If you wanted to sell soap powder in the 1950s, focusing on your target customer was easy. One fixed characteristic filtered out half the population: gender. Women bought the product, and women used it.
Today, US women still do twice as much housework as men. But traditionally assigned gender roles have changed. And the idea of gender itself has evolved. A binary distinction between male and female is not rich enough to reflect our lived experience. I think we’ll see more customer categories become increasingly irrelevant.
From the rise of ambiguous identities to advances in virtual reality and wider shifts in social structures, consumers are starting to reshape their lives. Our FutureConsumer.Now program is exploring the challenges and opportunities this will create.
We want to understand how the lives of future consumers could change, and what that means for companies now. I think many of today’s assumptions about consumer aspirations will no longer apply. In the years ahead, consumers will likely live longer and spend more of their time online, or in virtual realities. They’ll have more opportunities to shape and inhabit different identities.
Markers like nationality, social class or even their age could become more fluid, and have less influence on what consumers think, how they behave and what they value.
Perhaps there won’t be a “mass market” for consumer goods anymore; just a mass of individuals who are increasingly difficult to categorize, and who reinvent themselves from moment to moment, from platform to platform.
People will still want to gather in groups with like-minded people. But they will find them through technology and data and connect with them based on their shared values and interests rather than practical connections, such as living in the same area. Rather than being defined by markers such as gender, age or location, they will express themselves in ways that are more fluid and flexible.
In one of the future worlds we modeled at our hack week in Berlin, these groups – or “tribes” – broke down physical borders and formed their own communities, both real and virtual. They started to pool their purchasing power and demand a different relationship with brands.
Today, consumer-facing companies try to tailor offers and discounts that will appeal to individual consumers, based on their purchasing data – with varying degrees of skill and success. In the future, will products themselves be individualized?