Leo Burnett’s Evolving American Consumer

Discussion
Dec 28, 2011

Unwed mothers, stay-at-home dads and daily deal fever are among the trends that are forever changing the face of the American consumer, according to a new study from Leo Burnett Chicago.

The study, “HumanKind 2012: The Transformation of Aspiration,” underscores the ways American society is deviating from the “Big Plan” of going to school, getting married, having kids and climbing the corporate ladder.

The study identified six key consumer trends bound to have a lasting effect on American brands and marketers in 2012 and beyond:

Sense of fairness declines, happiness inequality rises: Since the downturn, Americans have lost their optimism, especially those with lower incomes. Feelings of inequality and unfairness are rampant. For brands, the winners “will be those that consistently deliver acts of fairness and behave with morality,” Burnett said.

The average American family is anything but: Forty percent of kids are born to an unmarried mother. People are defining their own family situation according to their own needs, not their peer group. For brands, “Diverse images of family ring true with consumers and can be a great way to show how your brand fits in to today’s reality.”

Men evolve as masculinity declines: Women are out-earning their husbands. Men are okay with it and and comfortable as stay-at-home dads. Burnett urges brands to “speak with caution when referring to traditional views of masculinity. Focus instead on shaping identities and transforming individuals, not a specific gender.”

Healthy is in the eye of the beholder: Despite the rising obesity crisis, “food remains an affordable luxury — a way to treat oneself when being forced to cut back in other ways.” For example, Americans regularly request healthier food options at restaurants but more rarely order them. The lesson for food and non-food brands is “think about how to satisfy consumers’ desire for smaller, bite sized luxuries.”

Collective bargaining is a weapon of survival: Daily deal giants such as Groupon and LivingSocial are encouraging Americans to “collectively demand better deals and offerings in the palm of their hand, each morning” and never expect to pay full price on anything. Burnett said brands should integrate daily deals with customer loyalty programs. The agency elaborated, “To compensate for downward pressure on margins, daily deal technology needs to segment customers that are already bargaining and offer more personalized deals to heavy users.”

Social/mobile technology: With 20 million new smartphone users in 2012, consumers will look to leverage social platforms and mobile with search to “add value, not noise.” To activate shoppers through social and mobile, brands “need to identify the problems shoppers are trying to solve and provide informed solutions.”

Discussion questions: What do you think are the most logical predictions of consumer trends identified in Leo Burnett’s study? Which are the most far-fetched? Which one is being most overlooked by brands? Are there any obvious consumer trend drivers missing?

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14 Comments on "Leo Burnett’s Evolving American Consumer"


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Ian Percy
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

“Aspiration” is “a hope or ambition to achieve something.” “Inspiration” is “the process of being mentally prepared to do something.” Seems to me ‘aspiration’ is the fireplace and ‘inspiration’ is the fire. A fireplace without fire is pointless. A fire without the fireplace will destroy what is most valuable.

What is missing from this list is the demise of dependency and the rise of entrepreneurism. Products and services that feed this trend will be hugely successful. This includes things that help set people apart — from clothing to cars. Also services that fan the entrepreneurial flame that traditional schooling failed to totally extinguish.

Max Goldberg
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Technology will continue to enable consumers. And consumers will always be ahead of brands and retailers in using technology. Whether it’s through daily deals, customer feedback or up to the minute reviews. Brands and retailers will need to adapt by expanding communication with consumers, responding, and offering topics for discussion.

Retailers have taught consumers that there is no such thing as a regular retail price. Consumers, in turn, have the tools (technology) to demand lower prices. Retailers and brands will need to adapt to this reality, and it won’t be easy.

Joan Treistman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago
1. The true conclusion relates to transparency. Tell the consumer what you’ve got, how it will benefit or enrich their lives or life style and let go. 2. This is a trend that has been evolving for decades. Perhaps Leo Burnett has clients unable to adapt. But it should be clear to all marketers that to be effective their communications strategy has to be conveyed within a context their target finds personally relevant. 3. The Enjoli ads of several decades ago showed a woman who could bring home the bacon and cook it in a pan. I didn’t think there was any client left who didn’t understand changes in perceptions of male and female roles. 4.Is Leo Burnett talking about trying to fool the consumer? I hope not. We have always needed to understand how consumers define their wants and needs. Consumers want to be “healthy” but they shy away from “nutritious” unless it has to do with their kids. Taking the time to “get” what it is they are saying, how they are behaving… Read more »
Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
9 years 4 months ago

Some very interesting observations. The common theme is that “average” isn’t any more. To succeed, retailers must segment and identify the most profitable customer for their value proposition, work like crazy to understand their preferences and values on a very detailed level, and then deliver on those better than anyone else. While this sounds like marketing 101, most large retailers are only now (see My Macy’s) beginning to look at geographical variations, much less the kind of segmentation that Leo is discussing.

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 4 months ago

Bottom line, there is no such thing as an “average” consumer any more and you can’t reach that consumer through a small handful of traditional mediums anyway. Guerrilla marketing, targeted audience, cross-channel, social, quicker time to market — it’s a new world out there. How exciting!

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

It must be the holiday spirit, but I find the phrase, “Men evolve as masculinity declines,” hilarious. So many jokes in there.

But what’s not so funny is the notion that masculinity is thought to depend on relative wages. Is that why the average woman still makes less than the average man for the same job? To preserve “masculinity”? I sure hope not. The most masculine men I know are sure of themselves separate from what they earn.

Retailers are well-served to ignore this one.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Burnett has committed the cardinal sin of confusing trends with current/future realities.

Are smartphones and social media critical? Of course, but they still add a lot of noise.

Will consumer collective bargaining have some impact on some businesses? Again, of course, but I wouldn’t get ready to get fitted for that sheep suit just yet.

Are Americans going to start eating like the French? I doubt it.

Are men O.K. with being out-earned by other men’s wives? Show me the data. Besides, it takes two incomes for most American families to survive, so who can afford to stay at home? Not the poor or the middle class.

Family composition is changing. STOP THE PRESSES!!!!!!!

Ditto with the fact that losing your house and/or job lowers your sense of optimism.

I think we should have a new rule for 2012 — let’s see if we can get through 12 whole months without lists and taxonomies substituting for real data and insight.

Tim Henderson
Guest
Tim Henderson
9 years 4 months ago

Nothing about this research surprises me. All six of the trends have been around and evolving for some time. Indeed, “the average American family is anything but” and the evolution of masculinity are trends that brands should have been aware of and monitoring for many years.

That said, what this research does highlight is the ongoing need for merchants to stay abreast of shifts in consumer lifestyles and behaviors. These are just six of the many trends that may be important to one brand or another — and they’re importance goes well beyond 2012 because they’ll continue to morph during the coming years. Brands need to monitor consumer trends, figure out which ones are most important to the ongoing success of their brands and then respond with the products, services and experiences that the targeted consumer segment seeks. That’s nothing new for 2012. That’s just smart business.

Gene Detroyer
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Mass marketing was made possible by technology. First newspapers, then magazines, followed by radio and finally TV. Technology now is making mass marketing obsolete. And, the timing is perfect. All of the elements in Leo’s list indicate there is no longer a mass market to communicate to. This is no longer the 1950s.

It reminds me of the media executive that chastised the Google boys for their ability to provide advertisers with real data and charge them only for effective communications. “We sell magic. We sell sizzle. It is a block box. We don’t want our clients to know any more than that.”

David Slavick
Guest
David Slavick
9 years 4 months ago
I don’t think I’ve ever been less impressed with a list from what was once one of the sharpest agencies in the world. This is the best they can do? I think they have plenty of insights to share, just ones done for clients that remain private. Now remember, to segment customers and give personalized deals to heavy users…NO! That is a general agency without a direct marketing backbone speaking — ugh. You segment your customers based on unique insights borne out of the data on them that you’ve intelligently collected over time and give them exactly what they need and deserve to get — sometimes “deals” aren’t what heavy users want. Instead, they may want something else that is just as important — personalized service. Future drivers — agree, technology pushed by consumers but I hope Apple keeps “getting it right.” Access to new technology/platforms to support customer relationship management — at an “affordable” price that is less cumbersome to build, integrate and bring online/speed to market. Social will continue to push marketers to… Read more »
Craig Sundstrom
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

“For brands, the winners ‘will be those that consistently deliver acts of fairness and behave with morality…'” No, the winners will be be either the innovators — Apple, FedEx, etc. — or the low cost providers — Walmart, Southwest, et al. (the former, of course, often morphing into the latter). “Fairness” will matter only to the extent that those with no morality can con people into believing it matters.

In general, as respected as Burnett may be in its field, I think it (predictably, logically) places undue emphasis on marketing over finance, logistics and organization.

Larry Negrich
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

There are probably many more “trends” that could be added. I need to see if I can find their trend list from last year to see what happened with those and what has changed to drive the new trends. Social/mobile are having big impact on shopping and consumer behavior. This is an area where retailers can have influence with location-based offers, mobile coupons, etc., and I expect this to continue and to mushroom into other areas where it helps retailers to improve the shopping experience and drive sales.

Doug Stephens
Guest
Doug Stephens
9 years 4 months ago

There’s nothing here that can’t be completely substantiated. Fundamentally, we’re coming off a period of about 60-70 years where the majority of all consumer activity and brand focus was on the middle-class (the average consumer). That is what’s changed and frankly, that’s what’s causing that queasy feeling for most brands and retailers. There is no more middle of the road, average or typical consumer.

One concept that I think is missing here is that shopping, as we know it, will become far more synchronous and contextual in our lives as a result of technology. Put simply, we will have to think less about more of what we purchase, as technology manages more of our day to day needs and preferences.

John Karolefski
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Technology is a double-edged sword. Consumers can check prices by scanning bar codes in stores to find the best deal in the neighborhood. And out the door they go. What is lost is the human touch in the transaction. Don’t get me started on e-commerce which is training a generation of shut-ins.

Brands and retailers need to respond, and they will. More merchandise sold exclusively by a retailer is one answer. Creating a long-term relationship with shoppers is another.

Peering into the future is always risky. Frankly, I found the Leo Burnett study rather depressing.

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