? Not if we can help it. Floating on the lake with friends, a glass of wine and a sunny day spells luxury. Gorgeous sunrises in the morning with the fog gently wafting across Beulah Cove. We hope to build a small home on our other property and go biking on the nearby trails and travel occasionally to sublime places -- like our passion, Tuscany and restore our trips to Beltane Ranch in Sonoma for wine tasting and relaxation with dear friends. We live on the right shore, we just want to simplify our decor. It seems that we're not alone.
As has been true for decades in tech marketing, we often believe that our own hype is so grand that we miss the end users...who have lives. It has been fascinating watching and participating in the evolving world of social media. I've come to the renewed conclusion that almost all tech is overblown with hype in pursuit of market domination. The successful offers sell beyond their natural market and then predictably decline back to that natural market eventually. The trick is knowing:
- when you are being hyped
- when you are in the natural target market
- when to even pay attention.
As a consumer, this dynamic matters less, because you like what you like and ignore what you dislike. Or worse, you may dole out a penalty when a brand annoys you by ignoring them or by spreading the word to ignore them.
As a marketer, this is more serious. We must ride the edge wisely or we'll get cut. We want to rise above the noise with our creative and get it in our buyer's path of behavior so that we're seen. However, if we annoy, then we may actually lose ground. Also, social media takes an investment in time and focus. Are you able and willing to put in the effort to be truly successful?
Here are the top 10 brands in social media according to Famecount.com and http://www.penn-olson.com in June 2010:
This is enough to say, "Hey! We should allocate time to social media too! Look how successful we could be." Well, Yes, you should be, but how, on which media and can you allocate the time and thought to do it right?
A recent study by the digital agency 360i released July 27, 2010 points out that for Twitter, there are few conversations happening WITH big brands.
Despite marketers' embrace of the medium, brands are finding themselves on the outside of the conversation. Of the 90% of Twitter messages sent by real people -- the other 10% come from businesses -- only 12% ever mention a brand, and most of those mentions are of Twitter itself.
Further, only 1% of consumer tweets that mention a brand are part of an active conversation with that brand, meaning marketers are, for the most part, conducting one-way conversations -- the opposite of the way consumers often use Twitter.
What this says is that consumers on Twitter have conversations with PEOPLE, not brands, but sometimes include brands in the stream. Data seems to show that leaders of companies have been successful grabbing an audience even while the brand itself may not. Other times, the brands are being mentioned, but not in conversation WITH the consumer, but rather consumers to each other ABOUT the brand. From Advertising Age:
The most mentioned brands on Twitter tend to be there because they are part of a constant daily conversation, not because of anything the brand is or isn't doing on Twitter. The most mentioned brands on Twitter are, in descending order, Twitter, Apple, Google, YouTube, Microsoft, Blackberry, Amazon, Facebook, Snuggie, eBay and Starbucks.
To the degree that certain brands are already a part of our daily conversation, they get a boost on Twitter. If you're not already daily fodder, are you Twitter-worthy? Great question and requires a non-generic answer.
Facebook has FANS, not followers.
So how is Facebook different from Twitter? In many ways, but let's start with the very nature of being a "fan" rather than a "follower". I can easily say that I'm a fan of Starbucks and thereby show my allegiance (and gain due admiration from the similarly inclined) without additional active involvement. I can choose to comment on a fan page, but it's not necessary. Of course, now Facebook has changed terminology from being a fan to being a "Like". My gut tells me that fewer Twitter users become followers for brands with whom they have no conversation.
Data that I would like to see is comparing 360i's study of brand mentions on Twitter with number of active comments on a Fan Page. After all, the value is in the exposure and being in the active conversation. I don't believe that the game is won by having more fans or followers alone. Being mentioned in a good way that causes a sale is the end game.
Give me a call if you want help thinking this through for your brand