Powerful forces are changing how consumers think and act. As we look out over the next 15 years, we can highlight critical shifts that will change the way branding, marketing, producing, advertising, and retailing are done.
This is a place where I will share ideas about that future consumer. Each idea gets introduced on Twitter, on the @packfutur and @jbmahaffie Twitter streams. They are then be collected here.
Winning businesses will reckon with these change forces by transforming how they produce, market, and sell their goods. It won’t be enough to just make minor adjustments—we will have to get beyond the low-hanging fruit.
Note: A recent post, “A 2021 Shopper’s Path to Purchase” explores some closely related possibilities.
Reconsidering consumption – More consumers show at least some post-materialist values in their consumption and that value will grow. That means that they at least sometimes think, “Why do I want more stuff?” and make choices that are not about having more material goods.
They focus instead on how what they consume improves the quality of their lives. Consumers other values into this too, including interests in the environment and social justice.
Post-materialist thinking may mean consuming differently, not necessarily less. For example, more people want a new, authentic experience in what they consume, not just the latest product. But that could mean buying more expensive, more authentic, and higher quality things, such as hand-crafted clothing or furniture, or patronizing businesses that add a lot of personalized service and customization to their products.
The bottom line for business. More consumers will want products that offer them something special: greater feelings of safety, wellbeing, a match to their values, authenticity, a new experience, and overall, a product that adds to the quality of their lives. They may look hard at your full value chain, not just the end product. While people will continue to buy mass-produced commodity products—ordinary things that don’t aspire to offer much beyond basic utility, it’s dangerous to assume that changing values won’t matter to consumers for your products. They will.
Image: Chantal Foster, via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license
Future consumers will be born digital — The next generations of consumers include the tens of millions of today’s children who have lived their lives digitally—most of that time with a mobile phone in their hands. Even before they got a phone, they probably had Xbox, Wii, or Playstation.
They were born digital, and are growing up digital. They have habits and expectations on how they want to communicate with people and systems. They expect information and access 24/7, and from anywhere, to anywhere. Now their digital lives are social too, with instant connections and inputs from their friends and “friends” being integral to what they do in the marketplace.
The bottom line for business. It’s time to look at the consumer differently, to recognize that the consumer’s interactions with you and your products and services are part of a bigger picture of his or her digital life. You cannot expect to do well with the born-digital consumer if you lag behind their routine expectations from technology and for social-connectedness. Growing up with video and computer games means the digitally-born expect the systems they use to be multi-sensory and interactive—that they can communicate with gestures, not just a keyboard. That they can touch a screen and scroll, zoom, and so on. Why should the systems they find in the marketplace in 2026 be less intuitive, interactive, and lively than their Xbox 360 or Wii?
Image: Scott & Elaine van der Chijs, via Flickr, CC attribution license
Market niches of one (“N = 1”) – The consumer’s interest is in his or her individuality. Consumers have come to focus on themselves and business has supported that. Consumers care about their uniqueness and specific needs, and expect the products and services they use to fit closely to that uniqueness. This value is integral to US Baby Boomer sensibility, and America’s younger generations, steeped in it too, and are even more likely to have the digital tools and habits to do something about it.
The bottom line for business. The “N = 1” shift results in changed relationships: firm to individual consumer, instead of firm to market niche or mass market. Ultimately, consumers want to have a hand in creating, or at least identifying and fine-tuning the products businesses offer them. The relationship becomes two-way. Each sale will be about showing the consumer you recognize who he is and how your product fits his uniqueness.
Look for more #Consumer4sight ideas here and on Twitter: @packfutur and @jbmahaffie
Note: part of my work is to lead groups in workshops exploring how the future consumer will shape their businesses. I also present to trade and corporate groups on this and related topics. Contact me for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.