Two recent developments from Sustainable Brands have me jumping for joy. For those who don’t know, Sustainable Brands is a global community of business and brand leaders with a goal to ’help brands succeed while accelerating the shift to a sustainable economy.’ I was delighted to hear they are bringing their annual conference to Vancouver this year, in early June. It’s refreshing to see a typically US-centric organization look beyond its borders for a place to gather, like TED did a few years ago. And it reflects well on Vancouver’s image in the global business community to have an event with this type of focus choose our fair city.
This year’s conference theme, ‘Redesigning the Good Life,’ is based on a 3-year global initiative that Sustainable Brands launched in 2017. The initiative began because of a hypothesis that our societal aspirations are shifting around the world, as we realize the harm that over-consumption is having on us, our communities and the planet. The organization decided to begin by conducting a study in the US, to capture consumer perceptions about what constitutes ‘the good life’ and to see if they reflect emerging global insights.
The findings from this study also had me jumping for joy. The data showed that there is indeed a long-term shift in consumer aspirations—the definition of living ‘the good life’ has changed to something more positive and sustainable. The focus is moving away from status, money and personal achievement toward balance, simplicity and connections. It’s not surprising to see that consumers continue to have financial concerns but there is a growing recognition that money alone won’t buy happiness. The ability to buy luxury items, which is traditionally a sign of status, is now seen by only 1/4 of the US population as an accurate indicator of living ‘the good life.’
The findings from the study identified four priorities that people now specify for living ‘the good life:’
Thankfully, these priorities are not limited to one or two demographics. They reach across generations, gender, region, income, politics and faiths. It’s heartening to see that these ideals matter to people in all walks of life and provide a common ground that the majority agree with.
So, what does this study mean for brands? The findings show that people want companies to help them live this new version of ‘the good life.’ In fact, they expect it. And, for those brands that do, 80% of consumers will reward them with their loyalty. Although 1/2 of consumers sense brands would like to help them with their goals, 2/3 struggle to identify brands that are succeeding in doing so. This disconnect can be seen across categories--from personal care to appliances/home to tech, not one category performed well against all four priorities. This shows that there is significant opportunity for companies that can deliver on helping consumers meet these unfulfilled needs.
It’s important to note, however, that success won’t automatically come just by having products and services that help consumers live ‘the good life.’ As marketers, we know all too well that consumer demand is complicated. Although 2/3 of US consumers believe in voting for change with their dollars, less than 1/3 said they purchase from companies who are helping them live ‘the good life.’ So, although some brands may be meeting consumer needs, they aren’t differentiating or communicating their benefits well enough. As always, those brands that are consumer-centric in their offerings and communications will benefit most from this opportunity.
As professionals and consumers, we can all do our part to redefine ‘the good life’ and contribute to bringing this new global vision to life, for everyone’s benefit. If you’d like to read the report in detail, you can find it here. And, if you’re interested in attending or getting involved with SB’18 Vancouver, you'll find the details here.
I was in a local mall at the beginning of December, not something I do often, and was surprised to see a heavily-discounted holiday season already in full swing. It reminded me of the challenges that retail, especially the bricks and mortar version, continues to experience. And I wondered how retailers had fared during the recent Black Friday through Cyber Monday promotional period.
In doing some quick research, I found out that the period delivered a higher number of shoppers in the US than expected—174 million Americans. Although it appears these shoppers spent more this year than last year, 60% said their purchases were driven primarily by sales. This annual discount period that retailers have created is succeeding in delivering traffic and transactions, but at what cost? In 2017, the discounts were offered earlier and went deeper than last year, thereby setting consumer expectations that they will see even better deals further into the holiday season. The question begs to be asked, “how low can they go?”
This problem is one that retailers have been facing and, ironically, fostering for years. The cumulative impact of this discount-dependent purchase behavior is that it can decimate a brand’s perceived value. As Robin Lewis (a retail strategist) said, back in 2012, “The paradox is that while the retail consensus is that consumers are ‘hooked’ on the ‘drug of sales,’ the longer and more persistently brands and retailers ‘push’ the drug, the more the process becomes an implicit admission that their brand or store is worth less.” And once they have reached that point, it’s something that can rarely be reversed.
Discounting is not the only problem plaguing retail these days. Consumer preference for online shopping continues. In this year’s Black Friday to Cyber Monday results, one-quarter of shoppers shopped in-store only, 40% shopped both in-store and online, and one-third shopped online only. Online shopping delivers a double-whammy to retailers. It makes it super easy for consumers to buy at the best price, plus allows them to bypass the in-store experience. When it comes to shopping, there are definitely times I like to avoid stores, especially during heavy promotional periods when the experience can be very unpleasant. But for a retailer, the store experience can be an opportunity to add some value back into their brand. While they can try to create value through their online experience, the in-store experience is becoming a missed opportunity more often.
As Seth Godin said, "The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race, though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that's just beginning." And some retailers are taking that to heart. For example, there’s a mall in Los Angeles that is attracting customers by giving them what they want—new discoveries and unique experiences in a photo-worthy environment. The results speak for themselves, as their tenants are on track to hit an average of $850 per sq. ft. in annual sales in 2017, compared to an estimated $165 per sq. ft. for shopping centres nationwide. Their focus on surprising and delighting consumers is paying off so well that they’re expanding at a time when many other retailers are going out of business.
As Warren Buffet once said, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.” With such a discount-heavy approach, most retailers have trained consumers to base their value squarely on price, and expect nothing more. And that has resulted in the “race to the bottom” that’s driving retailers out of business. However, there are some retailers who have created value for the consumer by delivering more than just deals. These stand-outs don’t need discounts to compete and succeed. They have broken the cycle and will reap the rewards of true value creation.
Dave woke up to his alarm and hit snooze. After repeating this three times, he finally grabbed his phone and sat up to greet the day. He looked at the latest weather and headlines, exchanged texts with his girlfriend, played a few rounds of his favorite game and then rolled out of bed to get ready for work. The subway was busier than usual so he tucked into a corner and caught up on his social media feeds. When he arrived, he scanned the large open office, filled with rows and rows of desks. Most people were already fixated on their computer screens, many wearing headphones to combat the constant din in the room. He settled into his workstation, opened his laptop and went online. He noticed with a sense of dread that he already had twenty new emails, five marked urgent, and a bunch of questions on the team messenger app. Everyone was asking about his progress on the latest project he’d been assigned. But he was having a tough time with this one. He just couldn’t seem to generate any new ideas. It wasn’t just writer’s block – he knew what that felt like and always knew it would pass. But this felt different and it didn’t seem to be passing. It had been going on for days, maybe for weeks. In fact, for so long that he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had an original idea. He didn’t know why this was happening but he had to figure it out and fix it – fast. His success depended on creativity and without it, he knew his job and future would suffer.
Dave isn’t alone in his struggle with creativity. And I’m sure the number of people who can relate to Dave’s situation is growing, every day. If you search Google using the term “how to improve creativity,” you will see 162 million results. It’s a popular topic. “How to develop creativity and innovation” yields 98 million results and “techniques to enhance creativity” has over 80 million results. It’s clear that there are many people seeking answers to this problem. And, though there are many good solutions, there is one that stands out and is, I think, more important than all the rest. Boredom.
Boredom sounds boring and it is boring. Which is why we usually try to avoid it. But boredom is a crucial ingredient for creativity. Science has shown that allowing our minds to wander leads to better creative problem solving. When we daydream, our mind starts accessing memories, emotions and random information, allowing us to see things with a new perspective. Often, this is when we figure out a solution to a problem or come up with a new thought. These eureka moments happen when we access an internal attention system in our brain called the default state network. This particular state of mind is only engaged when we are not involved in a task that requires focused attention. But these days, we are spending more and more time on those tasks requiring our attention as we spend more time on our devices.
A Nielsen study in early 2017 found that the average time American adults spend consuming media (in all forms) totaled 11 hours and 36 minutes per day. In other words, time spent on all devices combined has ballooned to almost half of the 24 hours we have for sleeping, working and doing all the things we need to get by, such as eating. How has it come to this? Well, the days when we would listen to the radio on our commute and watch an hour or two of TV after dinner are gone. Now we fill all the little empty bits of our day with content of one type or another. The ability of technology to catch our attention and keep us engaged has created a desire for distraction that few can ignore. It’s so strong that some people would rather be mildly electrocuted than be left alone with nothing to do, as a study in 2014 proved. But this distraction is costing us more than just time. It’s also costing us our creativity. And, if we don’t do something about it, we’ll end up like Dave.
So if you want to improve your creativity, allow yourself to be bored. Encourage your brain to kick into the default state by spending time doing simple external tasks that don’t require focused attention. Fold the laundry, walk your dog or go sit in a park. Make sure you don't succumb to the lure of your devices at the first sign of boredom. They are great for feeding our distraction but not for feeding our creativity.
I have a curious mind and many interests. I like to spend time musing about things marketing-related, as well as how technology impacts our world.