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As human beings, we’re wired to accumulate.

In our hunter-gatherer days, survival depended on stashing provisions for winter and the drive to accumulate doesn’t get more intrinsically motivated than that. The advent of agriculture improved food security, but never tempered our proclivity to accumulate things – both useful and sentimental.

Our things give us pleasure, some things more than other things, and different things for different people. Yet we all share the sense of personal value we place on our possessions, because they tell the story of who we are.

The research perspective

Neuroscience research has added a twist to the tale of our relationship with material items. That is, while we love acquiring new things, we soon grow accustomed to them, whereas we remember meaningful experiences for a long time after they have happened.

A study conducted at the University of San Francisco about the value people place on material possessions versus experiences, revealed that we derive greater happiness and well being from experiences than we do from material goods. Plus, we think experiences are worth the money we spend on them.

The value of experiences is that they define and shape us, as possessions do, but they live on in our memory and become a part of who we are and how we view the world, and our place in it. Our preference for experiences, it seems, is part of a broader shift in human culture.

The human perspective

The happy, helpful people at Lifehack endorse the culture shift and offer 8 reasons why people who spend money on experiences are happier than those who don’t. And presumably, these are the same reasons why people are motivated to change behaviour, work harder, or do whatever it takes to earn experience rewards.

1. Can’t be quantified 

How can you put a number on the value of an experience? The tickets, the hotel, the rental car all cost something, of course. But can you possibly put a price on the experience of touring the south of France in springtime, or staying closer to home, spending a long weekend driving up the Cape Garden Route with friends and family?

2. Help define purpose and passions

Experiences don’t need to be grandiose, and neither do an individual’s life passions. But an opportunity to combine the two is a start on the path to self awareness and fulfilment.

3. Gain new perspective 

Perhaps there is no better way to get a new perspective on the world than to travel. New cultures, new foods, new sights and sounds. And that doesn’t mean journeying halfway around the world to get a fresh perspective. A weekend outside the home postal code will do.

4. Learn life lessons 

New experiences can teach lessons one could never learn in a classroom or from a book.  Meeting and working with new people in unfamiliar settings often calls for patience, acceptance, empathy and understanding.

5. Help people understand and express gratitude

Experiences that individuals find meaningful open up the opportunity to understand the concept of gratitude and express it. Living gratefully is the best way to live happily.

6. Provide unforgettable and joyful memories

Happiness is correlated with the ability to relish moment to moment experiences. Why not make them the kind that extend beyond the everyday and mundane? Offer experiences people will treasure, not only in the present moment, but for life.

7. Offer excitement and challenge 

Experiences can inspire and often push us to new limits. Accepting the challenge of learning a new instrument or language offers mental exercise that is gratifying for anyone who sticks with it. Experiences offer a platform for people to reach their full potential.

8. Seek out new experiences

New experiences expand a life. Many cost you nothing, some come at a price, but in return, experiences offer rich and rewarding memories and life lessons.

Rewards are good. Experiences are better.

In 1998 the term ‘experience economy’ was introduced by B. Joseph Pine II and James H Gilmore in their book of the same name. The authors discuss how over centuries, consumers’ spending and workers’ hours have shifted from commodities, to goods, then to services, and finally to experiences.

Now, more than twenty years into the experience economy, we’re poised for full immersion in the next phase – the transformation economy – a term also coined by Pine and Gilmore.

Writing in Medium, brand strategist Jasmine Bina describes the transformation economy as, “An economy where experiences are elevated from mere enjoyment to actual personal transformation.” Transformation, it seems, is the new benchmark for what qualifies as a satisfying experience.

Personal transformation is the new benchmark

Word on the street is that consumers globally are seeking transformative experiences, and have strong affinity for the brands that support their journey to self-betterment. Which means taking a good, hard look at the experience rewards you have on offer. Those same consumers are your employees and sales partners and their expectations set a whole new standard for incentive reward experiences.

What does transformation mean in the context of a rewards experience? How is it different from any other experience reward? Transformation, as defined by Bina, encapsulates the thrill of growth; personal achievement; the experience of change and being able to look back at a different version of oneself. It’s less about doing and more about becoming.

A relook at your rewards mix

For anyone in the business of rewarding customers, channel partners and employees, this should be a true ‘Aha’ moment. Typically, reward programs offer a traditional mix of rewards: access to an online catalogue of merchandise and gift cards, maybe a few experiential rewards, a little travel. That may have been just fine at an earlier point in time.

But the new generation of loyalty and reward programs place experiences at the core of their reward offering. Yes, this is driven in part by the large percentage of Millennials in the workforce, who prefer experiences to things. But they’re not the only people driving the change.

Getting on trend with experiences that transform

What’s on your experience rewards menu? Paintball games, go-kart racing? There’s nothing wrong with a lively afternoon at the go-kart track, but is the experience transformational? Maybe, depending on what kind of transformation you’re looking for – assuming you’re looking for transformation at all. And you should be, if you want to stay relevant, competitive and keep your audience engaged with your rewards program.

Experience rewards are on trend. Transformation is aspirational. So where does this leave you with putting together the right mix of people-pleasing, brand-building, motivational rewards?

Consult your data. The more you can learn about the people you want to reward, and where they are on their journey to becoming the best version of themselves, the more impact and appeal your experience rewards will have.

And consult us. We offer an inspiring range of experience rewards available across South Africa and beyond. If you need an experience reward custom designed to your special requirements, we can do that, too. Get in touch.


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