The Millennial Shift: Products vs. Experiences

The summer marks the beginning of a massive cultural phenomenon that skyrocketed in popularity in the mid 2000s - festival season. Around the world music festivals, including Bonnaroo and Firefly, draw crowds of thousands with their musical lineups and unique culture. While there are festivals drawing people of all ages, millennials represent a significantly disproportionate share of concert attendees. Festival tickets range drastically in price but are consistently expensive - a general admission pass to Coachella costs $400.

Millennial spending is constantly under scrutiny. Major news outlets are reporting millennials spend too much money on dining out, traveling, eating avocado toast, and even prioritizing paying off student loans. Leaving the philosophical dilemma about what millennials should spend money on aside, what are millennials spending money on?  

Simply, young people are often paying for  experience rather than products.  

For decades the advertising industry has been centered around products, always asking the question, “how can we convince consumers to buy a certain product?” Although that is still an immense question for advertisers and marketers, there has been a shift away from products and toward experience/service design - and there are no signs of this trend slowing down. Companies like Apple are mastering the concept of selling experiences in conjunction with their products. When a consumer buys an iPhone they are also buying the Apple Store experience. The ability to walk into any Apple Store see the unique look of the interior, get the Genius Bar service, and have a consistent yet unique Apple experience. Despite the undeniably similar capabilities of Apple and Samsung phones, consumers are willing to pay more for iPhones partially due to the Apple Store experience and help that you are also buying.

Experience design has also become key in social justice work and celebrities, such as Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus, have been leading innovators. Grande’s One Love Manchester benefit concert represented a revolutionary shift in the speed and scale that experience design can be profitable.  

Build-A-Bear is a brand that sits perfectly at the crossroads of experience, charity, and product.  At Build-A-Bear stores children design and create their own stuffed animal starting at the stuffing process themselves and ending with picking out an adorable outfit.  Although most stuffed animals cost between five and twenty dollars, at Build-A-Bear it is not unheard of to pay upwards of forty dollars for your new friend. Why? Because you are paying for the experience of being part of the manufacturing process. The company also encourages patrons to donate to their plethora of children’s charities after purchase.  

Although we do not all have the reach of Ariana Grande or Apple service design is a train everyone in the industry needs to hop on. Bettering your organization’s understanding of User Experience is a great place to start.  Smith & beta’s UX curriculum, although designed to better basic UX understanding, has helped multiple organizations in the past start to shift their sights from products to overall experience.  

Ariana Grande’s benefit concert raised over $2.6 million in three hours.  Only a handful of people have the reach Grande does but we all have the potential to design positive experiences for consumers.  It all starts with understanding UX.

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