THE AGE OF EXPERIENCE VS. CONSUMPTION ECONOMY
14 APRIL 2017
PARTNER | CEO
After recently spending 17 days taking in the sights and sounds of Morocco – from the far southern stretches of the Sahara Desert to the busy twisting streets of the Medina in Marrakech – I’m reminded of the world we are rapidly transitioning into and what it means for the future. Specifically, as it relates to building a sustainable economy, not driven by commerce but, rather, by rich experiences – repeatable, sustainable, and with benefits that linger in the memory of moments we create together. Truth is, our world could be far less about GDP, and more about exporting GDE (Gross Domestic Experience).
Since the 1960s, planned obsolescence has dominated the minds of marketers and carefully guided our steps. Before that, the Industrial Revolution had changed the playing field, allowing mass production like never before in the world. But even with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, things were still built to last – to be used for years and years. Craftsmanship may have come at a premium, but it was still valued.
According to a study from Northwestern University, individuals who place high value on wealth, status, and material possessions are more likely to be depressed and exhibit signs of antisocial behavior.
So how do we curb this never satisfied, never satiated desire to consume?
There are brands working to break this consumption economy. Brands that are living on the edge of creating a sustainable economy, where experience is as highly valued as a product.
Tesla is one of the first companies on the market to actually claim your product gains more value with each day that passes, because it becomes smarter. With renewable electric power, you don’t have to consume the gallons of fossil fuels it typically requires to embark on your next adventure. The opportunity has begun to outweigh the cost.
Patagonia launched the Worn Wear Tour simply to repair well-worn Patagonia gear. Traveling the country, they cater to Patagonia customers who have had years – and even decades – of experiences wearing the same gear. As a brand, they recognize that the power of experience far outweighs making the next sale. The loyalty and almost cult-like following they’ve garnered is testament to the fact that they want – even encourage – you to use and reuse your gear.
REI has branched out over the years and begun to offer experiences and travel adventures to their customers. Earlier this year, they began a woman-focused offering aimed at creating female-only outdoor adventures that feature activities in local spots, great cuisine, and off-the-beaten-path destinations – the kind of bespoke outdoor activities a traveler wouldn't necessarily find on their own, with little surprises peppered in along the way. Sure, they’ll sell gear in the process, but the brand recognizes that the road less traveled is becoming the one people most want to visit.
Now, consider the future. Leap forward 50-75 years, and ask yourself this: Is it plausible that we could create entire economies that exist and thrive primarily on experiences alone? With the dawn of 3D printing, solar and electric power, renewable and recyclable products, could we learn to value and prize experiences more than we value and prize possessions today? Imagine a world in which luxury is no longer a collection of things but collections of memories and experiences!
AirBnb has already unlocked the business model for the world. And the truth is, I don’t really want to own an Ottoman-inspired luxury riad in Marrakech. I just want the opportunity to live there for a week.
Surprisingly, one of the biggest industries that has shifted the tide from ownership to experience is music. Just 10 years ago, you could walk into any Best Buy in the world and see row after row of CDs. Collecting your favorite album was a must. But now, all that music has moved to the cloud, and no one wants to own it anymore – they just want to listen to it on demand, stream it when the mood strikes. Subscription-based models like Netflix and Hulu give access to favorite shows and movies – but consumption and acquisition is no longer the prize. It’s the experience that matters.
In the next 50 years, wealth will not be driven by material possession, but by the collection of once-in-a lifetime experiences. Traveling to the moon, a weekend stay on Mars, skyrocketing across the Sahara at 300 MPH on a hovercraft. The shift has already begun.
No doubt we need things to survive. But if we as a society can continue to reorganize our obsession with stuff, and if other brands can begin to focus on the prospect of selling memories vs. tangible items, together we can create a sustainable world where material possessions become immaterial, and the measure of happiness becomes an experiential life.