Where Consumers Live These Days
For the last few years, I’ve been on the move. Not from the law… more from the boredom of living in the same place. I haven’t been able to make it stick beyond a few months. I’ve had roommates and been solo. I’ve lived in houses, cottages and condos. I’ve lived downtown, at the beach and in the ghetto. And the one constant I’ve looked forward to in every move is the possibilities of a new space. I pick up paint swaps, shop for furniture and imagine and re-imagine the changes I’ll make to my new cave. And then I purchase supplies. I’ve spent about $5,000 in the last three years on “home makeovers” for homes I’ve lived in less than a year. Shower curtains, welcome mats, linens, bar stools, paint, drapes, rugs, plants, storage contraptions to give me more space for the things I don’t need…it all adds up. I never thought of myself as a rampant consumer because I don’t buy big-ticket items, shop for labels or acquiesce to the latest gadgets or fashion trends. But I was a closet consumer whose impulses triggered with each new closet I took over.
I moved again two weeks ago. But this time was different. Like many Americans, I’m battling credit card debt. The average outstanding credit card debt per household was $10,679 at the end of 2008 according to the April 2009 Nilson Report. Like droves of others, I’ve committed myself to be debt-free in a year. I’ve also been trying to live more sustainably. So, with this move came…nothing. No new welcome mats. No new plants. No paint. I splurged on sheets – which were bamboo, on sale and paid for with cash at Target. Why Target? Perhaps I’ve fallen for their expect more, pay less mantra. Or perhaps my new purchase behavior reflects my membership in the ranks of the “durable consumer” – a consumer seeking substance over sizzle, longevity over trendiness and conscious spending over credit card indulgence. Take my sheets. They satisfied my needs, fit my budget and made me feel better about the environmental impact of my purchase. They were also soft to the touch and available in a range of colors. Obviously, I saw the value.
The implications of my “consumer journey” are not lost on me as an advertiser. I see the shift from image to value in my industry though it seems the connected nature of digital advertising has always been more slanted to experiential, value-driven messaging than traditional advertising. The shift has become more precise though. The influx of social media has only pushed it further giving brands great opportunities to connect with people on their terms while staying clued in to the economic, social and environmental forces consumers are facing. Who knows? Today’s economy may be the fire test good brands need to become great. After all, some of the most iconic global brands are ones that truly solidified their values and positioning during the Great Depression. (Look at our Brands Sink or Swim in Economic Uncertainty post.) And even our personal brands can rise to the adage of what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger? (Read our personal branding for your dream job post.)
And what about the economic upswing that’s around the corner? Will amnesia take effect and bolt people back to wanton consumerism when it arrives? Will we be in the money? Or with sustainability and consciousness, has the age of consumerism (at least as we know it) ended? My bet is yes. But all I know for sure is that I don’t live there anymore. And I have plenty of company with people buying less, but looking for more in terms of the value they seek before they flex their purchase power.
Amanda Eyer is a brand strategist with atLarge, Inc., a digital advertising firm that’s guided online strategies for Ford, IMG Academies, J.D. Powers & Associates and more. She has a decade of interactive marketing experience and has worked with non-profits, start-ups and corporations to help them achieve their digital marketing goals.
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