In preparation for my exam on Ethics in Food Consumption, I read a fascinating expose by New York-based marketing firm BBMG which characterize a ‘new consumer’ (download it here). While their report is mainly aimed at firms who want to market their products to these new consumers, it is really enlightening to explore what they think consumers care about and how companies could respond to those demands.
So who are the ‘New Consumers’? According to BBMG, they constitute up to 30% of the American population, and are characterized by a set of values rather than a demographic, though they tend to be more youthful, educated and female. They are “box-turners” that care about the impact of their purchases and what goes into the products they buy, but they are also practical and rather aspirational than absolute in their values – making trade-offs with reference to price and quality when weighing attributes due to budget and time constraints.
25% of them are willing to pay more for sustainable products, but they are also aware of their overall consumption patterns and sometimes prefer to pay for experiences rather than material goods and engage in DIY. They are early adopters of new product ideas and share their opinion about these products online (in social networking communities, blogs or otherwise), also punishing and rewarding companies’ corporate practices through their purchasing decisions.
In response to these characteristics, BBMG advises companies to change their marketing strategies in the following ways:
- Deliver total value – New Consumers want it all. This encourages companies to unite practical benefits (e.g. cost savings, durability, style), social and environmental benefits (e.g. local, fair trade, biodegradable), and ‘tribal benefits’ (connecting them to a community of people who share their worldview) in products, because New Consumers prefer not to make trade-offs if they can avoid it.
- Paint a bigger picture – New Consumers are asking ‘what’s in it for me?’. Since these consumers are increasingly aware of the impact of their purchasing decisions over a longer time period, it is important for companies to connect consumers to the bigger picture – showcasing the stories of farmers behind the products and the impact of purchases in their life, for example. This gives the consumers the possibility to make informed decisions.
- Be their champion – New Consumers are taking control. The trend towards DIY and community independence is here seen as an opportunity for firms to “create platforms, programs, campaigns and events to celebrate, empower and mobilize consumer’s increasingly independent spirit.”
- Make more out of less – New Consumers want simplicity and meaning. The preference for downsizing, owning less and sharing more can also give impetus to new business ideas such as sharing platforms, travel communities (such as Couchsurfing) etc. The report also encourages companies to see the trend to less not as anathema to their profit margin, but as opportunity for new marketing strategies (e.g. get the neighbor or friend to recommend a good product) and thus make their brand “one of the keepers”.
- Invite them in – Participation is the new consumption. The new paradigm embraces the “co-creation” of brands in interaction with their stakeholders, and the fact that consumers like to make contributions, help “good brands” succeed and thus impact the marketplace.
Their characterization definitely resonated with me to some extent – though I do not hugely interact with brands, I definitely feel the trade-off between ethical and pragmatic, budget-related considerations, for instance. As for their tips, I am a little torn – I think in general it is great that companies pay more attention to the quality, sustainability and transparency of their products. However, at times the effort to combine a Do-It-Yourself, de-clutter, downsize and sharing mentality with more company sales sounds almost like an oxymoron – especially since part of the lifestyle they describe (especially the sharing economy approach) purposefully tries to shy away from the typical materialistic, capitalist approach.
I do however agree with this one quote that sums up the concept and the expectations nicely:
“New Consumers don’t expect perfection, but they expect transparency and authenticity, so celebrate the good, acknowledge the bad and invite new ideas and solutions to tackle the ugly together.”
What do you think about this idea – do you feel you fit their description of a “New Consumer”? And would you support the strategies they suggest firms should adopt?
Bonus: Check out the community that the report was based on – it’s called The Collective and is an online network of sustainable consumers that give companies feedback who want to change or improve their brands – engaging in this “co-creative” process mentioned above! Also, the images above were taken from the London version of the Global Sustainability Jams that happen each November around the world and sound like an awesome project to participate in.