Every so often, I come across an article that talks about how millennials prefer experiences over things. I’ve even been asked about it by (non-millennial) artists and makers when I speak. And while I think blanket statements like this are patently ridiculous (and not really all that true) I still want to spend some time talking about it today.
Because if it IS true that millennials (or consumers in general) are prioritizing experiences over things, I think that, as makers and marketers of things, there’s actually a lot we can learn from this trend, from understanding WHY consumers are gravitating towards experiences to using the language of experience to help market our own art and craft. (Because I truly believe that owning art and craft made by a real human can create the same kinds of meaningful experiences as a great meal or trip, assuming we and our customers are willing to let that happen.)
Before we can talk about how to use the language of experiences to help market our art and craft, it’s important to understand WHY consumers are gravitating more towards experiences. One of the explanations I often hear for why millennials prefer experiences over things is that they are more mobile, therefore they don’t want to lug objects from place to place as I move. But I think this misses the mark, especially when you look at the revival of vinyl records.
Obviously records are bulky and difficult to move, yet vinyl sales are on the rise, due to the experience of the quality of listening to music that way. So if the desire to have less stuff to move isn’t the main reason behind the trend of experiences over things, what is?
I think there are two, seemingly contradictory, reasons, and they both boil down to technology. The first is essentially a desire to show off on social media. And the second is a desire to disconnect from technology and have experiences in the real world.
Do it for the ‘gram.
The first reason for seeking out experiences is pretty obvious when you think about it. Experiences (whether that’s a beautiful meal or a scenic locale) look great on social media. (And get lots of likes.) In many ways, sharing your experiences on social media isn’t any different from the concept of keeping up with the Joneses. But instead of who has the better car or bigger TV, it’s who can take the most Insta-worthy photo and rack up the most likes.
Of course, it’s really easy to judge this as a silly and frivolous reason to take a trip or order an expensive dessert. But doing so discounts something really fundamental about human nature. Digital currency IS currency, especially to younger consumers, and the sooner we understand and embrace that (and not scoff or judge it) the easier it is to market our art and craft in a way that makes sense to younger consumers, who are willing to go to great lengths to get the perfect post on social media.
The desire to disconnect.
Ironically, while technology is creating a rise in demand for Insta-worthy experiences, it’s also creating a backlash and a desire to disconnect from our increasingly technology driven world. And of course, this is where experiences come into play too. From the rise in interest in outdoor activities (like hiking and National Parks) to digital detox dinners where you aren’t allowed to use your phones, humans are craving experiences that take them away from their devices.
I would even take this reason one step further, and argue that this goes beyond the desire for less screen time and actually feeds into our need for more full sensory experiences. Technology is really limited to the senses of sight and hearing, but experiences can bring in taste, touch, and smell – vital sensory experiences that technology can’t yet give us, but that make up the broader human experience. One only has to imagine the smell of a pine forest or the feel of a cozy knit blanket (a core accessory in the Hygge trend) to realize that these are important sensory counterpoints to a world spend staring at screens.
And of course, whether it’s the simple desire to disconnect or the deeper desire for broader sensory experience, these key reasons consumers are drawn to experience can also be key selling points of our own art or handmade products.
How to use experience to help sell your art or products
Once we understand WHY consumers are being drawn to experiences, we can use those reasons to help us better sell our art and craft. When it comes to getting consumers to think of our products not just as things, but as micro experiences, there are three key strategies we can use:
1. Make it Instagram (or social media in general) worthy.
Just like anything else, social media is susceptible to trends. And those trends influence the way people share their experiences on social media. Your job as a marketer is to pay attention to the visual language and trends, and find ways to photograph your art or craft using that visual vocabulary. This works in two ways. One, it helps your work get found and shared on social media. And two, it shows your customer how your product fits into their own experience driven life. For instance, every time I photograph myself wearing my rings and holding a beautiful latte, I’m tapping into the experience trend while also showing my future customers how my product fits into their own Insta-worthy experiences.
2. Talk, write, and photograph your art and products in ways that play up the sensory, experiential, and emotional qualities.
As I mentioned in the intro to this post, I firmly believe that buying art and craft IS about buying an experience. The problem is that, we as marketers, have been really bad at communicating that. It’s not our fault. We’ve been so tripped up by trying to make our work solve a problem that we haven’t focused on the sensory, experiential, and emotional qualities our work provides. But if we want to tap into the experience trend, we have to move away trying to solve problems and instead highlight the experience of using our products. There are a number of ways to do this, from adding a human element into your product photography to including sensory and emotional language in your product descriptions.
The best place to start is by spending some time actually experiencing your own products (whether that’s wearing your jewelry, sitting in front of your painting, or drinking coffee out of your mug) and reflecting on (and writing down) the sensory qualities and the ways the art or craft makes you feel. This may feel challenging at first (we’re not taught to slow down and really experience our things or our emotions this way) but the more you do it, the easier it becomes to translate this to your marketing. (And if you want more help, I’ve got two trainings inside Artists & Profit Makers, one on adding emotion and story to your product photography and one that literally walks you through how to write product descriptions using experience and emotion, that can help!)
3. Sell your products IRL (that’s in real life) in addition to online.
While tactics one and two are designed to help you sell your products better online, if you want to really tap into the experiential trend, you need to be selling your products in person too. And don’t worry, if you’re retail show-phobic like me, selling IRL can simply mean selling your products to stores. (Because despite what you’re read, retail isn’t dead. Small stores and boutiques that understand how to create community and great customer experience are still alive and well!)
Selling your products IRL can actually tap into both factors driving the demand for experiences. While customers will continue to shop online out of convenience, there will always be people who want to shop in person, either because they want to touch and try something before they buy, or because they simply like the experience of going to a store. (I know it can be hard to understand if you’re an introvert, but some of us actually still like to shop.)
And on the flip side, selling your products in stores in popular travel destinations means that your work can also become the meaningful souvenir from that great experience. And that great souvenir then gives your customer another Insta-worthy photo op when they get home!
It can be easy to look at the trend of experiences over things and assume that it means a slow and steady death for those of us who still want to make and sell things. But in reality, there’s a lot we can learn from looking at the reasons consumers are craving experiences. And as artists and makers, we’re actually in the perfect position to capitalize on the same impulses that are driving consumers to seek out experiences. Because, as I said before, owning and living with art and craft is a form of experience. It’s just our job to help our customers see it.
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If you’re looking for help understanding this new way of marketing, I encourage you to join Artists and Profit Makers, my online mentorship program. From trainings built around the concept of experimental and emotional marketing to one on one feedback on every aspect of your business (everything from critiquing your line sheet to help you get into more stores to helping you craft better emails to your list to anything else you’d like feedback on), Artists and Profit Makers is designed specifically to help you sell more products and create more of the work you love! The best part is there’s no long-term commitment. You can join for a month just to take in the trainings, or stick around longer for the accountability and continued support. It’s up to you! Head to artistsandprofitmakers.com to join today!