Adapting to the culture of "less"
American consumers are waking to a harsh reality: We, our wallets and our natural resources are overextended, overweight and overwhelmed. The reaction is to pull back and say, “less.” The push away from mega-consumption is today's mega-trend.
Following the lead of Real Simple, a magazine that touts the organization, efficiency and simplification of your life with a focus on home, we seek ways to organize, prioritize and reduce our overall consumption, especially of the unnecessary stuff.
Responsible consumerism has always been visible on the fringes, but the green movement and support for local markets has now taken root in a mass fashion, gaining the attention of consumers in places other than highly populated urban areas. Farmers and producers of local goods can benefit from this turn of the tide, as consumers do more shopping closer to home. This also is not a bad time to be selling low-cost, travel-free forms of entertainment.
The millennial generation is also driving this focus on community. Raised with access to both their parents' disposable incomes and the Internet, members of this generation are globally and technologically savvier than any before them. This educated, earnest group seeks more than flash; it understands global issues and seeks to make changes in their own communities. When using their purchasing power, they rely on grassroots approaches, use social networking tools to swap product experiences and reviews, and discriminate based on research rather than reactions to brands or campaigns.
Even brands known for their ethical business practices or environmental friendliness — Ikea, Whole Foods or American Apparel, for example — will have issues because of the new emphasis on less. We will still consume. But increasingly, we do so thoughtfully — weighing cost vs. value, reading labels, choosing recyclable materials over plastic, researching low-energy appliances or buying from local vendors. Successful marketers will appeal to this restrained consumer with thoughtfully researched products.
Consumers are redefining how we relate with what we purchase and how we spread the word about our acquisition. Lack of pretension is a driver of curiosity. Consumers want genuine innovation, not froth.
Marketers must find new ways of getting their products onto consumers' radars, reinventing their game plan to keep up with this shifting landscape. While “want” drove the last decade, “need” is the new litmus test. Marketing cannot sustain itself in this environment as it has in the past, by inventing desire. It's a brave new world — where less is more.