Economic Eras and Brand Consumption

The Future of Marketing and How to Win: Part 5

Cultural beliefs are shifting. Customers simply don’t act the same way as they did when brand strategy models were developed back in the 1950s. But, it is not 1950 anymore.

People are fundamentally changing their behavior as our culture evolves in this new economic era. For example, in retail, what’s winning are the discount retailers and, interestingly, also the premium retailers. The middle is dying. That’s a very different behavior than we’ve seen in the past and it’s driven by economic instability and people making different choices.

Now, if you ask somebody, “Why are you shopping at discount, and then going across the street to a premium retailer?” they can’t rationally tell you. But, what’s driving it is the new cultural beliefs around economics. The brands that are attracting customers are those that are culturally relevant.

Phillips Design has put forth a model for understanding the economic eras that consumers have moved through that is helpful in understanding what’s happened. It started with the industrial era, where it was all about ownership driven by mass production. Through the experience economy of the 1980s, where brands and marketing really came into the fore, offering promises of experience. And now, we’re living through the knowledge economy, where consumers want to be fully self-actualized, and knowledge platforms like Google help get them there.

As culture moves forward in time, new brands are born. In 2008, the American dream collapsed, along with the economy, and a bunch of brands were created out of that. First was the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party, and though they’re not brands you normally think of in terms of products and services, they were consumed by the public through their participation.

We can look to popular culture for signs and signals of the current mood: Pre-2008 the most popular memes were of vampires, and vampires are interesting because they have a lot of personal agency, like people did before the economic collapse. After the 2008 collapse zombies, who have no personal agency, became the most popular in pop culture.

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