2020’s biggest trend: Consumers are people too

07 February 2020
The start of a new decade tends to make one think about the future. For the communications and marketing industry, that means trend reports. Hundreds and hundreds of trend reports!

The 2020 lists are, as always, varied and worth a look, with all kinds of technological bells, whistles and doodads tipped to change the way we relate to each other.

If you haven’t read them all, don’t fret — we spent January reading them all, and if you’re the kind of person we tend to partner with (smart humans working tirelessly to create social good for people and the places they live), we’ve distilled it all into the main thing you need to consider.

Here it is: 2020, and the decade to come, will be defined by the rise of people power.

(Given Think HQ’s devotion to human-centred outcomes, you may not find it surprising for us to make that call, but trust us — it comes up again and again and again.)

Consumers are changing. Business and organisations can adapt to meet their new expectations, or face being abandoned. That goes for customers, funders and employees — everyone is starting to think beyond the bottom line when it comes to measuring a company’s success.

We still tend to think of people through the lens of consumer culture as it’s existed for much of the 20th century. With the rise and success of capitalism, citizens were rebranded into consumers. People defined their views and values by the products they consumed and owned. They were heavily influenced by the thick wrapping of commercial messaging that drove them to keep blindly consuming, equating wealth with power at the altar of endless exponential growth.

Fast forward to 2020 and things have changed.

There are a constellation of issues driving this. Collapsing trust in institutions (including banks and the media) has people looking for new ways of doing things. Social media has given people a louder voice to hold business and organisations to account and made them expect more interaction and acknowledgement from the entities they interact with. Younger consumers’ feelings of being locked out of the housing market has driven questioning of the market’s nature as an automatic salve for all wounds. Anxiety over climate change has led many to a diagnosis of exponential growth as a terminal illness for the planet. Older voters, feeling left behind by identity politics and the “OK boomer” tone of pop culture discourse, seek signals of support from the places they choose to invest. People are still, of course, motivated by bargains, pricing signals and shiny things, so it’s not like we’re tipping into socialism, it’s just that ‘profit’ is losing its significant lead over ‘everything else’.

To navigate this growing reality, businesses and organisations must be able to explain not just what they do, but why they exist, and the positive value they bring to the world. (They must at least demonstrate that they are doing no harm.)

The good news? No-one’s mad if you make a profit while doing good work. The old distinction of ‘business versus charity’, where anyone who cares about positive social outcomes must be a non-profit hippy, is old hat. Basically, your ends no longer justify the means.

The challenge? This must be authentic. ‘Purpose’ or ‘positive outcomes’ don’t sustainably work as market positions. If you slap ‘purpose’ on an unchanged business model, you will be found out eventually, and your brand will struggle to recover from such a betrayal. Do or do not, there is no try.

You know who else cares about this? Employees. They also thirst for companies with purpose. Three quarters (75%) of Millennials say they would take a pay cut to work for a responsible company, while 64% won’t take a job from a company that doesn’t have strong practices of corporate social responsibility (Source). Studies have shown that purpose-oriented companies have higher productivity and growth rates, and more satisfied staff who stick around. That saves money on training and turnover and turns staff into brand ambassadors.

The point? You must figure out the story you tell of your purpose, and the social good you bring into the world. You must invest in the messaging and marketing to get that story to the hearts and minds of your customers, clients and candidates. You must be profitable, because only sustainable entities can make real impact. And, because the story of you must be true, you must be authentically good.


Photo by Jacek Dylag on Unsplash