Futurist foresees a new type of consumer identity
The future trends consultancy Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve has predicted the formation of a whole new type of consumer identity over the next few years: the 'New Networked Self', based on technological advances that connect people in an unlimited, yet potentially intimate, way.
As a result of technologies such as internet-based social networks and consumer generated content, the company believes that consumers are increasingly turning away from the ego-driven self-aggrandizement that characterised the old era of hyper-consumption.
Instead, the New Networked Self is far more ecologically aware than its predecessor, with the consumer seeing himself or herself as a tiny-but-instrumental part of a much larger picture that's constantly changing. With this new awareness comes a personal sense of responsibility to understand - and to engage with - the whole.
Behaviour changes ahead? The company foresees several changes in consumers of the near future, including:
- Personality shifts These technology have enabled consumers to experiment with different personalities, leading to a much more fluid sense of who they are, the company says. And, having tasted the nectar of virtual liberation, many are beginning to reject the singularly-defined roles they are traditionally expected to play in society. Gender-neutrality goes mainstream. People list skills on their business cards rather than title, and dress up in various costumes depending on who they feel like being that day.
- Liquid brands Today's consumers are capricious and non-committal. Brands will have to become more liquid to keep up with their constantly moving targets. Chameleon-like brands focus less on communicating a static message and more on being the right thing for the right persona at the right time. Constantly morphing retailers carry products until they sell out and never restock.
- Virtual immortality Consumers globally are creating fully fleshed out existences in the virtual world-dressing up their avatars, making friends, having affairs and buying property for their digital alter-egos. And now that people have multiple lives, who says you can't live forever? While some let their avatars drift away to online purgatory, many more leave behind specific instructions on how their virtual selves should proceed. Services offering avatar surrogates flourish, and we bequeath avatars to friends and family in our wills.
- Environmental movement Like the movement to combat environmental pollution, the next consumer-led reaction will be against the mental pollution caused by marketers. With every corner of the world both real and virtual becoming plastered with marketing messages, bombarded consumers are starting to say they've had enough. The current attack against marketing to kids is just the beginning. Companies will be expected to reduce the amount of damage they are doing to the consumers' mind. Savvy companies will sponsor marketing-free white spaces in lieu of polluting the environment with models and logos.
- Product placement In the globally networked age, consumers are much more concerned about the consequences of consumption. Is my garbage poisoning someone in a developing country? How much fuel was burned in order to get these strawberries to my local supermarket? In the future, enviro-biographies are attached to just about everything, letting consumers know the entire life story of a product: where the materials were harvested, where it was constructed, how far it travelled, and where it ended up after being thrown away or recycled.
- Brand-aides Governments have let citizens down when it comes to providing the social services traditionally expected. Brands are stepping in to take over where the government left off. Companies are already finding there's profit to be made from providing affordable healthcare to the masses. In the future, socially responsible brands will be making money while providing desperately needed services. Communities will be revived by the likes of Target daycare, Starbucks learning centres, and Avis transportation services for the elderly.
- Moral status Anxiety In today's increasingly philanthropic climate, expect conspicuous self- indulgence to go straight to the social guillotine. The globally conscious consumer regards altruistic activities as a necessary part of self-improvement. In the future, a person's net worth will no longer be measured by dollars earned, but by improvements made. Families will compete with each other on how many people they fed while on vacation, and the most envied house on the block will not be the biggest but the most sustainable.
- Oldies but goodies Our culture is suffering from an experience deficit. With the availability of online knowledge, we're claiming expertise based only on secondary experience. Now that everyone's a web-educated know-it-all, we're secretly longing for authority figures to guide and assure us with indispensable nuggets of wisdom that could only come from having actually accumulated life experience. In the future, respect for elders makes a comeback in the form of "Ask Your Grandma" hotlines and the proliferation of online video clips by seniors, showing us all how to tie knots and concoct home remedies.