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Sylvester Chauke Opinion: Experiences. Still. Matter

From Antoinette to Zodwa, consumers today are largely catching on to the notion that experiences make you happier and are as valuable ‐ or more ‐ than buying fancy things.

Sure, we loooove fancy things but now more than ever, we are looooooooving even more, experiences that give us social currency. Various psychological studies have shown that all people are happier when their money is spent living rather than on having. We have come to realize that consumers are less worried about spending money and more concerned with using it to enhance their lives.

Many marketers make the mistake thinking this is a phenomenon that only refers to the Millennials, but this pulses across demographics! From Dobsonville to Athol this is becoming quite the thing!

I spent the last weekend at the Essence Festival in Durban. Known as "the party with a purpose", Essence Fest is an annual festival which brings together local and international speakers and performances, exhibitors and panels that look to inspiring consumers to be their best.

One thing that excites me the most about such events are the people and how “they” see things. The buzz and energy around the experience make you realise that all consumers want the same things in life – we want to grow, we want to thrive, we want to prosper and we would not anything that aims to lead us there – especially support brands that want to help us be better.

In Marketing boardrooms and between agencies and clients, we have always been singing the hit song “consumers want experiences not things”, so I take it for granted sometimes that we know this as brand managers. But then the kind of experiences that brands activate sometimes leave consumers so underwhelmed, they could have just as well not done anything! Halt! I was about digress.

While it is true that experiences are a great way to build connections with consumers, it is not just about doing any sort of thing disguising it as an experience. It is about the ability to bring the essence of the brand through that particular experience.

Back to the festival, there were many brands that exhibited their products and services and this was really good. However, I wished that I could give pointers to a lot of the brands that missed an opportunity to bring their product to life. How can a florist not have flowers in his stand? Hair product ranges without people with great hair on their stands? You feel me? What is amiss is that brands do not think about the consumer experience in that experience and this is futile.

Experiences are what people increasingly use to define themselves across the United States of the Socials. Take a peek through Instagram and Facebook feeds, and you're more likely to see a friend's trip to Dubai or pictures of themselves behind a banner-wall at an event. The shift from just showing your bag and shoes on Instagram is getting so passé (yawns) and frankly, this is a really good thing!

With this shifting context in how consumers spend their money, it is pretty obvious then that marketing budgets should shift too. Advertisers ought to think beyond just channels and focus on how to create moments or experiences that add a sense of pow and enjoyment in their lives.

“But we should focus on selling our products, not on stunts?” This is such a regular come back!! And the regular answer is “We cannot look at brand experiences as stunts! This form of marketing should be seen as a way to stimulate changing consumer behavior” and then I wink at them.

Anyway, no matter how you look at it, Marketers cannot run away from a good old solid brand experience and let’s be honest, how many times can you keep shouting about how good your brand is? Show me!!

Sylvester Chauke is an award-winning entrepreneur and cascader of the Stand Against Bland movement in marketing amongst other fun things. He is founder and Chief Architect of DNA Brand Architects, sits on the Advisory council for WEF Global Shapers and is a Board Member of the South African State Theatre.


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