Culture Shifts Affecting the Post-Modern Consumer

The Future of Marketing and How to Win: Part 6

As a marketer you need to understand the post-modern consumer because they’re very different than they’ve been in the past. Of course, there’s demographic changes; we’re getting married older, there’s one less child in the family picture, there are same-sex households, babies are born to unwed mothers around 40% of the time in America, and dual-income is dominant. But that’s not the whole story. The real story is how the culture has shifted. I’m going to give you five examples of some cultural shifts that are very important for all cohorts.

We are living in a time of perpetual uncertainty. Families need to be lean, flexible, and adaptable to survive. They’ve lost faith in their institutions, and so, a new frontier logic has taken hold that says, “We’re on our own.” No institution is going to be around to save us. It’s all down to us. Wealth is being defined beyond money.

The job outlook is very pessimistic, and what’s interesting is that we see economic behavior that really doesn’t make any sense. It’s almost schizophrenic. On one hand, having the savviness to be able to pick out discounts and save money is prized. But, at the same time, people will walk across the street and buy a very premium suit or premium-priced pair of shoes, because that has social currency. If you think about shared ownership of cars, bicycles, or almost any other product these days, even dresses, owning products doesn’t have the same meaning. And therefore, the money is less important.

The way people work is certainly different. Flexibility, fluid work environments are very common now. It’s no longer about being the company man or the company veteran. In fact, you see passion as a priority that’s even greater than having a steady job, because, after the day job many people are going back to a hobby that they’ve dreamed of turning into a career. It’s their passion, and that’s where they draw most of their satisfaction from. We even see this idea of the new working-class hero as the pro-am, the professional amateur.

The postmodern consumer has very different attitudes towards health as well. Doctors are no longer the sole authority because the internet has democratized knowledge, and people can now go into their doctor’s office self-diagnosed and ask for a prescription. And then there’s the saturation of messages that raise alarm and pinpoint risk everywhere. So, consumers engage in risk reduction strategies. Think of the organic food movement or the local movement. Even The Good Guide allows consumers to scan the bar code of any product, and understand whether the product is organic, how it’s made, and whether they’re a good corporate citizen or not. As a counter effect of all the health messages, consumers engage in self rebellion; small rebellious activities like eating a KFC Double Down, which no one has any business eating, but they just do as a countermeasure.

One of the major challenges is adapting to a life that is now digital. Digital is changing our society faster than we can adapt to it, and while that’s exciting it also creates anxieties. The democratization of knowledge allows people to sample the exotic from the safety of their home or phone. They can experiment with their identity, and then publicize that identity. The counter balance of all this anxiety is a need for authenticity. The authenticity movement is about craft, local and real. It is an antidote to a life that is seen as superficial and plastic.

These five cultural shifts impact all customer segments differently. To be customer-centric, your brand needs to invest in understanding and has an opportunity to respond through your brand strategy.

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