I had two friends who posted on Facebook recently within hours of each other. One had spent the day at a theme park with her family, all of whom left their phones “in the car ON purpose. Best way to enjoy the day together!” The other had been sharing many stunning photos of a vacation in Egypt; yet on the last day, she decided not to take photos but “just to see with my own eyes.”
This is hardly surprising. “Experiences are more important than possessions” perpetually ranks among the highest-rated attitudinal statements in the annual GfK Consumer Life global study. It ranks seventh out of 42 statements listed. It also ranks third for teenagers 15-19 and in Canada.
Taking a tech break
It is certainly ironic that my friends talked about their tech breaks on social media, yet this reflects the mixed feelings many people have toward technology. Yes, it helps us do many things we could never do before, but people are increasingly recognizing its addictive nature as a real problem. This is something that we warned about two years ago when we found that Technology Leading Edge Consumers were in the forefront of being concerned about this drawback to technology. Fully 45% of global consumers belonging to this early adopter group agreed “I find it difficult to take a break from technology, even when I know I should,” 13 points higher than average.
Taking a tech break can be easier said than done, of course, and going cold turkey isn’t necessarily the answer. Some brands take a hybrid approach by promoting tech use specifically to make time for real life. For example, Citi is promoting its mobile app with a cute dad-and-kids ad and the slogan “spend the moments in the moment.” The Pocket Points app motivates students to focus on classes; when they lock their phones while on campus, they earn rewards points for local and online merchants.
Another approach is to take a complete if temporary break from tech. Musician Jack White has banned phones from his upcoming concert tour because he “wants people to live in the moment.” Organizations such as the YMCA and Boy Scouts encourage families to help children take a tech break.
The Story Inn goes a step further with its slogan “One Inconvenient Location Since 1851.” The Inn is actually a cluster of buildings in a virtual ghost town in Indiana that offers lodgings, dining, and a venue for special events. Rooms are billed as “One Distraction-Free, Tranquil Escape” and have been converted from the likes of a one-room schoolhouse, carriage house, and grain mill. They don’t have TVs, phones or internet service.
Taking a real-life break
Vacations represent a different kind of break, a pause from the real life that so many people find stressful. Destinations like Walt Disney World epitomize this type of experience on a grand scale, but an infinite number of products and services can offer mini-breaks at any time and anywhere.
The Rituals home- and body-care brand emphasizes the benefits of incorporating soothing experiences into everyday life. “They are the seemingly meaningless moments we all tend to overlook. Rituals unveils these moments and reminds you to experience them with joy.” L.L. Bean encourages people to “live every day like it’s the weekend.”
Then there is literal escapism – the phenomenon of escape rooms, a hybrid of team role-playing and the classic locked-room mystery. Although not for everyone (such as those with claustrophobia), they can provide respite for problem-solving thrill seekers.
Most people prefer more serene escapes, however. The share of respondents to a GfK Consumer Life global survey who prefer a relaxing vacation over an active one is 62%, up 7 points from 2012. Photos submitted by respondents indicate that sandy beaches top the list of places where people like to relax, followed by other outdoor venues such as forests, lakes, gardens and parks. We don’t need research to tell us that nature makes us feel good, but in fact, research does bear this out.
And yes, video games provide escapism, too, but it’s important to keep in mind that most people still don’t view virtual experiences on par with the real thing. Just 30% of global consumers agree that “virtual interactions with people and places can be as good as being there in person,” ranking it #40 among 42 attitudinal statements.
Virtually every product and service can tap into people’s desire for experiences, whether they be social or solitary, physical or intellectual, tech or non-tech. The key is to understand precisely what kind of experience your customers crave.