The Changing Landscape of Consumer Behavior: From Material to Experiential to Ephemeral

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Jun 28, 2023

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The Changing Landscape of Consumer Behavior: From Material to Experiential to Ephemeral

In today's digital age, where smartphones and tablets have become ubiquitous, personal experiences are constantly being shared on social media platforms. This has led to a sense of déjà vu in almost every experience we encounter. "Material consumption" refers to a consumer behavior centered around the consumption of physical goods. On the other hand, "experiential consumption" encompasses activities such as travel, dining, hobbies, and relaxation, such as yoga, massages, and spa treatments. However, as the desire for experiences that can be replicated diminishes, consumers are now seeking value in ephemeral experiences, which can only be lived in the moment. Examples of such experiences include attending festivals, visiting pilgrimage sites, participating in idol elections, watching the World Cup, visiting collaboration cafes, attending fan meetings, and dressing up for Halloween gatherings.

The development and widespread use of tools for sharing these experiences have allowed people to virtually experience the experiences of others. As a result, individuals who have experienced these events vicariously through others are losing their enthusiasm for actively participating in them. This phenomenon is often referred to as "social media fatigue" or "showing off a fulfilling life." Consequently, the desire for individual consumption experiences is gradually diminishing.

Now, let's switch gears and discuss the role of algorithms in shaping user experiences. Twitter's decision to display tweets liked by users we follow, even from people we don't follow ourselves, has both positive and negative consequences. While it occasionally shows us tweets of interest, it also increases the number of tweets that we have no interest in and have to scroll past. Similarly, TikTok's For You Page (FYP) algorithm has become remarkably accurate at matching videos with users who find them entertaining, while also suppressing the distribution of videos to those who wouldn't find them appealing. TikTok's closed loop of feedback is the key to its success, as it inspires and enables the creation and viewing of videos that train its algorithm. This user-centric design model has dominated consumer tech because it works and leverages the power of network effects.

In the era of algorithm-friendly design, it is essential to consider how best to assist algorithms in "seeing" in order to serve users effectively. By understanding users' preferences, algorithms can provide a personalized experience. For example, TikTok analyzes users' video preferences, including soundtracks, to recommend videos that align with their interests. TikTok's design also makes it easy to download and share videos through external channels, expanding its reach beyond the app itself. On the other hand, social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have prioritized lower friction scanning for users by relying on explicit positive feedback mechanisms. However, this tradeoff often leads to a less accurate understanding of negative signals, resulting in content that is not engaging or even causes mild displeasure.

To combat the drift of content derived from a user's social graph, algorithmic feeds have become the default choice. However, relying solely on positive engagement can lead to a divergence between users' true interests and the content they are presented with. Pagination, despite introducing some friction for users, can provide cleaner signals to algorithms and ensure the quality of the feed in the long run. By observing signs of user disinterest, such as decreased engagement and app usage, algorithms can proactively adjust the content presented to retain users.

In conclusion, the consumer behavior landscape is evolving from material consumption to experiential consumption and now ephemeral consumption. The development of social media platforms has allowed individuals to virtually experience the lives of others, leading to a decrease in the desire for individual consumption experiences. Simultaneously, algorithms play a crucial role in shaping user experiences, with platforms like TikTok leveraging closed loops of feedback to train their algorithms effectively. However, algorithm-friendly design should ultimately serve users by providing personalized and engaging experiences. To optimize this process, it is essential to strike a balance between user preferences and algorithmic recommendations.

Actionable Advice:

  • 1. Embrace the ephemeral: Instead of solely relying on replicable experiences, seek out moments that can only be lived in the present. Attend unique events and immerse yourself in the fleeting nature of these experiences.
  • 2. Engage with algorithms: Understand how algorithms shape your online experiences and take advantage of personalization features. Provide explicit and implicit signals to help algorithms tailor content to your preferences.
  • 3. Find a balance: While algorithms can enhance your online experience, be mindful of the content you consume. If a platform fails to deliver relevant content, consider adjusting your settings or exploring alternative platforms.

By navigating the evolving landscape of consumer behavior and harnessing the power of algorithms, individuals can create personalized and meaningful experiences in the digital age.

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