When the world starts spinning out of control, and alternate facts become the norm, where do today’s consumers turn? For Millennials, try the stars. The real ones. Frustrated with the status quo, distrustful of science-based old school products, and hungry for deeper purpose and wisdom, young people are looking for products and services infused with and guided by ancient thought, peppered with a pinch of mysticism. Raised on Harry Potter and left untouched by organized religion, these searching shoppers are snapping up products that promise a connection to something bigger than an R & D lab. From brands like Moon Juice, Prismology and Soul Cycle, to the rising attendance of Full Moon Meditation gatherings and Avyuerdic retreats, we anticipate an increase in brands that promise a suspension of the practical and a fulfillment of a more timeless and ethereal reason for being. We are hungry to believe that there is a larger plan and purpose than what is playing out in real time today.
Self-care – a phrase once reserved for an elite guest at a five-star spa – has become cost of entry for brand categories as diverse as mattresses, Milanos and TGIFs. This trend, first emerging during the recession as a means of preventing expensive doctor visits and prescription drugs, has blossomed into an integral element of every product we bring into our life. With Arianna Huffington’s book “Thrive”, last year’s love affair with Hygge and the New York Times trumpeting adult ‘Gap Years’, self-care has become a critical lens for product adoption and amplification. In a noisy, jarring and increasingly stressful world, all consumer goods are being measured for their ability to soothe, support and sustain both body and spirit. Building a wellness component into any goods or service adds a dimension of need over want, and requires a thoughtfulness quotient to be baked into any product. A strong and committed practice to a robust internal life is emerging as a key component to healthy living, and will be a required step in any customer journey.
From dollar exchanges, to shared goods and services, how we conduct business is in extreme flux. We have all rapidly embraced the sharing economy, and benefited from the immediate access to rides, rooms and other services at the tap of an app. But the younger generation is requiring much more than sheer convenience to inspire use (and purchase). Social sharing has led to social ranking. Our trust quotient – how we are rated by those who serve us, is an easily accessed algorithm. And moving beyond that, we have a new generation of consumers who only want to do business with, and support the mission of – those they know well. Underground networks, dark social, and a plethora of anonymous social posting sites are growing rapidly as Gen Z looks to guard their privacy, and deeply vet the brands with whom they choose to partner. And THAT is the new purchase vernacular – it’s a social contract, a partnership that needs to run both deep (values, purpose, practices) and broad – with me for the long haul. Circles of trust are the new spheres of influence.
Millennials: a group sometimes referred to as Gen Me for their self-absorption and need to self-brand. From tagged photos to endless social updates, this is a group that has been the first to steadily document (and create the visual narrative) of their lives. As they become parents, expect no slow-down in their share game. As they begin to ‘family’ (yes – its now a verb) millennial moms and dads are intent on creating a unique family footprint that showcases their individual style and strength at the parenting game. Children of dual income parents, and bereft of tradition, they are determined to lay down a strong foundation of ritual, story and meaning for their progeny. From hand-crafted slogans and mission statements, to carefully selected, aesthetically designed toys and cleaning products, this is a group that is intent on creating a lasting legend that also pops online. Gently competitive, and determinedly customized, the new family will be looking for brands and services that serve their unique missions, and help to communicate their hand-crafted values to anyone looking. Shields, crests, songs and traditions – this family branding movement is starting to make waves.
The classic cocktail party opener of “what do you do?” is swiftly being replaced by “what do you love?”. Our passions are becoming our purpose, and our touchpoints to finding our people, our brands and our adventures. The rise of Comic Con shows a hunger to share intimate experiences with others who share our enthusiasms. This year, the Essence festival drew close to a half million participants who are looking to share unique experiences and sample products specific to their cultural needs and wants. Beautycon has evolved from a YouTuber trade show to a huge and well-funded media company targeting teen girls both on and offline. These new omni-channel arenas help people self-define in a sea of sameness, and support the growing demand to recognize and cultivate all facets of being human. Connecting with people based on heart emotions versus head rationalizations will be increasingly important as consumers seek to better understand – and expand- what makes them feel alive.
Women rising has been a theme for the last several years. However, the recent election has provided a bit of rocket fuel to the movement. Women have been fighting for years to be seen and heard in the board room, and now, tactics may be changing. Instead of fighting for inclusion, women are opting out for their own exclusionary practices. From Elevate, started by Wall Street women, dissatisfied by their opportunities to network and grow; to The Wing, a posh DC based women’s- only club for and by powerful women from every industry; women-only hangouts are popping up around the world. Female VC seminars and start-ups are proliferating as the pace of opportunity continues to grind exceedingly slow. Newsletters like Goop and Lenny have emerged to speak primarily to a female audience, touching on those issues and ideas that resonate, and provide community and connection in an increasingly gender hostile world. Women have changed gears, and are creating an alternative universe to the one that exists for them today. And this is no ‘pink ghetto’ – these groups and communities are powerful, hungry and determined to succeed. To paraphrase an old Virginia Slims quote: Women would rather switch, than fight.
What do Iris Apfel and Selena Gomez have in common? They both boast Instagram followers upwards of a half million and reign as cultural icons for women from all walks of life. Reaching across age and race, today’s consumer is relating to mastery, individuality and style over peer to peer experiences. With Jane Fonda and James Charles serving it up as Cover Girls, and Olivia Newton-John’s referential “Get Physical” Mac eye pigment making the scene, age – and gender – have little to do with affinity. Consumers are looking to connect with story, passion and a life well lived. Behavior and desires are critical connection points, and icons – particularly with a storied past! – are heart candy for the youngest set. Setting targets based on emotions, instead of age breaks, will determine future success.