Understanding the New Consumer

Consumers are turning into Ants, not Grasshoppers
Consumers are turning into Ants, not Grasshoppers

If you haven’t discovered TED Talks, you are missing a great source of inspirational thinking. TED, which stands for Technology, Education, Design, plays host to some awesome pundits and thinkers who have some really insightful stuff to share.

This week, I have been working on a press release for a client, Market Rates Insight, a company that provides competitive rate research to banks and credit unions. Their latest research report reveals that consumers are looking to banks for security; trusting their money to an FDIC-insured institution over other options that may offer higher yields.  Even though banks are paying less than mutual funds or stocks, consumers are seeking security for their money. This is part of a shift in consumerism where people are planning for the future rather than spending in the present.

That’s why I found the recent TED Talks recent presentation by John Gerzema so interesting. Gerzema is co-author of The Brand Bubble, a new book that advocates change as the best strategy for brand management in today’s market, and is Chief Insights Officer for Young & Rubicam. If you watch the video, you see that his perception is that consumers have returned to an old reality. They are no longer leveraging their future, and the future of their children. The economic downturn has transformed the grasshoppers into ants that are saving for the future.

Consumers are saving more now. Spending in Q4 dropped 3.7 percent, the lowest in 62 years. Gerzema shares some interesting change indicators. More molars need filling because stress is causing people to grind their teeth.  Gun sales are up 25 percent since January according to the FBI. The Cornell Institute reports that vasectomies are up 48 percent. And shark attacks are at the lowest level since 2003 because no one is at the beach.

So what Gerzema is seeing (or hoping for) is that by restricting demand, consumers can control their consumption and be more discriminating. As Gerzema says,

“By restricting their demand, consumers can actually align their values with their spending and align capitalism to not just be about more, but to be about better…”

Gerzema expands this theme, talking about people downscaling their consumption patterns and adjusting purchases to take advantage of reduced costs. Consumers also are demanding more empathy and social responsibility from companies. And they are looking for “durable living,” investing for the long haul. And finally, he points to the “return to the fold” phenomena, where consumers look to their peers to endorse brands and validate brand decisions.

And much of this ties back to social media. People are looking to share their values and empathy through social media outlets, and they are looking for validation of their decisions and values. They are using the Internet more than ever to connect with like-minded people and research their purchases and support this new socially responsible lifestyle. If marketers are going to engage with these consumers, they need to be sensitive to this shift in perception and be prepared to engage with authenticity, empathy, and longevity. The new consumer is all about cooperative consumerism, and the smart marketing professionals will become part of the cooperative.

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