The Association for Qualitative Research
The Hub of Qualitative Thinking

The 'new normal' consumers

At the time, it was going to change the world. Yet eight months on from the Twin Towers disaster we're still hanging on in there. Yes, there's been an advertising downturn, but that was on the cards anyway. Yes, we're looking more closely at budgets, but that happens in downturns.

So what is the legacy ­ in marketing terms ­ of September 11th? One of the most comprehensive qualitative studies to date, albeit of American consumers, was presented by Lynn Greenberg, a former president of the AQR's sister organisation, the QRCA, at the recent ARF conference which took place in New York.

The four-phase project kicked off last December. The first was designed to gather preliminary insights from moderators and consumers. The second and third phases, held between this February and March, took the form of open-ended questionnaires completed by moderators and consumers, closing with a brainstorming session in NYC.

They unearthed a number of interesting shifts in consumer needs and lifestyles, which marketers targeting the US are advised to take on board. So just who are these 'new normal' consumers, and what makes them tick?

The study revealed six main shifts

  • Re-evaluation of priorities: Consumers are rebalancing lives, looking for greater enjoyment and less stress while not putting off what they really want to do.

  • Greater appreciation for life: While living life to the full, consumers are making more time for family and friends. They are looking to personal well being, greater humanity and simpler things in life.

  • Staying connected: They are more united (as a family, community and country); more informed but are also using the media as an escape valve, while avoiding overly violent programmes.

  • The money dilemma: They don't know whether to spend or not. Tentative about larger purchases, they're willing to shell out on 'treats', justifying outlays with the thought that 'the economy needs it'.

  • Safety first: Safety is a priority, with people wondering whether anywhere is truly 'safe'. Younger Americans feel safer at home, but the older generation appears more stoic.

  • Pride in Government: There is greater respect for government and uniformed services. Patriotism is 'in' and New York seen in a much improved light.

The challenge for marketers is to identify the new and renewed dreams and fantasies, heroes and status symbols. According to the study, it's the small pleasures in life where most opportunities exist: categories devoted to food, health and beauty aids, entertainment and family. If a device offers enhanced personal safety, or an activity reduces anxiety or stress ­ it'll sell.

All that marketers need do is persuade American consumers to travel, buy in shopping malls, consider premium purchases and extravagancies, and help resolve their confusion about finances. And where should they go for help? Well, qualitative researchers, of course.

 

Lynn Greenberg
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2002