New 'Networked' Consumer More Fluid, Intimate

Trendmeister Faith Popcorn, the consumer researcher and futurist, popularized the concept of "cocooning" during the 1980s and 1990s. Now, she's predicting a new identity for 2007: Ubiquitous personalized media technologies are spawning a "networked self," which will shape both consumer marketing and society at large in the years ahead.

"The technological advances of the information age have produced the most powerful tools yet for shaping our collective human destiny," Popcorn's BrainReserve consultancy says in a year-end outlook on new consumer trends that will impact the marketplace.

"The world has simultaneously become more fluid and more connected, one of both infinite possibility and extreme intimacy. As a result, people are turning away from the ego-driven self-aggrandizement that characterized the old era of hyper-consumption."

Popcorn says marketers should register that the new "networked self" consumers are more ecologically aware than preceding generations. "With this newfound awareness comes a personal sense of responsibility to understand and engage with the whole," she adds.

Other future consumer trends include:

Identity Flux: Gender-neutrality goes mainstream. People list skills on their business cards rather than title. They dress up in various costumes, depending on who they feel like being that day.

Liquid Brands: Chameleon-like brands focus less on communicating a static message and more on being the right thing for the right persona at the right time. Constantly morphing retailers carry products until they sell out, and never restock.

Virtual Immortality: While some let their avatars drift away to online purgatory, many more leave behind specific instructions on how their virtual selves should proceed. Services offering avatar surrogates flourish, and we bequeath avatars to friends and family in our wills.

Environmental Movement: Companies are expected to reduce the amount of damage they are doing to our minds. Savvy companies sponsor marketing-free white spaces in lieu of polluting the environment with models and logos.

Product Placement: Enviro-biographies are attached to just about everything, letting consumers know the entire life story of a product: where the materials were harvested, where it was constructed, how far it traveled, and where it ended up after being thrown away or recycled.

Brand-Aides: Socially responsible brands make a buck while providing desperately needed services. Communities are revived by Target daycare, Starbucks learning centers and Avis transportation services for the elderly.

Moral Status Anxiety: A person's net worth is no longer measured by dollars earned, but by improvements made. Families compete with each other on how many people they fed while on vacation, and the most envied house on the block is not the biggest, but the most sustainable.

Oldies but Goodies: Respect for elders makes a comeback in the form of Ask Your Grandma hotlines. The proliferation of online video clips by seniors show us how to tie knots and concoct home remedies.