Investment or Experience

Short Term


Imagine you’ve just completed a huge piece of work. It’s been weeks in the making, you did a great job and now you want to reward yourself.

From which of the following lists might you choose your treat:

• Book a weekend away
• Go out for dinner with your other half, or a friend
• Go for cocktails
• Have a night out at the cinema
• Book to get your nails done (men can have manicures too!)
• Treat yourself to a massage


• Transfer some extra cash into your savings account
• Spend the weekend assembling furniture
• Take some time to browse the best deals on your car insurance
• Work on your CV

While I’m sure you’ll agree the second list is worthwhile, it’s probably not what you had in mind as a reward for your recent hard work!

The question nicely demonstrates two modes of behaviour in which we operate:

'Investment behaviour' describes us when we are working for something in the future. It’s when we are prepared to sacrifice something now, such as time, money or effort, in exchange for benefits we can have in the future. For example, putting money in a pension is an obvious investment behaviour, saving money that we could enjoy now, for the benefit of a more comfortable retirement (which may still be several decades away). Less obvious investment behaviours include building a career, spending time away from home for work, working on a DIY project at home. In investment behaviour we offset the pleasure we could have now to make things better in the future. The word cloud below describes aspects of investment behaviour.

The other mode is 'experience behaviour', which in contrast to the above is about the here-and-now. Experience behaviour is enjoying immediate benefits with disregard for its future impact. Great examples of experience behaviour can be seen when we are on holiday. We may buy an ice cream, go out for dinner, drink an extra cocktail or glass of wine, go for a day out, or just sit by the pool and read a book, because we can and purely for the joy of it. Experience behaviour is spending our resources on something we want now, perhaps even at the expense of something we would far prefer to have in the future. Anyone who has ever struggled to save up for something they really want, yet instead spent money on momentary treats will know this effect. This word cloud describes experience behaviour.

We flip flop between the two modes. No-one remains permanently in one, although we probably all know people who spend more time in one mode or other. A person who is mostly in investment mode will probably be told by friends to “live a little”. A person who is mostly in experience mode will probably be told by friends to be more cautious and start “saving for a rainy day”.

We experience a tension when we mix up the two types of behaviour. For example, if you take work away on holiday with you, your partner and your colleagues will probably tell you to stop working, put your email away and enjoy yourself. On the other hand, if you spend all your time at work browsing social media and doing non work-related tasks you’ll probably also be told!

Of the two word clouds above, which do you instinctively prefer?

It’s hardwired into us to prefer to be in experience mode. We have an instinctive preference for things we can have right now over the things we can have in the future. You’ll also notice that as well as being about time, the words in the ‘investment’ word cloud are very rational and the words in the ‘experience’ cloud are more emotional, another reason we are drawn to them.

Who prefers a trip to Disney over a trip to your local bank?

Do your products or services focus on making people’s lives better in the future? If so, how do you describe them? Do you talk in terms of the investment, the future benefits and why people will eventually be glad they put the time and effort in now? Or can you find a few things they are going to love about them right now? Can you make them and the way you talk about them more experiential?