The Experience of Eating

Say you’ve eaten two identical dishes in the past few weeks – but there’s one small catch. You had one of them at work by yourself as you took a quick break from your stressful day. The other, the one that you remember tasting better, has a different story behind it. You were sitting at your favorite picturesque restaurant with one of your favorite people, facing the shy snowflakes floating toward the pavement on a winter weekend night as you bit into the contrasting warm brownie and the soft ice cream.

It’s no wonder that the latter “tasted” better; even if it was identical to the stress eaten one in taste and texture. The thing with eating, as with many other experiences in our lives, is that all of our senses are at work. Looking at the snowfall complementing the slowly melting vanilla ice cream laid perfectly against the warm chocolate is a much better view than that of a half-open laptop with hundreds of notifications plotted in front of a big plate with a small brownie-like looking thing in the middle accompanied with some ice cream on the side.

When you’re eating, your five senses are synthesizing all of their individual interpretations of the situation and allowing you to make a holistic decision on whether you like this petit gâteau or not based on the combined analyses. Just like the quiet chatter at the restaurant added to the tasting of a wonderful dessert, the ringing of new emails depleted that same dessert of its wonder.

A wonder that’s situational and is created based on the experience of eating.

People are now more than ever focusing on the value of experiences. Instead of buying luxury items in their pursuits of happiness, people are often more likely to spend their money on new experiences in order to find bliss. In a study conducted at Cornell University, 57% of respondents indicated their strong preference for experiences over material goods, whereas only 34% of those surveyed expressed that material goods were more valuable than experiences in terms of generating happiness. So the true value in the food lies not in the food itself, but in the experience of consuming it.

Have you ever had a friend recommend some restaurant to you? Oftentimes when recommending a specific type of food, people will talk about, for example, the best Chinese food that they had by starting to describe the location as an authentic little place hidden behind some other place that they went to with this one friend on this one special day and have been going back ever since. Although the food, like any product, has to be good to get them to come back, it’s the experience that drew them in for a second time.

People love to go to Smorgasburg not only for the food, but also for the experience that accompanies it. The market provides people with the opportunity to show off the experience that their having by posting pictures online of the market itself, the food they’re eating, and the friends their with. The thought of a sunny afternoon spent with friends exploring the many food vendors of New York is something that can be remembered, something that can be reminisced about, and eventually, something that can be (tentatively) repeated.

That’s the catch with experiential marketing. Although consumers aren’t necessarily always purchasing the experience, they think back to the experiences that they had at events and will want to remember them, recreate them even. The people that weren’t at the events will live vicariously through the various social media posts and will consequently also want to become a part of what’s happening.

Though the company’s product needs to be good to capture new consumers and build brand loyalty, the experience that the new consumer has had with a company through their marketing efforts is key in driving that consumer right back to this company’s product. In a world where there are seemingly infinite substitutes, how can someone stick out and capture a new consumer? How can a new company, or a company that has a new product, survive in the experience economy and attract consumers that are already focused on the products they’re familiar with?

The solution to these questions can be found acknowledging the importance of experience.

So, what differentiates a marketing campaign from the marketing campaign?

Well, that one’s easy: the experience.