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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What About The Consumer of the Future?

back lit closet originally uploaded by darwin Bell.
Do you think much about the consumer of the future and how differently we will act? And what that will mean for marketers?

I do. Particularly when I come across articles like "Coping With Consumers' Newfound Frugality. To Survive and Prosper, Marketers Must Rethink Everything" by Avi Dan in the 5/19/2009 AdAge which states that "this time around the recession is not a reflection of the usual business cycle. It represents a complete social and economic reset. Marketers will risk being left behind if they don't rethink everything." The author details the ramifications of rethinking product, promotion, price and place.

The 5/12/2009 Digiday:DAILY "The New Consumer Priority is Saving, Not Spending" by Stephanie Miller shares amazing statistics and observations relating to the consumer of the future...

Add to that these intriguing thoughts that my friend and former boss, Gary Petersen, sent me.

I'd love your take...


I love reading the stuff you send me, along with the other marketing info and sites, etc. I check it out just to keep my hand in the game!

Hope you are doing well with your new venture; actually this is the best time to start something new given the economic turmoil and the testing, if not eradication, of existing paradigms on consumer behavior.

I am interested in the fact that there is little discussion or projection of how the consumer of the next 10 years is going to behave, within the context of their environment, as opposed to how they have behaved in the past ten years.

Some random ramblings:
One of my fondest sayings (along with "no good deed goes unpunished," "don’t fall in love with your own BS," and "nobody does anything they don’t want to do") is that nobody in this country needs anything.

Now, of course, I am not condescending to those folks who really do need food and shelter, but, in America – and you know this from your foreign experiences – most people don’t; more importantly, the people who are target markets for retailers, etc. don’t need anything. At the absolute starting point, all one really needs is a couple of quarts of water and 2000 calories and shelter from the storm. In other words, most consumption is incremental and choice driven.

Following Azimov’s Foundation series, it is impossible to predict the actions of one human being, but the actions of massive groups of people with the right tools and model can be predicted very accurately.

So in an era – once things have settled down – of tougher credit, acknowledgement of a need to save for the future, the end of counting on social security and government support, with luck growth, but slow and steady, and the new jobs will be ????, what will this consumer do and how does a marketer get some of his/her reduced disposable income?

Other questions:

.. How will the baby boomers change their behavior as we age -- to food, apparel, furniture, travel, etc... It is surprising to me how Shirley and I have reduced our out-of-pocket expenditures without really impacting our lifestyle. We eat out 1x week vs. 4, drink less diet soda and more water, use filtered water vs. bottled. Our choice is to continue to go to the theater, travel, and get our son Chris out of school. [Note: read "Study: The Three Stages of Trading Down" by Sarah Mahoney.]

.. Will the 20 and 30 somethings assume the behavior my age group had. Answer is certainly no, but what it will be I don’t know. It is amazing to me that a) they don’t get married and they don’t have kids b) they don’t work in career situations until well into their late 20s and early 30s. Between family and friends, I probably know 30+/- folks like this, and probably 25 of them are either back to school, in temporary jobs while they try to figure out a path, and almost none of them are married.

.. What will technology bring? Think about the changes in the past 20 years and assume the changes in the next 20 will be as dramatic...

.. There is no question the US will not be the dominant and pre-eminent economy in the world. We have an excellent chance of continuing to be important, but dramatic growth is going to be in China and India (of course, if we continue to be fat, stupid and mean, we will go the other way!).

Ahh, I can get carried away! But to me the real questions for marketers how do we drive demand where credit is tight, disposable income is tighter, government is falling off a cliff, and many people don’t “need” anything?


So, what about the consumer of the future? What kind of demand do we try to create and how do we do so?

If most of us already have too much stuff, and opt to spend only for replacements, what takes the place of the consumer consumption machine that has fueled our economy in the recent past?

Thoughts, comments, feedback? As it relates to food, I love the notion that Simplicity is the New Sophistication. How might simplicity, authenticity, quality and value affect other market segments to better resonate with the consumer of the future?

Another relevant series of articles to read is Time Inc.'s The Future of Work which includes: The Way We'll Work, High Tech, High Touch, High Growth, Training Managers to Behave, The Search for the Next Perk, We're Getting Off the Ladder, Why Boomers Can't Quit, Women Will Rule Business, It Will Pay to Save the Planet, When Gen X Runs the Show, Yes, We'll Still Make Stuff, The Last Days of Cubicle Life that Linsey Levine forwarded.

Thank you, Gary!

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  1. It's very hard to remember that economies run in cycles. We tend to think today's conditions are permanent, so we talk about the "new frugality" or the "new prosperity" depending on where we are right now in the cycle. But every peak and valley in the economy is not a paradigm shift. From a marketing perspective, thinking in terms of paradigm shift is dangerous. If you commit your entire organization to producing fuel efficient cars, period, and the economy starts roaring and people aren't focused on gasoline prices - then what? Nobody has a crystal ball. I could be completely wrong. But it's possible - possible - that it's already too late to jump on the frugality bandwagon.

  2. Brad, thanks for adding to the conversation here and on Twitter. I agree that economies run in cycles, but each time the cycle has different aspects to it. Those changes are what may make this cycle radically different compared to that of the 70s. I think there's a macro-economic term for it - a shift or? I need to go back to my notes from B-school. I see people all around me jumping on frugality. It's a matter of survival for many more than I ever remember. In any case, we'll certainly see and it's good as marketers to anticipate and prepare for all kinds of scenarios.

  3. The current economic crisis has altered consumer behavior in much the same fashion and just as profoundly as the Great Depression did in the 1930's with "the greatest generation" pre-World War II. I see a renewed sense of frugality in my children brought about by the times we're in that my parents would easily recognize and appreciate.

  4. Paul, in a way this is a gift for our children. They get to appreciate what many have taken for granted.

    Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.



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