The Art of Maximising Anticipation
Retail…. luxury…. experiences… self-belief and validation. It’s all up for debate. For those increasingly bemused by it all, does it matter..?
One of the more enjoyable aspects of my day to day existence is reading and delving into the issues and trends that dominate my wide-ranging industry. Whether reading about stylistic or drink fashions of the moment or the more fundamental shifts on what we desire and how we consume it, I find the reports fascinating for what they tell me, not just about the writer, but about us all.
What do we actually want? A rather pertinent question for the British craft and heritage sector who traditionally have excelled in proving goods and services of the highest class. It has become a truism across the lifestyle industry to say that people increasingly want experiences over physical goods – they wish to experience new things, to be taken on a journey. Data collected from multiple sources confirms this emotional move by all socio-economic classes; travel of all types, gigs, concerts, or learning skills is seeing ever increasing spending. Spending on goods is apparently yesterday’s fun, environmentally unsound, uncool and incapable of generating the self-belief fillip consumers seem to want. Even supremely high-quality goods don’t make us better people.
So this is an evolved big industry; airlines benefit from ever more people flying to ever more locations (experiences=travel=pollution=not better people perhaps?), travel specialists promising ever more extreme, unusual and utterly luxurious places, events and experiences come on the scene. But ultimately are we less consumerist than our 1980s “loads a money!” forebears? Humanity at all levels has always wanted to show off its wealth and the past decade has seen the rise of the most all encompassing engines to show off that wealth – not just of money but more critically of opportunity – social media.
Experiences look good. They make us look engaged, international, open minded and fun. Which of course they are, they enrich our lives, our knowledge and our ability to understand others by increasing points of similarity with people we know and may meet in the future. Yet for many, the satisfaction, the fillip of having done something fun or been somewhere extraordinary is not emotionally and intellectually processed during the actual act, it is in the validation it receives over social media. One of my columnists once wrote that in her eyes, delayed gratification is one of the defining characteristics of being an adult; the ability to accept and indeed enjoy anticipation is what separates us from children. Seemingly no more, the instantaneous communication of what we’ve done renders the anticipation of describing, talking, absorbing and learning from what we’ve done unimportant. It’s done, we’re dusted and our followers (not friends) ask what’s the next act.
Which rather brings me back to the idea of spending on actual things and my original point; maximising the small pleasures of life. Researching, hunting for small but beautifully created items or one-off treat has a frisson of its own. Window shopping has its own sense of anticipation and the eventual acquisition of a long desired – or needed – item I would argue brings a fillip of its own. It’s not gross materialism, it’s the pleasure of being proven correct after weighing up pros and cons and – more importantly in this transient society – providing the intelligent purchaser with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure every time that item is worn or used. The antithesis of the here and gone experience.
Taking this to the next level, the obvious aspect of all this is the idea we consume for our own pleasure, be that a G’n’T, stunning tasting menu or a new sofa – not for the edification of others. And this is where the problem lies in today’s retail; the experience/ pleasure that stores are told they must offer may not be for the actual person in it, but for their electronic followers. Surely the experience the good retail shop must offer is in making the anticipation for the present individual an experience in itself; the ambiance, service, friendly discussion – actually all those things traditionally British craft and heritage firms do very well at. If the anticipation to satisfaction loop is closed, the likelihood of the most precious of all marketing power being released goes up; face to face recommendation to human friends.
I accept that as an individual, my circle of friends and colleagues is not the hyper-connected Insta-obsessive millennials, brands and stores are desperate to cater to. Yet given the issues – cyber-bullying, data protection – we increasingly are starting to see, I can but wonder whether the obsession with catering to the instantaneous validation loop (certain apparently well-regarded reports believe brand loyalty is predicated by nothing more than the social media feedback customers receive – even if they don’t buy anything) will come to be seen as short sighted. Surely a world where we enjoy what we do and buy for ourselves is a saner one?