Five Consumer Trends Shaping How People Think, Act and Buy

In my previous post, I shared the first half of my Top 10 takeaways from this year’s Cannes Lions creativity festival. Here are the second five, which all focus on important consumer trends impacting the way people think, act and buy – and how brands can better position themselves for success in a changing marketplace.

Image: Panel Discussion at Cannes

The burning question I want you to be asking yourself: “What opportunity does my client or brand have to jump into an emerging space and capture new market share?” I hope a closer look at these important consumer trends will help inform your strategy.

1. Living your best life

“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” That empowering idea set the tone for a panel called “Future Gazers.” Three tech and innovation industry panelists shared their perspectives on what lies ahead and what marketers can do to shape and embrace change.

One focus that caught my attention was the future of wellness and well-being, which was defined rather memorably as “living your best life.” Well-being encompasses not just physical health, but self-improvement, happiness, emotional health and fulfillment. Within this space, countless innovations have emerged. For example, sleep optimization products, fintech tools to simplify financial planning, and the growing legalization and use of cannabis.

Anxiety tech is another fascinating consumer trend. On the lighter side, this includes technology and wearables built around mitigating the “aggressors in your life.” Think home water-testing kits, air purification systems and breathing masks. Anxiety tech also rightly supports the development of solutions for the more serious issues of mental and emotional health including mood predictors and the Shim Project, a research project testing an AI-driven chat app designed to change your negative mindset to a positive one.

No matter where you look, you can see evidence of the “consumerization of health care,” a trend of offering very professional services to consumers, such as DIY ultrasound. Similarly, you can see the “democratization of wellness,” a trend of making health services more accessible to people of all ages and incomes, such as community spas.

2. Good for the planet, good for me

During the same “Future Gazers” panel discussion, I keyed in on a consumer trend best described as eco-consciousness — driving the way we eat, live and shop. This one is a no-brainer, but I am personally very excited to see how consumers are actually voting with their wallet.

You see entire brands built with an earth-friendly purpose-at-the-core business proposition. Humankind products such as refillable deodorant are designed to tackle the single-use plastics crisis threatening our oceans. Clothing-as-a-service has evolved into a viable movement in the fashion industry. Consumers can opt for access versus ownership by subscribing to a clothing rental program.

Even traditional brands are jumping into the eco-conscious category. Harley Davidson is getting ready to roll out its first electric motorcycle, the LiveWire.

3. Partnerships with purpose

Speaking of traditional brands, I hadn’t thought about Knorr products in years. My only real impression of the brand was that my mother used to keep a box of dried leek soup mix in our cupboard for whenever she made oyster stew.

But sitting through a session on purpose changed my mind. The global sustainability lead for Knorr talked about the brand’s strategy for leveraging their 90-country reach. By establishing critical partnerships, Knorr is addressing a pressing challenge for the food industry, i.e., how we will feed a growing population. A recent UN report underscores the urgency of the issue, namely that there is an acceleration in species endangerment. Two of the key drivers involve the global food industry, including land use for food production.

To respond to the issue, Knorr partnered with The World Wildlife Foundation to launch “The Future 50 Foods” report, an impressive initiative focused on sustainable foods.

Image of beautiful produce

One of the biggest takeaways from this session for me was on movement-building, which is not a solo endeavor. You can’t create meaningful industry-wide change on your own. You must collaborate with partners. To ensure you strike the right partnerships, ask yourself three questions:

  • What is the change we want to create?
  • Who are the right people to bring together who can collectively influence decision-makers?
  • What can we do together that will change the conversation?

4. Energy plus direction

I’m always on the look-out for studies that can offer nuggets of inspiration or insight. The “Dynamo Brand Index” is an intriguing piece of consumer research on brands that are winning in the New Economy.

This study was authored by our parent company, Dentsu. As I read through it, I was curious to learn why certain brands have succeeded while others have fallen from favor – and more importantly, what we can do to help our clients continue to thrive in a changing marketplace.

The results are interesting and offer useful insights. Here are the key takeaways:

  • Brands need two key qualities to succeed in today’s experience economy: high energy and clear direction
    • Energy to move fast, connect relentlessly and engage consumers constantly
    • Direction to move with purpose, inspire loyalty and create relevance
  • The goal for brands is to find the balance of both.
  • Energy is more scarce because it requires brands to take action.
  • The age of a brand doesn’t matter. Both Instagram and Toyota ranked in the top 10 dynamo brands list.
  • Dynamo brands can be characterized by four core behaviors, which I might add are all driven by a sound, strategic approach to public relations:
    • Trust – Brands must earn trust not just in their products, but in their company. Openness and transparency are core components of trust-based organizations.
    • Clarity – Brands must communicate clearly what they offer consumers. Interestingly, brands don’t necessarily have to be consistent in their offering. Just clear.
    • Freeform – Brands should be defined by timeless values yet flexible enough to allow their form to change.
    • Kaizen – Brands must be learners with a keen focus and commitment to continuous improvement.

Curious? You can view the entire list of Top 10 global dynamo brands here.

5. The edge effect

If you like order and dislike uncertainty, this ah-ha is for you. Two creative industry veterans led a session called “Why Your Strategy Needs More Chaos,” a thought-provoking presentation that challenged the rule-following mindset many leaders have today — which is a popular mindset for a good reason. The pressure to deliver results at break-neck speed motivates us to minimize risk and hedge our bets.

Yet the case for chaos is compelling. Essentially, order stifles creativity. Only when we embrace chaos with rigor will we get the best ideas from our teams that resonate with rapidly changing consumer trends.

Image of Natural Setting

Here are three ways to let game-changing chaos thrive:

  • Let things in; don’t keep them out. Invite diverse perspectives to the conversation. Listen. Be interested in what other people are interested in. Stay open to new thinking.
  • Look at the culture around the category. When brainstorming a new concept for a client, look at pop culture such as fashion and music. Study how these industries are influencing consumer trends and behaviors. Watch for hashtags to pick up on language and conversation. (My observation: Influencer marketing done in different ways can offer a lot of unique insights here, too.)
  • Explore “the edge effect,” not the center. This was my favorite takeaway from this session. Great ideas often come from nuance, not the obvious. And the best place to look for nuance is on the edges. This concept is particularly interesting to me because it gets into neuroscience and our penchant for the familiar. Here’s a quick summary of “the edge effect.” We prefer to stay in our comfort zone, surrounding ourselves with people and ideas we know and like. Yet when we engage with people, cultures and ideas unfamiliar to us, we can connect the dots in new ways that often lead to break-through creativity and innovation – even unique collaborations. If you want to go deeper on this, check out Hidden Brain’s podcast episode on “the edge effect” and its impact on creativity.