In the last few years psychology research (e.g. Carter & Gilovich, 2010) has proven what many of us have long suspected: that experiences (vacations, events with friends, etc) make people happier than buying and owning stuff (computers, clothes, etc). But more recent research by the same duo (Carter & Gilovich, 2012) shows that the experience vs. possession difference goes further than they thought.
Why are experiences more important? — In their newest reserach Carter and Gilovich wanted to find out why we value experiences over possessions. Their theory was that people use experiences to define their sense of self more than they use possessions. This proved to be true. People in their study talked about their experiences more than possessions when they told their “life stories”. When talking about purchases and possessions they were more likely to feel that a purchase was an indicator of who they were if they described it in terms of their experience with the possession rather than the physical quality of the item itself.
Experiences give more info — The value of experiences to understand went beyond themselves. Participants in the study felt that knowing what another person had experienced would give them more information and insight into who they really are than knowing what they bought.
Experience = more satisfaction — And lastly, the researchers conclude that it is because people cling to the memory of important experiences that makes them more satisfied with experiences compared to possessions.
Thinking about the results of this research the following ideas come to mind:
- If you are marketing a product, put emphasis on what experiences you will have with it rather than what it will look like/feel like/ be like to own it.
- If you are collecting purchasing info about target clients (as has been in the news lately with questions about privacy) you’d be better off to know what people’s purchases imply about the experiences they are having rather than just inferring from the data what they own.
- The user experience of a product is more important than we think. It’s not just the idea that the product should be easy to use/ interesting. The EXPERIENCE part of user experience is not just a fancy word to use. People remember and evaluate, and even cherish experiences, even with technology.
- Customers may resonate more with a brand if they can get a sense of what the organization has DONE, not just what products or services they sell.
What do you think? What are the implications that we define sense of self through experience more than possessions?
And if you like to read the research:
Carter, Travis J.;Gilovich, Thomas
I Am What I Do, Not What I Have: The Differential Centrality of Experiential and Material Purchases to the Self.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Feb 27 , 2012, doi: 10.1037/a0027407
Carter, Travis J.; Gilovich, Thomas. The relative relativity of material and experiential purchases. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2010; 98 (1): 146 DOI:10.1037/a0017145