The New Consumer Psychology

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The New Consumer Psychology

As John Gerzema, president of Brand Asset Consulting, recently wrote in Strategy+Business,1 consumers are shifting to a lifestyle more focused on community, connection, quality, and creativity. 

People are retreating to old-fashioned values to build new lives of purpose and connection.  They also realize that how they spend their money is a form of power, and they're moving from mindless consumption to mindful consumption, increasingly taking care to purchase goods and services from sellers that meet their standards and reflect their values. 

In part, this new consumer mindset — which Gerzema labels the "Spend Shift" — could be symptomatic of harder times for many consumers.2  However, it's more likely that the Spend Shift movement could be here to stay, since it is closely related to the civic dissatisfaction that is rocking the political establishment, and additionally has some roots in environmental awareness and changing aspirations.  For businesses that embrace this change, there will be opportunities; and for those that ignore it, there will be penalties.

Gerzema's assessment of the Spend Shift is based on two years of gathering and analyzing data, beginning with the Young & Rubicam BrandAsset Valuator (BAV), which is a poll of consumer values, attitudes, and shopping behaviors.  More than a million consumers were queried in 50 countries on more than 70 brand metrics, which include the general awareness consumers have of a brand, the particular ways it makes them feel, and many other measures.

The most recent BAV surveys show sharp increases in the number of consumers who focus more on corporate behavior, rather than status-driven values. 

For example, among the once-prized brand attributes that declined between 2005 and 2009 were:  "exclusive," "arrogant," "sensuous," and "daring," all of which dropped from 20 to 60 percent.  The brand attributes Americans found more important during this same period were "kindness and empathy," up 391 percent; "friendly," up 148 percent; "high-quality," up 124 percent; and "socially responsible," up 63 percent. 

This dramatic increase in consumer preferences for companies that show kindness and empathy toward customers is the biggest shift in any attitude ever seen during the BAV survey's two-decade history.

In the course of his research, Gerzema identifies four defining principles that together offer a comprehensive look at the origins and impacts of the Spend Shift.

The first principle is that we are United by Change.  In other words, this Spend Shift is a far-reaching and inclusive phenomenon that isn't limited to any particular demographic...

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