Experiences: The New Status Symbol

Apr 23, 2010

By Tom Ryan

In the past, status for many has been measured by what you own. But with the
Great Recession and the environmental crisis, status is increasingly being
measured by what you do.

That’s the opinion of Al Mackey, an analyst at Yellowwood Future Architects,
a marketing and brand strategy firm based in South Africa. Even before the
crash, Mr. Mackey argued in a column he wrote for London’s Times that the
luxury crowd was seeking new ways to gain recognition that were "more
subtle than bling, more exclusive than expensive."

But while some of the push toward resourcefulness and less consumption is
driven by eco-concerns, much of it is still driven by ego-fulfillment.

"As the war to save the planet gets under way, the moral high ground becomes
the ultimate status symbol of those who think of themselves as educated, intelligent
and cutting edge," wrote Mr. Mackey. "Consuming less, or wiser, is
the badge of recognition to chase, and brands that allow consumers to tread
lightly in subtly recognizable ways will attract the attention of a new generation
of status seekers."

Moreover, the bragging rights have shifted from "having to doing." Adventures
and discovery — whether hiking a legendary trail, a star encounter at
a concert, or even attending an art class — have become the status symbols.
And the arrival of social media is feeding the value of experiences.

"Status is to be achieved through context; the party you are at, the person
you are talking to at your meeting. Your tweets and Facebook updates and mobile
up-loads all scream one thing: look at what I’m doing," wrote Mr. Mackey.

His advice to brands, especially those that rely on exclusivity: Wrap yourself
around experiences.

"Picking up skills and harnessing natural talents are ways to get peers’
attention, and so businesses that enable their consumers or clients to do this
are sure to flourish for the next few years," wrote Mr. Mackey. "Think
about what activities or experiences will make for memorable or impressive
stories around your product. Could building in a DIY component achieve this?
Or is there a unique event that would make your users proud?"

He concluded, "Status means being able to do something; learn something
or make a difference, and that activity needs to be unique, relevant and add
value to the consumer’s life. If you get it right, the twitter-sphere will
be awash with gloating that has your name on it."

Discussion Questions: Do you agree that there’s a new status afforded to
doing good or or other types of experiences? How can brands or retailers, especially
luxury ones, best capitalize on any such change in the consumer’s viewpoint?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

11 Comments on "Experiences: The New Status Symbol"

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Ryan Mathews
12 years 1 month ago

The interesting thing about experiences is that–even when they are shared–they are unique, making them the most esoteric commodity of them all.

I think there is already a market for experience from eco-tourism to those volunteers churning around the Southern Ocean trying to save the whales.

Could retailers in less exotic areas recreate me versions of the same experience? Why not? A local “save our river” excursion or a Habitat for Humanity tie-in with Home Depot or Lowe’s ought to work.

Roger Saunders
12 years 1 month ago

Much of the marketing message is about ‘Telling a Story’. Sometimes tried and true stories are the topics that are on the consumers’ minds, and sometimes, they need a refreshed, new one. Those stories have to be genuine, to be certain.

The consumer wants and expects to be engaged in the story, and is interested in relating to it and how it might relate to them. Luxury, and other retail/manufacturer products have to weave their ‘story’, and then make use of a wide variety of media in today’s world–in-store, word of mouth, ‘new’ (blogging, social, internet, etc.) and traditional (broadcast, magazines, radio, newspaper, etc.)

Tell the ‘story’, and recognize the need to understand how media is used simultaneously and how it INFLUENCES the consumer. The winning organizations are pursuing this avenue.

Warren Thayer
12 years 1 month ago

We’re seeing more of this all the time, and I think Mackey is right on target. Even small brands, and brands not associated with luxury, are getting into making statements or tying to experience. I may be skeptical about the motives in many cases, but am fine about the results.

Gene Hoffman
Gene Hoffman
12 years 1 month ago

If those seeking higher status begin wearing “crowns of experience,” the other kings would go bareheaded. But the human processes of gaining status proliferates.

The genuine “doers” in the world have always been able to improve their status. This doesn’t seem to be such a new phenomenon. Did not poor, impoverished Shakespeare gain status over 400 years ago when credited with writing majestic prose?

People today who imagine that a lively pursuit of the latest in “doing” something that gets them lots of publicity will advance their status in the world may be mistaken. Have the lusty extracurricular “doings” of the world greatest golfer increased or exploited his status?

Retailers seeking involvement in this arena of aura should first evaluate who they pursue as customers would affect their own status before trying to build castles around the famous or infamous wears of the “crowns of experience.”

Mark Burr
12 years 1 month ago

After reading the article, I had my own thoughts. Then I read the comments so far. My own thought is–What Mr. Hoffman said. Even if it wasn’t poetry to the level of Shakespeare, it is close. But, it is Shakespeare’s 446 birthday. Is being born and dying on the same day a status experience? Since 446 years later we can’t ask Shakespeare, we’ll have to wonder, I suppose. Nevertheless, I am not sure that any retailer would promote that as an experience…. 🙂

David Biernbaum
12 years 1 month ago

Branding is more driven today then ever before by image, the creation and perception of cause and goodwill, and effective public relations.

Why now?

1. Candidly there are very few meaningful points of differentiation among major brands in most categories.

2. Retailers (unfortunately) are relying on SKU rationalization processes that are all but eliminating innovation and specialty from the shelves. Therefore “image” and price are all that remain to drive consumer’s choices.

3. Image building is so much easier and less expensive today than ever before given the opportunities in the social media.

Anne Howe
12 years 1 month ago

Experiences evoke emotion, which accelerates engagement, enhances desire, and creates willingness to take action. Our goal in shopper marketing is to create more of this energy that leads to conversion for iconic brands across the retail landscape!

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
12 years 1 month ago

There is attraction to brands and stores that involve the shopper experientially. A good experience is memorable, and evokes memories/associations–making powerful connections in the shopper’s mind. Luxury and leisure brands do well here, as bringing a desirable and pleasurable experience to mind will likely lead to selection.

For many consumers, the usage experience with product and packaging can be memorable and positive, creating a second moment of truth that leads to repurchase. Negative experiences are very well remembered when searching the aisle, and can rapidly drive deselection of the product in fractions of a second.

Ray Grikstas
Ray Grikstas
12 years 1 month ago

As an ego booster, I think a pure experience is less attractive to ‘mass-market luxury’ consumers than one that comes with swag. By that I mean; stuff that telegraphs the owner’s participation to outsiders. Think exclusive branded merchandise or other collateral available only to participants.

I know this sounds cynical, but a lot of ego-driven, ‘mass-market luxury’ consumers will balk at exchanging hard cash for something as transient and *invisible* as a pure ‘experience’. They’ll always need something to *show* for it. Something to nonverbally impress others.

So the ‘bling’ remains: It won’t sparkle like before, nor will it have an inherent value (like precious metals and gemstones) but will instead derive value from its exclusivity and its association with the experience.

So don’t shut down the production lines yet 😉

John Crossman
John Crossman
12 years 1 month ago

Absolutely! Great leaders know how crucial it is to be relevant at a point of crisis. Retailers and developers who respond to the current challenges and impact their consumers at a point of need can help change the world.

Christopher P. Ramey
12 years 1 month ago

His comment re/ “wrapping yourself around experiences” is fine, except it’s not new. Experience has been an integral part of luxury retailing for several years. The opportunity for retailers pursuing the affluent is to create experiences that their customers could not otherwise participate.


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