This blog post is by Mark Ringer, Executive Creative Director at Anthem.
In the US and UK we may still be experiencing the vestiges of the recession but the economy is becoming more stable and starting to look up. China, on the other hand, is enjoying unparalleled growth similar to the confidence felt in the US in the fifties. With greater stability, we have been able to bring about richer and smarter times, and as result of this, a culture where we are open to renewed possibilities. Anthem undertook some research in order to greater understand how societal values are being redefined in the post-recession era and the shifting role of brand meaning manifested in these changes. The research, which compares consumer attitudes in the US, UK and China, looks at the trends of what makes a consumer life 'good' and how we define success – and the resonance of brand offering in support of consumer lifestyles.
Globally, the research shows that people are seeking a new way of looking at balance in their lives, challenging both the notion that success and happiness are mutually exclusive and that trade-offs need to be made based on what's right for them and what's right for the world. There is still a resounding 'me, me, me' culture across the UK, US and China with 67 per cent, 75 per cent and 85 per cent respectively placing importance on themselves, however there are still substantial groups that are putting emphasis on making the world a better place. In the US, for example, a third of respondents valued "helping the world be a better place" over personal gain. Arianna Huffington's book, Third Metric, is representative of this new movement, highlighting how to become a holistic person. She advocates that people must focus beyond just money and power, by selecting the right people to surround yourself with and the considerable impact of technology on our culture. We are seeing a shift through the redefinition of societal values and the subsequent changing role of brand meaning. For example, Toms, the for-profit company which operates the non-profit subsidiary Friends of Toms, whereby a pair of shoes is given to an impoverished child each time a pair of shoes is sold. We've seen an increasing number of brands adapt in order to resonate with these socially conscious feelings, like Not on the High Street, which supports independent designers and small businesses.
The research also highlights an East/West shift between a personal focus on practical results over aspiration. In the UK and US respectively, 63 per cent and 60 per cent prioritise achieving practical results over aspirational goals. This was a little less emphasised in China at 54 per cent, reflecting the country's new-found confidence where there is a greater sense of opportunity. In the West we are nations coming out of a tough recession, where many realise that we have a duty to live within our means. In response to this, consumers are calling for brands to help solve their specific needs, particularly in the UK (68 per cent) and the US (69 per cent), while in China over two thirds desire brands that "intuitively feel like it's for me". One might think that with so many options available to them that they wouldn't desire such practicality. However, right now, there is a growing dependency on brands that put function before aspiration and if they keep their promises they will prosper. John Lewis is enjoying bountiful popularity due to its robust returns policy and quality control of all products that move through its doors. Reliability and quality are boosting brand desirability at least in the western world. People are actively seeking out the reliable and dependable.
In re-evaluating what we value, there is a heightened urge to revert to the past and seek comfort in traditions like craft and appreciating the way products are made. In the West, we found that 71 per cent of American respondents and 61 per cent of British respondents want to be connected to tradition. There is an opportunity here for heritage brands and modern concerns alike to develop deeper relationships with consumers. Companies such as Levi's and Converse have been good at this, being capitalists of their traditions from the shelf out but still innovative and relevant to their audiences. On the flipside, consumers still want to move forward and take advantage of digital and technological advancements to make lives easier through speed and efficiency; modern culture is important to a third of consumers in both the US and UK. Amazon kickstarted the ecommerce ecosystem that was built on those very qualities we now take for granted. It has streamlined the digital path to purchase, providing convenient services such as one-click ordering, secure billing information storage, and direct purchasing from alternative retail channels. By eliminating obstacles at the point of purchase, Amazon is catering to the modern user experience.
When it comes to balancing the future and heritage across all countries, respondents will most value brands that will "lead them into the future" but most of all in China (72 per cent), where there is a voracious appetite for growth and prosperity and where the country has had to play catch-up with its western counterparts. The evolution of technology is shaping how consumers behave and interact with brands and savvy, smart retailers know that understanding shoppers' behaviour is key for success. IKEA is using technology as an enabler to stimulate desirability through their interest in home furnishing. In the new catalogue, augmented reality techniques are used to visualise rooms and see how products would fit. Retailers are also building their own tech devices such as Argos MyTablet in order to keep customers connected to the brand, whilst adapting to the ever-evolving tech and digital environment.
Throughout 2014 and beyond, brands will need to deliver based on how consumers redefine what a successful life looks like and transform where they place most value. For heritage and modern brands alike, there is an opportunity to pull consumers into the future while also keeping them connected to their past by tapping into their roots and using the latest digital technologies to push the brand forward where consumers move and live. Brand desirability is driven by successfully marrying the two. Emotion and feeling in branding have been superseded by the need for function, meeting specific needs and exceeding expectations. An indomitable confidence in understanding the shifts in consumer patterns will prove indispensable for companies to drive up consumer confidence from the shelf out.