Experiences are user-driven
Experience economy is about the consumer
Experience economy is essentially about the development of products with an autonomous and clearly defined experiential value, which the consumer is willing to pay for in the expectation of getting access to personalized, entertaining, engaging or otherwise meaningful sensory perceptions.
Therefore it is even more remarkable that considerations about the consumer actually do not take up that much space in the conventional literature on experience economy. Usually one is content with the view that consumers on the experience market are motivated by the need for self-realization and that this need has increased because the needs from the lower levels of the hierarchy have been covered. A stance, which is wrong because it only focuses on gratification of needs as the motivational basis and ignores the pleasures that arise from other reasons.
The theory about gratification of needs as a motivational basis is misleading since it overlooks the fact that experiences are always an integrated part of not only consumption but of all the individual’s exchanges with its surroundings. So, experiences are not a need, which external parties can satisfy in the individual, and the pleasure of experiencing something is found in all stages of human culture, because experiences occur in the individual’s own psychical ‘household’ while it interacts with objects and other individuals.
Experiences presupposes activity
Experiences are user-driven; they originate from the individual’s emotional and cognitive adaptions of sensory stimuli, which it receives from its surroundings. These surroundings are increasingly a human-induced, commercial or commercialized world. But individuals still have a lot of experiences every day that are not mediated by market forces. And “free” experiences - from relations with the nature, the kids, the sweetheart, or colleagues - have, for most people, an even higher emotional value than the experiences they pay for.
So the experience economy’s paradox or problem is that it offers an exclusive value, which the consumer already has (free) access to. In order for this transaction to take place knowledge about consumer experiences’ social, cultural and psychological conditions are of the essence. It is simply the prerequisite for being able to present the experience offer in a reliable manner. Otherwise it will be judged as dishonest; the experience economical balloon will burst and end up as the hot air that the reviewers have already condemned it to be.
New angles on consumption
Experience economy is, on the one hand, about establishing new industrial clusters and new alliances between culture and commerce. Looked upon strategically, the agenda of experience economy renders visible the need to connect and combine separated areas in new creative ways. On the other hand, experience economy is also about new angles on consumption. The agenda of experience economy makes it compellingly necessary to bring focus on an essential aspect of consumption, which has been neglected until now: namely, the pleasures and frustrations, anticipations and disappointments that consumers experience while and before they buy a product, and in their relations with the products they have already bought. Thus, the consumer angle frames the experience economy in a wider perspective than the conventional wisdom usually does. Because just as the most essential experiences supposedly are to be found outside the market, the majority of consumer experiences are related to the purchases of the everyday life and to consumers’ actions before and while they are shopping or when the purchase is used at home. These consumer experiences are usually pretty humble. Thus, they, so far, do not take up a lot in the toasts for experience economy where the focus instead seems to be on the few extraordinary experiences, which can transform the consumer’s live.
More knowledge about experiences
We are in need for more theoretical knowledge about what is actually going on - experience wise - before, under and after the purchase. It has long been known that consumption contains other aspects than utility and convenience – we do also consume because consumption “means something”: e.g. gives prestige, creates feelings of community and strengthens the self-esteem. In addition to consumption’s useful social, communicative or identity creating functions, you are also experiencing while consuming and consuming is done with experiental purposes. These experiences have become a competitive resource because in this field producers, retailers, and other market operators still have the possibility to differentiate themselves from the competitors and increase consumer awareness and loyalty. And not because the consumer’s other needs have been satisfied.
However, to actualize this possibility it is necessary to have knowledge about for example:
• What are experiences after all
• How do experiences arise
• What consequences do experiences have in the individual’s psychological inventory
• How do producers arrange their offers so that they are seen as relevant
• What practices support this orchestration so that the offer becomes interesting.
• What is the cultural and economic basis for consumers’ current experience orientation.
This kind of knowledge presupposes that different research competencies are brought in interaction with each other. Experience economy is namely about more than dollars and cents (economy), more than excitation and sensory perception (physiology), more than emotions and cognition (phycology), more than integration and differentiation (sociology), and more than meanings (human science). This “more” is always pointing beyond the single professionalism’s boundaries and towards a common issue: namely the experiences and realizations individuals acquire for their money in the consumption, while they are sensing and experiencing.
Experiences are both universal, unique, and culture specific
Experiences are private. You can share them with others and announce them to others but the memories that experiences draw on or leave and their emotional charging are rooted in your personal history and dependent on the expectations that you, yourself, have set up. On the other hand, it is universally human to process impressions from the surroundings and it is on the basis of this processing that people acquire good or bad experiences. The human organism’s physical structure is universal: in principle common for everybody because it is shaped during the evolution of the species. What we each experience and what we learn from it is unique. But how we experience and the neurophysiological, emotional, and cognitive processes that are happening while we do it are common for all fellow species. All human beings have or will have experiences and they are created with the same brain processes. This common neurological foundation for experiences has to be explored in more details.
Not all societies develop experience economy
The same goes for the tension between the individual’s desire for experiences and the cultural and societal structures that encourages, urges, or allows the modern human being to seek the meaning in life through experience-oriented consumption (among other things).
On the biological and physiological level we are dealing with determinism and causal effects, on the societal level we are rather dealing with constructions, which make certain experience forms and practices more or less desirable. These constructions are historical and created by society. But not all societies develop leisure economy. Thus, we need to integrate consumer-theoretical understandings with aesthetic practices and what the history of mentality knows about the conditions of modernity that have made hedonism and experiences an aim to pursue.
Both promising and condemnable
The fact that “experience economy” is composed of something humanly universal
(to experience) and something historically shaped (a specific economical formation), might explain why the concept functions as either enchanting or repulsive. It is trivializing if the whole world is wrapped in glitter paper and made saleable: for example when nature becomes an adventure-destination and the wish to discover the untouched nature (whatever that might be) is disturbed by tourists and a cohort of experience consumers.
But it is also challenging to develop products, concepts and services that take consumers’ innermost wants and longings into account: for example to find a holiday resort that seems tailored to the individual consumer, even though it also matches other vacationers’ dreams. It is alluring as well as condemnable to want or to be able to make money on something, which after all is free!