Cautious and resourceful, tomorrow's consumers will be forced to find ways to live without a flood-tide of prosperity - marketers must adapt quickly to meet this unprecedented change in mindset. By J Walker Smith
J Walker Smith, The Futures Company
Future circumstances, already manifest and surfacing, will demand something wholly new of consumers, and thus of marketers, too, something more than a clever new look to rehabilitate an old approach.
Indeed, already, consumers are finding themselves forced to mastermind ingenious solutions to unprecedented, newly emerging states of affairs. Going forward, this outlook of ingenuity will carry over into consumer expectations of marketers and will suffuse every aspect of consumer engagement with the marketplace.
The global recession was so severe that it is easy to suppose that its repercussions will utterly define the future of the global consumer marketplace. That supposition is wrong. More is at work than that.
Three major cycles are coming to a close nowadays, only one of which is economic. One is technological; one is demographic. All three are opening onto something new in the face of unprecedented resource constraints.
Consumer aspirations find root in the possibilities afforded by the economy, technology and demography. These comprise the ocean in which people swim. Any shift sets people on a different course. The future is found by navigating the flow of these currents, as we do in our work at The Futures Company.
Based on where we see these three dynamics headed, the macro consumer trend to watch will be the emergence of lifestyles reflecting an overarching outlook of ingenuity.
The shock of the financial crisis reminded everyone that economic risk cannot be ignored. Of course, consumers always become more financially resolute after financial crises, and then, over time, slide back into old habits. For the foreseeable future, though, the global economy will be driven more by a focus on the consequences of decisions than on the indulgence of impulses, although not at the expense of luxury, but only over-reaching for it.
Worldwide, consumers and governments alike are reining in debt and popping budding bubbles. Frugality is not replacing immoderation, though. Consumers just have a sharper recognition that aspirations must be a matter of trade-offs and prioritisation.
Technology is also changing character as mobile handheld devices unseat PCs as the inspirational keystone of computing. Social networks, search, online video and online shopping are headed to mobile handhelds and the accompanying ecosystem of apps, tags, geo-coding, augmented reality, micro-blogging, synching, avatars and the like. Indeed, the miniaturised omnipresence of computing will proliferate as personal informatics and the internet of objects wirelessly interconnect the sensors that will soon be embedded in everything in order to capture and act upon real-time information.
A demographic hand-off from the generation over 50 to the generation under 30 is under way as well. Young people have a radically different understanding of their economic prospects and technological capacities.
They also find themselves at a remove from their parents and grandparents across every aspect of their social lives - from family and household structure, to racial and ethnic diversity, to religious and political allegiance, to governmental dependence and trust, and more.
The biggest changes, though, are the rising resource constraints and environmental limits that will determine what is possible with the economy, technology and demography. Climate change has the highest profile, but equally important are scarcities of water, fish, timber, precious metals, and habitat.
Vigilance and resourcefulness will be the watchwords that consumers live by in a world going through an extraordinary tangle of changes. Consumers are being forced back onto their own skills and smartness. There are no ready answers about what to do in a world in which economic risk is top of mind, technological engagement is ubiquitous, generational priorities are upended, and resource limits necessitate temperance.
No longer able to simply ride a flood-tide of prosperity, consumers will sink or swim based on the ingenuity they bring to navigating the uncharted, often treacherous waters ahead.
J Walker Smith is executive chairman of The Futures Company
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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