As a marketing professor and therefore an active researcher, I pay close attention to changes in consumption and how these changes might impact marketing strategy. Below, I outline ten observations related to consumer trends and offer questions for you to contemplate as you fine-tune your marketing strategies for 2015.
1. Rent vs. Buy: "I use not own... and I share and experience."
We have seen a number of interesting iterations with respect to ownership and consumption. First, Zipcar, Kindle and iTunes moved consumers away from the need to physically own cars, books and music while still satisfying the same underlying needs. Then organizations such as Airbnb and Uber appeared and encouraged people to share excess capacity with other consumers. Some Airbnb members took this a step further and added an experience element by hosting dinner parties with guests.
How does the sharing economy impact your organization and its brands?
2. The Blurring of Gender Roles: "We are partners, paid employees and parents."
Women are starting to out learn and out earn men; more men want to spend more time with their children (and it often makes economic sense for them to stay home or take on primary responsibility for childcare). This has led to a blurring of traditional gender roles (see my recent post for a fuller discussion on this)..
Does your organization stereotype based on gender? Does your organization understand the role of women and men as influencers, buyers and users of your products or services?
3. The Rise of Swirlers: "I don't move through traditional life stages anymore."
Traditional life stages no longer apply nor do consumers necessarily move through life stages in a linear fashion. For example: students graduate from college with a lot of debt and can't afford to buy homes; people delay getting married and having children; people remarry and new households form that blend families and add more children; people 65+ are still active and are not ready to retire; many people 65+ still have mortgages and can't afford to retire; etc.
Does your organization still assume that life stages are a strong predictor of consumption patterns? Does your organization truly understand the demographics of your customer base and how this drives consumption?
4. Who Am I? "You should know me by now."
Consumers know that a lot of data is collected on them, and many consumers have experienced, or are aware of, recent data breaches (e.g., Target and Home Depot). Good or bad, consumers now expect organizations to have abundant data on them, to "know them" and to recognize and acknowledge the value of their relationship with the organization.
How well do you know your customers? Do you acknowledge and value customer loyalty?
5. The Jekyll and Hyde Phenomenon: "I can take on different personalities."
Many consumers post comments online and, if they adopt pseudonyms, organizations might not be able to identify them (e.g., by gender, age, ethnicity, etc.). In addition, consumers might assume an alter ego and, for example, consumers might appear quite aggressive toward your brand when in fact they are not.
What consumer data does your organization collect? What decisions do you make with this data? How accurate does this data need to be?
6. Take a Look at This: "I share a lot about myself."
Consumers like to share stories about themselves and now they also share a lot of images as well. For example:
• 46% of adult Internet users post photos or videos online that they have created. 41% take photos or videos online and share them.
• 17% of online users use Instagram. 21% of online users use Pinterest.
• Snapchat has 100 million active users, of which 70% are women and 71% are under 25. Snapchat users send 400 million Snapchats a day,
Do you give your customers stories to share... and stories that contain photos and videos?
7. The Human Polygraph: "I'm good at detecting lies and sifting through information."
Consumers are adept at doing research online, sifting through and filtering the information they find, and figuring out what information to trust, and from whom.
When you provide information do you tell consumers where the information is coming from - e.g., from your organization vs. an outside source and if an outside source, which source?
8. Connectivity: "I'm mobile and connected... anywhere, anytime."
• 90% of adults have a cell phone; 58% have a smartphone; 42% own a tablet computer.
• 67% of cell owners check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls -- even when they don't notice their phone ringing or vibrating.
• 44% of cell owners sleep with their phone next to their bed because they want to make sure they don't miss any calls, text messages or other updates during the night.
• 29% of cell owners describe their cell phone as "something they can't imagine living without."
Consumers use mobile technology when out shopping. Consumers also expect to be able to communicate with a person within an organization directly, and to have a response straight away.
How responsive is your organization to customer feedback? Does your organization have a mobile strategy?
9. The Suspicious Skeptic: "I don't trust you or respect you."
There were once boundaries between organizations and consumers - each had clear expectations as to the others' role. Furthermore, organizations controlled messages to consumers and told consumers what they needed to buy. Now consumers do not mind competing with organizations (e.g., Airbnb competing with hotels) and consumers' trust of organizations and brands has eroded. Many factors contribute to this - for example: the recession, organizations relocating headquarters to minimize taxes, the sharing economy and consumer-generated media.
Do your customers trust your brand? Are you open with your customers? Do you take care of problems they have with your organization? Do they trust you?
10. The Uneven Partnership: "I will co-create my own value with you."
Organizations used to do more for consumers. Now organizations push consumers away. For example, consumers put their own gas in cars, do their own banking online or with remote data capture, book their own travel, check themselves in on planes, bring their own food onto planes, etc. As a consequence, consumers are getting used to co-creating their own experience.
How can your customers co-create value with you so that you both benefit?
What can you do to help customers personalize their experiences -- e.g., Amazon and Netflix personalize recommendations for consumers.
Concluding Thoughts: The ten insights above are simply my observations and reflections based on what I see; others might offer different insights. I do however recommend you identify the three insights from the list above that will likely have the most impact on your organization and then determine what your organization's strategic responses should be.