Google’s Curiosity Rooms: Tapping into the experience economy

Apparently Millennials like experiences. We like doing things, we like free things, we like pink things, but apparently we don’t like to buy stuff.

But retailers and brands make stuff that they want to sell. It’s not news to say that brands have been tapping into the experience economy in order to try to build a deeper relationship with customers – 2017 has been the year of retailers announcing (ad nauseam) that they’re focusing on experiences in order to drive footfall into stores. Often, it’s just about installing a café or moving some rails to the side to offer fitness classes. That’s great if you’re wanting to develop loyalty amongst people who are already in your brand’s tribe.

But what about when you’re not even part of the consideration process? Say you’re Google and you’re launching a new phone that you want to compete with Apple’s most premium new products. Once people buy into the Apple ecosystem, it’s really hard to get them out – particularly if they own multiple pieces of kit, if you’re anything like me (proud Apple user –  laptop, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch), the phone buying process really is about which screen size and how much memory you’re going shell out for (iPhone X or iPhone 8? Online or in-store?). If you’re not Apple, disrupting that customer journey is going to be quite hard.

Last weekend Google hosted a series of events the Old Selfridges Hotel that brought together a number of elements that have the capacity to gain new customers. A couple of weeks ago I received a link with no explanation from one of my colleagues to Google’s Curiosity Rooms – there were a series of really interesting speakers – and since I’m such a nerd for learning, I signed up for a couple of sessions.

On Friday I saw actor Riz Ahmed (heart eye emojis) talk with Youtube comedian Humza Arshad about what it means to be Muslim in the entertainment industry. They talked about the challenges of being a minority and the impossible ask of “representing everyone”, and the industry tendency to stereotype Muslim experiences one way.

On Saturday, Dr Julia Shaw explained the fallibility of memory and how people who think they have a photographic memory are completely misguided (sorry!). She described a study where she succeeded to get 70% of the participants to create false memories of events from their childhood that never took place. This could have significant implications for police for instance – implanting false memories to gain a confession from the wrong person, for instance.

There was a very Instagram-friendly pink room that featured a zoo made from plastic animals, and you could do a quiz to learn your spirit animal (I’m a blue wolf), which was then printed onto a patch for me to take home, and a scent space where you could test your ability to name certain popular scents (and take away your favourite), as well as a Gif creator where you could create an animated gif using silver balloons (more Insta-bait). They had strawberry and chocolate doughnuts, as well as cold-brewed ice coffee to snack on before the talks.

But where are the Google products in all of this? Well, there was a room demonstrating Google Home, a forest where you could experience Google VR headsets, and some people showing off the Google Pixel phone – someone showed me the Pixel Buds that enable you to translate conversations in real time (hello work trips!).

Will all of this turn people away from the Apple ecosystem? With Apple indexing highly among affluent women, and the focus at the Google event on female speakers – Adwoa Aboah, Sharmadean Reid, Dolly Alderton & Pandora Sykes among the other speakers, potentially yes.

As for this Millennial, the event ticked a number of boxes around what I’m interested in (diversity, psychology), and was lots of fun. While I’m not planning to throw my iPhone in the Thames yet, it’s certainly made me more curious about what Google has to offer.

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