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preloader image Corona Experience Economy Outdoor Festival
Martin Schnaack

Before the Coronavirus took over our lives, the Experience Economy had just begun to gain momentum. However, can an economy that is based on real-life experiences be successful when entire cities and countries are under quarantine, fellow human beings are perceived as potential threats and social distancing is the order of the day?

“The Coronavirus has stopped our hamster wheel in full spin,” reports Martin Schnaack. But is this necessarily all bad? And above all, what happens now? In his thought piece, founder and CEO of brand experience company Avantgarde presents 3 theses on the future of the industry.


Thesis 1: Corona increases the longing for real experiences


The fact is that a person is and remains a social being who, in order to survive, needs not only food, security and obviously – as we are currently experiencing – masses of toilet paper, but also interpersonal contact, exchange with others and community experiences outside of his/her/their living cave. Human beings need experiences to feel alive, and Corona will not destroy this need but strengthen it. The prescribed retreat within one’s own four walls resembles a “social Lent”, from which we will emerge with a new hunger and appreciation for experiences.

Yes, the great collective experiences of our time – festivals, sporting events, concerts – are canceled or postponed but, at the same time, the importance of experiences in our smallest social units is growing. Our closest relationships, partnerships and families are coming back into focus. Torn out of our hectic professional lives, many people are now picking up the phone again and having long conversations with real voices instead of mutilated WhatsApp dialogues. The game nights in the family circle are celebrating a comeback. At the kitchen table, the “home office” meets the “student portal”, where people are once again cooking, baking and talking to each other.

Collective experience has not died, but has completely migrated to social media in the meantime. The spontaneous balcony concert in Italy, the livestream fitness sessions and the Stay-at-Home-Challenge on Instagram are examples of group experiences that, even when the necessary distance is maintained, create closeness and are shared across borders.


Thesis 2: Corona leads to a new sense of unity


Robbed of the ubiquitous consumer opportunities, the value-coordinates of consumers are shifting and much of what seemed important yesterday is now irrelevant. Corona requires an emotional inventory: ‘Who or what is really missing?’ The crisis is creating new solidarity – for example with our elderly, sick fellow citizens and in the neighborhoods that were previously hardly noticed. Also, with medical staff, police officers and truck drivers, who are on duty around the clock on behalf of the general public. The noncommittal nature that we became accustomed to from social networks today is giving way to feelings of responsibility and cohesion. The Tinder generation is making acquaintance with ‘old but new’ values.

Less is more. This insight will have a lasting impact on the Experience Economy. Experiences will no longer be consumed hastily and indiscriminately like fast food but will be chosen more selectively and felt more deeply. The changed narrative continues to find its way into social media, spreading through the virtual bloodstream as post-Corona mindfulness.

Therefore, the qualitative demands on companies in the Experience Economy will increase.

In the future, experiences will have to offer real added value to lure consumers out of the safety of their homes. “What else do I leave my home for?” This question will carry more weight in the future. Stationary retail, in particular, is facing the Herculean task of reinventing itself after the consumer deprivation phase in order to lure customers back into the stores. Shopping? You can do everything online. Thanks to Corona, even the less internet-savvy will now be able to experience this. The point of sale must become the point of experience. This basic rule of the Experience Economy will be even more valid in the post Corona era than before.


Thesis 3: Corona accelerates digital transformation


The virus is keeping us at home. Many things that were originally a community experience are being brought back to our living rooms and back yards. Just as Lieferando and Amazon Fresh deliver food, Netflix, online games and fitness clips bring entertainment to the safety of the home. The shopping break sharpens the eye for what is already there and promotes creativity, as DIY takes over commercial consumption. A society that expressed itself as self-competent sees finished goods with different eyes. And when the hot Corona phase is over, it will also want to give products their individual stamp.

The home as a surprising experience casts local networks in a new light: home office, farm shop and holidays on balconies direct the focus towards local potential. In the face of interrupted global supply chains, regional manufacturers are experiencing a new appreciation from their communities. Telephone conferences are replacing business trips, while local attractions are replacing long-distance travel. The crisis has already become a catalyst for sustainability.

Corona demonstrates the fragility of the global economy and will continue to have an impact for a long time to come. Furthermore, the bitter truth is that some companies will be broken. Better equipped are those which have already implemented community empowerment as a purpose in their business models and those that are not only well-positioned offline, but also online. Those that paid attention to seamless transitions between the real and virtual world before Corona will make it easier for consumers to switch from IRL to URL in the future, and they will benefit from the reliability they demonstrate during the crisis.


Experiences for a new world of values


SARS-CoV-2 infiltrates the human mechanism in order to disrupt it. It is also a potent virus in the engine of the global economy with the power to slow it down drastically. Corona is a real stress test for everyone: for research and the health system, for the economy and society. At the same time, it is an opportunity for all of us – a forced push for transformation. The Experience Economy must now prove its flexibility and meet the needs of a changing society with new forms of experiences. Challenge accepted!


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