The Conscientious Consumer – Who They are and How to Connect With Them

Written by admin on April 4th, 2011

Consumer behavior is shifting and dictating change in the consumer products market through a new set of preferences. This, combined with the impact of technology on the way people buy, is creating a huge opportunity for companies able to identify and meet the needs of these new “Conscientious Consumers.”

This article will outline a few of the factors driving this shift and summarize the overall impact of changing consumer behavior on the consumer products market. We will take a closer look at these “Conscientious Consumers” and at what gets them to the point where they make a commitment, open their wallets, and spend money.

Emerging Cultural Codes – The Foundations of Change

In our culture, consumers are becoming more conscientious on many levels. Even the way in which consumers are making decisions and expressing preferences is undergoing a fundamental change. The business community is overflowing with articles, books, and conference workshops about this topic. Who are these Conscientious Consumers, and how will companies that provide consumer products connect with them?

The shift in consumer behavior is being attributed to technology, the desire for engagement enhanced by the surrounding context of the brand itself, self-determination and identity, and sustainability of our environment, to name just a few factors. All of this is most certainly in play, but is merely the surface expression of a much deeper groundswell of change.

A new set of cultural codes are emerging that define the way people behave in all areas of their lives. How consumers behave is one of the most visible aspects of this change, and probably the most studied, because it is the basis of profitability for so many companies. As such, consumer behavior provides an interesting insight into the dominant and emerging codes that define the very nature of the culture that we live in. These codes can be seen as the foundation on which all trends, fashions, and fads are built and will be the starting point for our look at today’s consumers.

The Context of Cultural Change

Cultural evolution and its impact on social, and hence, consumer behavior is a continuum that can be traced back to the beginnings of commerce and trade. History provides interesting insights into consumers of the past, and also highlights the dominant codes that determine consumer behavior today, allowing us to make reasonable predictions about how that behavior will change going forward.

Looking Back

Consumerism as we know it began to emerge at the end of the Second World War. The manufacturing capability established to support the war effort was redirected towards the production of affordable consumer products for the emerging middle class. At that time, the dominant cultural code was conformity, stability, and normalcy, an understandable response to the upheaval and social trauma caused by the war, and the basis of the white-picket-fence mentality, leading everyone to look alike and behave alike.

Brands that appealed to this core cultural need prospered, which meant a huge demand for mass manufacturing and standardized products. This consumption drove incredible growth and prosperity. The 1960s marked some return to the notion of individuality, but not enough to become the dominant cultural code. Recession in the 1970s slowed things down significantly; conversely, the 1980s and 1990s were all about “bigger and better.” Everyone was very status-oriented, as evidenced by the wholesaling of previously “luxury” brands, supersized cars, affordable diamonds, ubiquitous designer labels, and so on.

What Consumer Behavior Means

What is interesting about this perspective on consumer behavior is that consumers have not really changed at all. They continue to consume in a way that expresses the dominant cultural themes defining the era in which they live. They consistently seek to represent the values and display the status markers that garner approval and represent success, as defined by their culture. So it is the times that have changed. To understand the Conscientious Consumer, we need to understand the social context in which they consume, and how that impacts their preferences and influences their interpretation of value.

What Do Consumers Want?

So what cultural environment is the backdrop to this Conscientious Consumer? A few cultural codes stand out as far as driving the way people consume. Consumers are looking for engagement with the brands they purchase. Consumers want a sense of self-determination and the opportunity to establish an individual identity. A growing distrust of large corporations means that people are replacing corporate reliance with self-reliance. The unprecedented new access to information through technology makes consumers significantly more informed and sophisticated than they were even five years ago. Finally, awareness, responsibility, and sustainability via purchases of “green” products are the new status markers, and consumers are looking to take these cultural values into account in their spending.

The Conscientious Consumer

So why the term Conscientious Consumer? Conscientious means several things in this context. Because consumers are smarter and better informed, their purchasing is either price-savvy, as in a bargain, or reflects the social values named above. Consumers rely on peer-to-peer formats such as social networking to gather information; ads and corporate product representations are not taken at face value. Consumers rely heavily on word-of-mouth to guide and then reinforce their choices, and spend often considerable time researching options on-line before they buy. Consumers focus as much on the experience of purchasing as on the attributes of the product they buy, and are prepared to spend even more if the product has the new status markers. Consumers are looking for more control in their purchasing process and want the opportunity to differentiate themselves and emphasize their individuality. Consumers have a new interpretation of value: what does the product say about who they are and what is important to them? Consumers are well-informed, well-connected with other consumers, and the basis of their decision making is well-thought-out, as it pertains to cultural codes and values.

Summary – Have a Conscientious Consumer-Friendly Product

The Conscientious Consumer is shaping the consumer landscape and should be the subject of a great deal of attention for any company wishing to sell products into this market. Learning how to reach out to Conscientious Consumers by being a presence in popular on-line sites is critical. Designing a distribution strategy that optimizes the opportunity for engagement with the Conscientious Consumer will give your brand “legs” that will enable it to participate in any future marathon. In brief – be a Conscientious Consumer-friendly product and move in tune with the shifting landscape so that you can create a vibrant connection with your best customers.

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