Is ‘groundedness’ the antidote trend to digital whiplash?

Discussion
Photo: RetailWire
Sep 03, 2021

The combination of digitization and globalization has made lives increasingly virtual, fast-paced, and mobile, ultimately driving countless trends in the marketplace. According to a university study, these influences also led to a wide range of opposing trends, defined by the researchers as “groundedness.”

“We believe that many consumers have a need to feel grounded — which we define as a feeling of emotional rootedness,” researchers from Vienna University of Economics and Business and Cornell University wrote. “This feeling emanates from connections to one’s physical, social and historic environment, and provides a sense of strength, safety and stability.”

Although the concept “has received scant attention in prior marketing, consumer behavior, or social psychology research,” groundedness purportedly explains a wide range of trends from farmers markets to hand-cut soap, artisanal bread, the locavore movement and the return to familiar grocery brands during the pandemic, according to the study.

Generally, products provide consumers with the feeling of groundedness by connecting to places (locally made or from an identifiable place), people (made by artisans, individuals or identifiable groups), and past (traditional roots or tangible history).

Marketers can strategically leverage the need for groundedness through products, for example by emphasizing local origin or by choosing traditional product designs.

Brands can also target consumers identified with a higher need for groundedness, a quality often found in consumers who perform a lot of desktop work at their computer, who have a higher socio-economic status, who more strongly perceive COVID-19 to have significantly disrupted their lives and who live in big cities. Such consumers were found in the study to be more interested in products that “connect them to their place, people and past.”

A feeling of groundedness can be provided to consumers through product designs, distribution channels and marketing communications.

Researchers wrote in the study, “Taken together, we argue that groundedness is a powerful concept providing a comprehensive explanation for a variety of consumer trends, including the popularity of local, artisanal and nostalgic products. It seems that in times of digitization, urbanization and global challenges, the need to feel grounded has become particularly acute.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is groundedness an awkward mishmash of diverse trends or an unsung underlying mega-trend? What advice would you have to marketers or retailers about leveraging groundedness?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Overall, if you need marketers to help or support you feeling grounded or connected, you’re ignoring your own inner work. It’s not all about shopping."
"Hate to say it, but this sounds like one of those concepts, like cognitive dissonance or cognitive biases, that can explain everything but in an untestable way."
"This is a nice trend, but hardly earth shaking. I wonder if the same discussion was hot when malls wiped out Main Street?"

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10 Comments on "Is ‘groundedness’ the antidote trend to digital whiplash?"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

Hate to say it, but this sounds like one of those concepts, like cognitive dissonance or cognitive biases, that can explain everything but in an untestable way. My guess is you could make an argument for any product being “grounded” if you work hard enough – like Wonder Bread brings back my elementary school days.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

Groundedness is a powerful concept because it relates directly to one major factor of human nature, and that is the need to belong, whether it be to a family, a social group, a religious institution, an artistic environment, or a geographic area. We are all comfortable with those things that are familiar and in common with our own interests. With the intrusion of things and by people for which we didn’t ask for due to the age of the web, exacerbated by the frantic pace of electronic communication and unreasonable expectations for reaction and response, we all find that we need a break and need to return to “normality.” That “normality” is whatever makes us feel grounded.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

I think groundedness is an umbrella label for a variety of trends that have become relevant and long-lasting due to the pandemic, but it doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive to our tech behaviors. Nature has been a safe space during this tough time. Millennials took an extreme interest in becoming plant parents, and climate change in the news is forcing us to rethink our connection to the environment. I wouldn’t say that any of these trends are a backlash to our increasingly co-dependent tech relationship, though. While we are paying more attention to the outdoors, we have also become more socially connected through technology and reliant upon digital for almost everything (healthcare appointments and prescriptions, navigation, shopping, etc.) than ever before.

David Spear
BrainTrust

OK — “groundedness” is a new word for me. I checked the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary and it’s not in it. I get the idea, but to me, this is an awkward way to describe what entrepreneurs do best when they see a market opportunity — they innovate and bring new + highly relevant products and services to shoppers like you and me, regardless of if said products offer local flavor or nostalgic feelings. Is this an underlying mega-trend? I wouldn’t classify it as “mega,” but there is plenty of opportunity when it comes to hyper-localization and many retailers are using advanced analytics to uncover new insights that allow them to change assortments by geography based on hundreds of data inputs.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Yes, it’s an awkward mishmash of diverse trends.

I am acutely aware that anything I say on this topic is going to be a function of a.) my “privilege” – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and all that, and b.) my side in the culture wars.

So yes, I do believe people need to feel connected to people, places and things. Yes, I think this will create more interest in locally sourced product and independent retailing. But frankly, I am in the top 2-3 percent of the population. Let’s ask these questions to Walmart shoppers.

Overall, if you need marketers to help or support you feeling grounded or connected, you’re ignoring your own inner work. It’s not all about shopping.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

Whatever we call it, any trend that helps us get more local, more artisan and more attuned to local shopper preferences, history and tastes, is in my book a good thing.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

Groundedness is just a new term for marketing segments already well used today. Marketers use psychographic marketing segmentation with specific segments arising from emotional attachments, nostalgia, and familiarity. The researchers’ concept here is not new and is relatively common in the marketing space. Almost every ad you see is tied to emotional factors that make people comfortable, drive purchase or support a brand. Trends in this space have begun long before the pandemic from Buy American to “Organic” stamped on packaging. If anything, marketers are already well aware of emotional impact. No disrespect to the researchers, but they’ve built a study that only reinforces common knowledge.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

We are looking to be grounded in one way or the other. But life today won’t allow us to abandon that basic online connection.

The library is a nice place, but could it replace Google or Wikipedia? The farmer’s market provides fresh, nutritional food and supports local farmers, but it is easier to buy my Tide from Amazon.

This is a nice trend, but hardly earth shaking. I wonder if the same discussion was hot when malls wiped out Main Street? When Barnes & Noble or Home Depot disposed of the local book and hardware store?

Ryan Mathews
BrainTrust

Mass insecurity associated with change in the rate and direction of change is real. The need to find stability – personal, social, economic – is real and increases in direct relationship to the amount of psychological and emotional uncertainty. But — “groundedness” is gibberish psychobabble at worst and the very shallowest of pop sociology at best. The real problem though is that the proponents of this theory would have us stop at the most superficial of behavioral levels rather than at the root cause of those behaviors.

James Tenser
BrainTrust

Right on, brother. We all want to get back to our roots sometimes, but this sounds like a downward spiral that ends with “ground-washing” by brands. I do wonder sometimes, though, whether the expansive global supply chain reinforces human feelings of disconnection.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Overall, if you need marketers to help or support you feeling grounded or connected, you’re ignoring your own inner work. It’s not all about shopping."
"Hate to say it, but this sounds like one of those concepts, like cognitive dissonance or cognitive biases, that can explain everything but in an untestable way."
"This is a nice trend, but hardly earth shaking. I wonder if the same discussion was hot when malls wiped out Main Street?"

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