Written by Jason Dojc on February 5, 2015
in Brand Strategy

You’re on the bonus round of a game show and have to choose between two prizes:

1. A car

2. A two-week luxury vacation

Which should you take? According to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, and backed by several other studies, you should take the vacation. True, the vacation only lasts two weeks and the car will last several years, but study after study shows that experiences make us happier than material things. We appreciate experiences more in the long run because while we adapt to life with new material things quickly, we anticipate and remember events. And those memories last much longer than the good feelings surrounding the material things we get.

Experiences make us happier in two other important ways. First, when you buy experiences, you get to see a change happen in your environment and in yourself. Most people’s lives often feel the same over long stretches of time (and, if anything, start to feel like things are getting worse even if they’re staying the same).But, each session of a cooking class is different from the one before. Even taking the class in the first place creates a change in your life – something that is difficult, or in some cases impossible to replicate with material items. Second, experiences, like a long backpacking trip around the world, help shape your identity. They fundamentally change who you are, and shape your future decisions and priorities.

things_experience_graph*Source: Buy Experiences, Not Things, The Atlantic

So, the life (and holiday gift) advice given by scientists is to concentrate more on experiences. But, what if you’re product marketer and your livelihood depends on getting people to buy things? How can you take this information and apply it to your messaging?

Focus on the experiences that someone might have with your product. For many in our industry this is a reflexive instinct but it helps to be reminded. The car becomes the places you’ll go, the food product becomes the experiences you’ll have sharing meals with your family and friends, and the mortgage becomes the anticipated good times in your new home.

Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt is credited with the famous quote: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.” Turns out, they want neither. What they really want is the sense of accomplishment from the experience of building something.

Jason Dojc is a Senior Digital Strategist at Ariad Communications

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