Last night at dinner, my wife (who works for a large philanthropic organization) was telling the family about an interesting presentation she had heard at work about the decline of the retail space and the demand of the millennial consumer wanting “an experience”. She mentioned that when the macroeconomic slide came up, she rolled her eyes and thought “yeah, Byron would like this!”. Sadly, she’s probably right. We ended up reminiscing, to the laughter of our children, the “good old days” of the mall and how as teenagers the mall was the place to go. It then dawned on us that our children will never know the joys of the Walkman, seeing a Dippin’ Dots vendor, checking out the “Staff Picks” at Sam Goody’s to see what the newest music is, holding hands with your date in the mall movie theater followed up with a milkshake or a large pretzel. Those are elements of our formative years that are forever changing only to be replaced with a new way of understanding the world around the preteen/teenage soul. While I may disparage that because my experience (and my generation’s for that matter) is special and close to my heart, my son and daughter will have similar attachments to their generational experiences.

So, naturally, like any good future grumpy old man, I got on my soapbox and railed against these “kids and their Snapfaces and MyBook’s”. I was only partially joking.

But, the more I thought about it, the more I understand this demand for “experience” or being an “experiential consumer” and I came to the conclusion…we all are experiential consumers. We all desire to have experiences in our life. Being a music fan, I didn’t buy a CD (or…cassette…yeah) from Sam Goody’s every time I slipped away from mom and dad to go check out the “Staff Picks”. It was the experience of seeing what was cool. It was the experience of, at some level, getting to know the staff through their musical tastes. I could identify with “Jack” more than “Bobby” and I thought “Susan” had really good taste. I couldn’t tell you about any of the album’s I bought from there vs Best Buy vs Wal-Mart…but I can tell you the first time I heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was in the Sam Goody’s at the Hickory Ridge Mall in Memphis, TN and I was looking at the guitar magazines when I heard the first 4 chords. It was the experience that stuck with me.

Sure, not all transactions are experiential in nature and that is probably more a function of the business rather than the product. However, I would argue the businesses that don’t mind those experiences are the ones that either go bankrupt or the ones who become commoditized. And yes, Sam Goody went bankrupt. Making a warm and fuzzy experience is not the only contributor to the bottom line. I am not that naïve. My point is that we all seek experiential commerce. For every generation, there are experiences tied to the cars we drive, grills we use for outdoor cooking (I’m a true Memphian…grilling does NOT mean BBQ’ing!), clothes we wear, shows we watched, restaurants we like…we’ve been marketed an “experience” long before anyone ever knew what a millennial was.

How does that fit into banking? I can’t answer that for you in one blog post. You know your customers better than I do. You live in your communities. But, before we throw the baby out with the bath water and say that we can’t make banking “an experience”, let’s remember that we all seek experiences. We all have our lives, at some level, defined by those experiences. The millennials want the same thing…just in a medium they are used to. We were the same way. Granted, the medium is exponentially different than what we have experienced before…but the message is still the same. My dad always says “there’s nothing new under the sun” and he’s right. This “build an experience” is a cry that business has to contend with for every generation. Some generations have demanded this through media that is vastly different than the previous generation experienced. That, still, is nothing new.

So, let’s remember and think about that as we start to wrap up another year where we’ve been told to re-think our banks. The answer isn’t that vastly different than what we have already experienced for ourselves. The implementation may look a bit different. Ok. The message though…the experience…the psychological interactions with a brand and it’s internalization to our customers…is the same as it was when we were 13 and saving up for that Anti-Skip Discman.

Anyway, just a thought. Matlock just came on and then me and my wife are catching the Early Bird Special at Captain D’s. Hope you have a great day!