Not brands. Not products. Not businesses, but consumers drive the universe. And today’s consumers are more sophisticated than ever at tuning out messages that do not resonate immediately with their own desires or needs. Relevancy – the role that a particular brand plays in consumers’ lives – is what it is all about. Unless your brand plays a role that consumers value, you are wasting your time.
To be successful, a brand must fit into your targets’ world and maintain that context over time. Mega-trends are trends that have the potential to exert powerful influences on consumers’ lives across many different industries, social classes and age groups. Staying current with them is the first step toward creating a dynamic brand that will withstand the test of time.
The Rise of the Consumer “I want luxury brands too” mind-set
Consumers today are curbing spending in some areas so they can splurge in others. While customers demand low prices on basic goods they are willing to pay premium prices for products that matter more to them. Gone are the days of expensive luxury products held exclusively in the hands of the affluent and wealthy. Today, anybody can get a piece of the pie – no matter how small – for a price. And people of all income levels and ages are “trading up” by cutting back spending on some things or in many countries, simply capitalizing on today’s more readily available credit.
Two forces are driving this mega-trend. One, the “democratization of luxury,” means luxury items are simply more attainable for more people. Items previously considered a luxury, such as cell phones, cruise vacations and elite brands, are now affordable due to technological advances, globalization, the emergence of sub-luxury brands, rising incomes and easier access to credit.
The second force is proliferation of celebrity status. Thanks to reality TV and the media’s constant focus on celebrity culture, people today are more sophisticated and up-to-the minute on what is chic, hip and fashionable. Even knockoffs of status objects can be symbols of living the good life.
The implication for business is that undifferentiated companies, lost in the irrelevant middle, risk fading into oblivion.
Time for the big question: How relevant is your brand in the world of high-end versus low-end consumerism?
The Rise of Individualism
“The world revolves around me” mentality is one of the key drivers of consumer desires. Consumers today want:
- Content on their own terms. The high-tech world of the internet, and mobile phones not only allows them to access information and entertainment on-demand but also conditions them to expect it.
- To be seen and heard. Look no further than the 30 million bloggers, 1billion Facebook users, and millions of applicants for the dozens of reality shows on television such as America Idols.
- To be special, interesting and unique – just like their friends. This dichotomy between individualism and affiliation with a community has become so prevalent, Teen Research Unlimited has termed it “indi-filiation.”
- More personalized products and services. The writing is on the wall with the explosion of mobile phone ringtones, Nike iD customizable sneakers, build-your-own Dell computers and Netflix online movie rental service, to name a few.
Corporations are responding by giving consumers new ways to interact with brands. Marketing today must be relevant and interactive. Consumers want marketing to be more participatory and personal.
Consumers rule their own world. Anything deemed useless to them is an intrusion. It is not that they hate advertising. What they really hate is irrelevant disruption. Relevancy is the key for getting permission to invade their world.
Two factors fuelling this mega-trend include the consumers’ desire for things that are differentiating and distinct, even if higher in cost, and the fact that digital technology has made adaptation and customizing much less costly and within easier reach of all. The desire for individuality is not new. It has just become more attainable for more people.
The Rise of Customer Choice
Consumer choice has reached critical mass, and the backlash for brands is around the bend. “Unlimited choice can produce genuine suffering,”
Infinite consumer choice has proven to affect sales adversely. A series of studies, called “When choice is demotivating,” compared the buying habits of two groups of consumers in a gourmet food store. Group A was given six jams to sample, while Group B was given 24. At the cash register, 30 percent of Group A made a purchase, compared to only 3 percent of Group B.
Choice overload is driving consumers to seek expert advice to help sort things out – whether it is which skin care products or navigating a career path. Self- help books have made millions for many a writer. But now people are looking to their friends, family and neighbours to make informed choices. Companies that are seen as adding value by educating their customers about their products and services will attract more customers.
How is your company helping your customers to make the right choices, in favour of your brand?
The Rise of Gender complexity
There is a blurring of traditional distinctions between men and women of today. Men are becoming more “feminized,” while more women are indulging in the bachelor lifestyle. Today’s “feminized” male places a higher value on personal appearance, becoming more fashion conscious and developing beauty regimes. Manicures and pedicures and moisturisers are no longer the domain of women. And pink and purple are the new in colour for men’s shirts.
Meanwhile, women are marrying later or staying single. In America and Europe, over the past 30 years, the average age when women marry has increased by five years. They are also earning more money and working full-time. They are changing their own light bulbs and electric sockets. How is your brand meeting the needs of women who are becoming more self reliant?
When it comes to gender, expect the unexpected.
How are your company’s products and services aligning themselves with this new demographic?
Irrelevancy is where most brands languish before they die. Breathing new life into a brand may be as simple (or as hard) as looking at it within the context of one or more mega-trends. These insights may lead to marketing places you have never thought to look – and could create entirely new categories of products and services. And tomorrow’s mega-trends? Stay tuned. The best is yet to come.