• August 2014

What Do Consumers Want? Futurist Andy Hines Explains in "ConsumerShift"

By Andy Hines
Futurist and Author of “ConsumerShift”
Founder, Hinesight

Values refer to an individual’s views about what is most important in life that in turn guide decision-making and behavior. Values are the ultimate decision-making criteria—what an individual falls back on when making important life decisions.

And in America, values are changing in a consistent direction over time.

Understanding these changes will provide critical insight for understanding the future consumer landscape and designing products, services, and offerings that “fit” the new landscape.

In my book, ConsumerShift,
I translate the values changes into seven emerging-need states, brought to life in the form of seven future personas.

The book includes personal customization kits for those who want to tailor them to their specific needs. It will help you and your team make sense of rapidly changing consumer behavior—and understand where consumers are coming from, where they are going, and what they are looking for.

What Type of Consumer Are You?

The pattern uncovered in the research, drawing on nearly two dozen systems, but drawing most heavily on the outstanding work of the World Values Survey and Spiral Dynamics, is that there are four types of values and there has been a consistent developmental pattern in their adoption over time.

The four types are:

  • Traditional: Focused on following the rules and fulfilling one’s predetermined role, with priorities such as respect for authority, religious faith, national pride, obedience, work ethic, large families with strong family ties, and strict definition of good and evil.
  • Modern: Focused on achievement, growth, and progress, with priorities such as high trust in science and technology (as the engines of progress), faith in the state (bureaucratization), rejection of out-groups, an appreciation of hard work and money, and determination to improve one’s social and economic status.
  • Postmodern: Focused on the search for meaning in one’s life, with priorities such as self-expression, including an emphasis on individual responsibility as well as choice, imagination, tolerance, life balance and satisfaction, environmentalism, wellness, and leisure.
  • Integral: Emerging as the leading edge of values change, with a more practical and functional approach to employing values that best fit the particular situation, enabling one to pursue personal growth with an understanding and sensitivity to larger systemic considerations.

Note that this pattern has been a slow, long-term movement from traditional to modern to postmodern to integral.

In ConsumerShift, I focus on the newer types—postmodern and integral—to demonstrates how their emergence is reshaping the consumer landscape.

Five Themes of Change

In fact, what I discovered is that the values shifts are leading to five key themes of change, making a case for the consumer shift (note the acronym “A CASE”):

  • Authenticity: One of the costs of modern life, with its focus on economic growth and consumerism, is that everything and anything can be seen as a marketing opportunity; thus messaging and spin are ubiquitous. It has become more and more difficult to have an experience that isn’t manufactured, managed, or otherwise staged to some degree. The truly authentic experience has become a rare commodity, and thus, an object of desire. People are tired of being managed and manipulated and hunger for the straight story, warts and all.
  • Connection: Related to the feeling of life being out of control is the desire to get reconnected with what is really important in life. In its extreme form, this could manifest as a sense of angst. The busyness of daily life and the need to “keep up with the Joneses” have reached a point where people feel they’ve lost touch with their priorities. Thus they are seeking to scale back and get more involved in the activities that remain important. They want to spend more time with family and friends, get more involved in their community, know who their neighbors are and with whom they do business—in general they want to become more re-engaged with their daily lives.
  • Anti-Consumerism: A disenchantment with consumerism has been gaining momentum. The rapid pace of modern life has taken its toll on lifestyles and relationships. People are recognizing those costs, and given their relative affluence, are increasingly willing to trade off money and material goods for time to enjoy experiences and invest in relationships. This is not necessarily extreme—they appreciate the need for goods and services—but rather a sense that the consumption relationship needs to be reoriented such that consumption is not the end goal, but a means to various ends.
  • Self-expression: Disillusionment with modern life and consumerism has led individuals to turn inward and reassess the meaning of their lives. There is a sense of emptiness with adding yet another material possession—and the data shows that having more money and goods, beyond poverty level, adds nothing to one’s happiness. Thus, there is a search for deeper meaning and purpose in one’s life. This pursuit is seen as a worthy one that has intrinsic value, and people want to tell the world about it. They shift from a passive to an active orientation; they want to express their views, their values, their purpose, and their creativity.
  • Enoughness: Think of this as voluntary simplicity with a bit of an edge to it. Whereas voluntary simplicity suggests a benevolent, altruistic adoption of a simpler lifestyle, enoughness gets to a similar end point, but only partly from choice, as necessity in the form of the Great Recession is mixed into the equation. There is a sense of one “having enough” or being fed up with the status quo. There is an acceptance and embrace of the need for limits. People feel their lives are getting out of control, and they want to take back that control and set limits.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, a key challenge is emerging for companies that are used to doing business as they have for decades. The new reality: Consumers don’t want to be thought of primarily as consumers.

It’s not that they no longer want to buy goods and services, but they want to reconfigure or rebalance the relationship between buyer and seller.

They just don’t want things they don’t need and are scrutinizing just what they do need. They don’t want buyers pushing, marketing, spinning, and hard-selling.

They see a difference between transactions and relationships. They want an authentic connection, and they want their viewpoint to be acknowledged.

Questions, thoughts, feedback? I’m open to hearing your ideas on the changing consumer landscape. Check out my website, www.andyhinesight.com, and feel free to send me an email: ahines@uh.edu.


About Andy Hines

Andy Hines is lecturer and executive-in-residence at the University of Houston’s Graduate Program in Futures Studies, bringing together the experience he earned as an organizational, consulting, and academic futurist.

He co-founded and is currently on the board of the Association of Professional Futurists and has authored or co-authored five books:

  • “Teaching About the Future” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • “ConsumerShift: How Changing Values Are Reshaping the Consumer Landscape” (No Limit Publishing, 2011)
  • “Thinking About the Future: Guidelines for Strategic Foresight” (Social Technologies, 2007),
  • “Scenarios of US and Global Society Reshaped by Science and Technology (Oak Hill, 1996),
  • “Managing Your Future as an Association” (ASAE, 1994).

Hines has also written dozens of articles, speeches, and workshops, including the 2003 Emerald Literati Awards’ Outstanding Paper accolade for best article published in Foresight for “An Audit for Organizational Futurists,” and the 2008 award for “Scenarios: The State of the Art.”

Most recently, he has appeared on several radio and television programs, including KRIV-26 News talking about the future of libraries and the CBS “Early Show,” to talk about an MTV-commissioned study: “The Future of Youth Happiness.”

Click here to learn more: www.andyhinesight.com.

Hire Hines to speak about a future-related topic through the Inkandescent Speakers bureau.

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