We are now inextricably linked by a crisscrossing mix of jet streams, shadow systems, trade routes, money trails and fault lines - all the living and wired elements that keep our world revolving. These connections have gained momentum slowly, and individuals haven't always been conscious of them. Consumers experience fresh connections to the world with varying degrees of awareness, as these forces redefine relationships.
We're at a time when the forces of globalization play a vital role in the relationship between the consumer and the marketer. What exactly does this shift mean? Consumers are more connected to more of the processes around a product, and more sensitive to its entire lifecycle. They have more access, freedom, and power due to the continuing evolution of globalization. And because of this, they feel more impact and responsibility.
Iconoculture explores how these shifts affect consumers and companies. These six interwoven topics are shaping business today and tomorrow. They reflect the spirit of our time, the cultural zeitgeist that's moving the business landscape.
The Centerless World - Superpower governments and brands are a thing of the past. The assumption that the U.S. is the leader of the world - economically, technologically, culturally - is not only being challenged, it's becoming irrelevant. Rather than centers of dominance - from geopolitics to beverage brands - today's model is one of networks and choice. People across the world are reveling in new-found access, and contributing to the dilution of once-strong brand loyalty. Technology empowers emerging economies to compete globally. Cultural migration changes buying profiles and target markets forever. In a fluid global marketplace, competition and possibilities are limitless. Brands need to reevaluate their business model based on the values shaping this new reality.
Greater Expectations - Scandals, scares and strangers have left us wondering who to trust. Social forces have created an environment where many private companies now compete or complement in areas once the domain of government and NGOs. This can be tricky territory for brands as consumers make greater demands of trust, responsibility and safety. In this new environment, consumers want comprehensive, transparent, socially responsible initiatives as must-have elements in order for companies to win brand loyalty. Let down by failing government programs, consumers expect more brands to keep them safe and informed. Understanding the drivers behind these new consumer expectations will keep brands meeting the needs of savvy buyers.
The Fear Economy - Anxiety and fear are hallmarks of our post-9/11 era, especially in the Western world. New social, political and environmental forces are giving fear a unique status as a market motivator. But does it pay for companies? It can. Societal fears like the collapsing housing market, terrorism, and climate change represent unfathomable fears to consumers. Families look to trusted brands to fend off the threat to home, health, and loved ones. It's critical that brands recognize their role in the Fear Economy. Ignore it and you'll appear out of touch. Prey on it and you'll be branded a predator.
Finite Future - The commodities we once took for granted are becoming scarce, the global population is bulging at the seams, and the strain on resources is reaching the breaking point, pushing consumers in unexpected directions. Fuel scarcity has spurred alternative energy and innovation, shortages and supply chain kinks disrupt the global food system, the effects of climate change are under constant analysis, and water might just become the new oil. Consumers have the enormous task of considering the future of the planet with every purchase. Marketers that aren't managing both resources and expectations, and openly communicating to consumers their ideas will lose monster markets and be labeled unsustainable brands.
The Age Upon Us - The graying of a vast swath of the world's population is an unprecedented demographic shift that will permanently alter the business landscape, impacting every category for years to come. Some proactive planning can highlight the positives of this shift. Products and services designed with aging consumers in mind need to be part of any brand's plans. Age-friendly infrastructures will be critical to thriving communities. Consumers themselves, have the additional responsibility of aging well - and personal achievement of that goal can have an impact felt around the world. Smart companies have already begun thinking ahead. How can they help consumers age actively? Those who ignore the aging boom risk becoming obsolete.
Belief and the Globalized Consumer - Deeply held spiritual, religious, and moral convictions influence purchasing choices like never before. We've identified three distinct, belief-motivated consumers: Cause Consumers driven by ethical (including environmental) convictions, Confession Consumers live by a set of strict religious doctrines, and Conversion Consumers represent the shifting allegiances of religions and cultures as they mix. In new ways, the secular and non-secular worlds face each other in the global marketplace. How can businesses appeal to consumers motivated by passionate views on ethics, morality and religion - and avoid offending them?
These cultural shifts have become more meaningful, and the challenges that marketers face more complicated. No matter your vantage point, the consumer marketplace is undergoing significant change. For some, that change is unsettling; for others it's exhilarating.
Getting personal with the rest of the world can be overwhelming. But there's an upside: change begets innovation, spurs new markets, and drives new products. Marketers must understand the dynamics of these forces to keep them looking ahead rather than falling behind. Getting a handle on the spirit of these times is just the first step in putting together an effective plan for the times to come.