Tuesday, March 25, 2014

10 Trends in Mindful Consumption

by Marian Salzman, President, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR, North America, and Ann O'Reilly, Content Director, Euro RSCG Worldwide Knowledge Exchange
The era of mindless consumption is over. Consumers now want a simple, sustainable, and self-sufficient life.

Conspicuous consumption. Shop till you drop. All-you-can-eat buffets and supersized meals. The post–World War II era has been marked by a voracious hunger for more. In affluent countries, people bought too much, ate too much, used up too much, and owed too much. Yet, for many, it still wasn’t enough. There was something missing—lots of things, really. Among them, a sense of control and self-sufficiency, personal responsibility, and feelings of community and authenticity. Replacing the constant accumulation of “stuff” with these more substantive intangibles lies at the heart of the current shift toward mindfulness—a movement in which heedless excess is exchanged for a more conscious and considered approach to living.

Getting Serious About Rightsizing

1. The Great Recession has brought with it lots of emotions—and not all bad. It has been fascinating to see how much satisfaction people are deriving from cutting back. After years of wasteful excess—oversized homes and cars, over-the-top weddings, disposable everything—consumers have had enough. They want to feel good about themselves and their consumption choices, so they are making do with “just enough.” Rightsizing encompasses simplifying and decluttering, and recycling and rejecting. It is a mindset that offers deeper satisfactions than most of us experienced through years of hyperaccumulation. Outrage over the BP oil disaster will push even more people to take steps to rightsize their energy consumption.

Purposeful Pleasure Usurps Instant Gratification

2. In the waning era of hyperconsumerism, one of our most constant sources of pleasure was the instant gratification that accompanied most of our purchases. We were caught up in a dizzying cycle of See-Buy-Discard-Repeat. Now, people are taking the time to reassess what really makes them happy, taking more care in deciding what—and whether—to buy, and thinking harder about the value they’re getting for their money. Impulse shopping is giving way to a form of consumption that emphasizes relationships with producers and longer-lasting satisfactions, such as supporting local artisans or protecting the planet. For creative marketers who understand this trend, the quest for purposeful pleasure opens up myriad opportunities to engage consumers in the brand experience. For every “no” (sacrifice, compromise), it is important to give consumers an equally strong “yes” (such as pride in doing good and a sense of belonging).

A Return to Substance

3. Our old ways of consuming have failed to satisfy, leaving people unhappy and alienated. They hunger for community. They want to get involved with causes larger than themselves. They want to engage in more meaningful conversations and relationships. And they want to feel the way they live is not only purposeful but deeply “real.” Categories reflecting a move away from the superficial include food (as seen in the evolution of “conscious nourishment,” such as organics, artisanry, buying local, and “slow food”) and travel (a category marked by increases in eco-consciousness, cultural immersion and voluntourism).

Growing Up and Accepting Personal Responsibility

4. Recent decades saw adolescence prolonged and adulthood delayed—around half of the adult global respondents to the Euro RSCG New Consumer global study said they don’t always feel like real grown-ups. Now, many people are seeking to reverse the trend, opting to accept responsibility and build individual competencies. We see this shift not just in more mindful spending, but also in increased interest in such subjects as financial literacy, automotive maintenance, and home repair.

Rewarding Goodness at Retail

5. Our studies have shown that consumers believe they have a responsibility to censure unethical companies by avoiding their products. The flip side of this attitude is an eagerness to reward ethical companies by deliberately choosing them as product and/or retail partners. One of the pioneers of positive consumer collaboration is Carrotmob. Since 2008, this California-based activist group has rewarded small businesses that pledge to take steps toward improved sustainability (such as installing energy-efficient lighting or stocking reusable cups) by organizing shopping events at their stores. Carrotmob illustrates the mainstreaming of eco-consciousness as boycotts give way to community-based “buycotts.”

Brand Partners Offering a Helping Hand

6. Mindful consumers are keen to reduce the negative impact of their purchases, but too often their best intentions are stymied by confusion over which products and brands are the most responsible choices. Retailers are stepping in with creative solutions, including Home Depot’s Eco Options labels, which identify winners in the areas of energy efficiency, water conservation, healthy home, clean air, and sustainable forestry, and Walmart’s highly anticipated sustainability index. ActBolder.com is another example of how companies are helping consumers to meet their mindfulness goals. It teams up with businesses that ask consumers to complete simple challenges (such as “re-use something you normally throw away” or “make a car trip a bike trip”) to receive a product discount or freebie.

The Home Depot launched Eco Options in response to consumer demand for more sustainable products

Reconnecting with Nature

7. In a world that is increasingly artificial, people crave things and experiences that are deeply “real.” We live surrounded by faux everything (from synthetic home furnishings to Botoxed brows) and largely communicate through bits and bytes—which helps explain why six in 10 respondents to the New Consumer study worry that we have become too disconnected from the natural world. For years, we watched as more and more shoppers flocked to farmers’ markets in search of the real deal—a trend that has exploded into the “buy local” movement and rise of “celebrity farmers.” Now people are getting their own hands dirty, creating “sustainable backyards” in which they grow heirloom tomatoes, berries for canning, and all kinds of vegetables for eating, freezing, and pickling. Some seed companies reported sales up as much as 80 percent in 2009. Next up: combining the trends of back-to-nature, self-sufficiency, and communalism, we will see more neighborhood food gardens, linking backyards for maximum production and sociability.

Taking Charge

8. Living in a time of rapid change and rampant uncertainty has made consumers worldwide anxious and afraid. It isn’t possible for individuals or families to control the world economy, but most can at least feel some measure of personal control by making smarter financial choices—70 percent of our survey respondents believe they are smarter shoppers than they were a few years ago, which makes sense, given all the new tools and communication channels now available online. Having cut back during the downturn, around half are determined not to go back to their old, wasteful shopping patterns when the economy rebounds, and four in ten (six in ten Americans) are committed to reducing their use of credit cards over the long term. With 70 percent of the global sample (and 87 percent of Americans) saying saving money makes them feel good about themselves, there is plenty of motivation to continue to make negative savings rates a thing of the past. Websites such as Mint.com and MoneyStrands are helping by making it easier to track where the money is going.

Keeping It Simple

9. Despite the superabundance of consumer goods in recent decades, or perhaps because of it, stress has grown inexorably. In the U.S., a quarter of adults experience high levels of stress and half complain of moderate stress, according to the APA. Hyperconsumption is considered by many a contributing factor. It comes as little surprise, then, that two-thirds of our global survey sample think most people would be better off if they lived more simply. This “less is more” mindset is even trickling down to product choices. When we asked respondents to indicate which of 25 product descriptors most appealed to them, their top choices were durable, useful, practical, trustworthy, and simple. Least appealing? Elite, prestigious, sophisticated, and luxurious. A heads-up to manufacturers: 68 percent said they were tired of lots of “bells and whistles,” preferring to have just the functions they really need. Simple is best.

Paying Closer Attention to Provenance

10. Mindful consumers don’t just give more consideration to what they are buying; they also care about the people and practices behind each product. Half say it is more important to them these days to feel good about the companies with which they do business, and 57 percent prefer to buy from companies that share their personal values. Communicate what you are doing and why. Own up to mistakes and shortcomings. And give people a way to join in your good works. These more mindful consumers have the capacity to be your loudest, most persuasive brand evangelists. Treat them right.

Remember, today’s recipe for success features equal parts value and values.