The Great Consumer Reset

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Credit: Getty Images by Elena Noviello

2022 is in full swing, and while marketers are “innovating” with applications of new dressings on old sales models, many are missing the paradigm shift that’s also upon us. The machinery of consumerism is in disrepair: supply chains are broken, prices are rising on household goods and other items thanks to inflation, the U.S. Postal Service is intentionally slowing down, and many shelves are quite simply bare. Strong headwinds, to put it mildly.

It’s important to realize that it’s not just the mechanics of efficient supply and demand that’s been disrupted. There’s a psychological component that has been building for years, and a seismic shift in the way people think about buying goods and services has already occurred. This year, the “Great Consumer Reset” may show up in unexpected ways, and marketers need to be ready.

The Shift in Consumer Thinking Was a Long Time Coming

We experience earthquakes as sudden events, but in reality, pressure builds slowly and almost imperceptibly until tectonic plates shift in a sudden release. Similar pressures are at work in the Great Consumer Reset, which has been building for more than a decade. Millennials and Gen Z experienced the Great Recession and the failures of previously solid institutions and economic ideals during their formative years, which made a lasting impression.

Unsettling political and socioeconomic events sowed seeds of doubt about ingrained cultural concepts, including immediate gratification for consumers, globalism, and capitalism itself. Climate change is another pressure that’s impossible to ignore. Add the devastation and confusion of the pandemic to the mix, with the resulting global economic dislocation and social isolation, and millions are rethinking how they’ve ordered their lives.

This resetting of priorities may be what’s prompting record-breaking numbers of Americans to leave their jobs. People are questioning what they need and want, and they’re reassessing what they’re willing to do and how much they’re willing to spend to get it. And it’s all happening as millennials and Gen Z are stepping into their peak purchasing power as consumers. A general theme that seems to be emerging is simple: less is more.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people will spend less this year, though inflationary pressures will affect budgets. Marketers need to keep in mind that the purchase consideration timeline has lengthened, making impulse buys less likely. People are taking more time to think about the necessity of a purchase, considering DIY options and assessing brand values before clicking “proceed to check out.”

Marketing After the Great Consumer Reset

So, what does this mean for companies that produce goods, and marketers who sell them? Products will need change to meet emerging consumer expectations. Sustainably sourced and ethically produced goods have already gained mainstream traction. That trend will accelerate, affecting industries like fast fashion and other sectors with a reputation for toxic production processes and negative environmental impact. Inflation will drive price sensitivity, but consumers will also take time to evaluate their needs and assess production processes and the impact of their purchases.

The Great Consumer Reset could lift up companies that focus on small-batch production, hyperlocal products, artisan goods and farm-to-table ecosystems. The shift in mindset opens up new opportunities for companies that stay in sync with evolving expectations and marketers who tell a compelling story that aligns with customer values.

Turning Customers Into Brand Advocates

For marketers, the most salient fact is that the purchase funnel has changed. There’s now an extended consideration phase. Broken supply chains forced consumers to wait, but now waiting and taking the time to consider broader priorities has become a habit. Marketers can adjust to that with a sequential messaging strategy that goes well beyond product features and instead becomes a timely and honest narrative during the extended consideration phase.

Features and benefits are still important — potential customers need to know that the product provides what they need. But now, there’s an opportunity for marketers to address consumers’ other priorities by talking about what the brand is doing to create a greener, more just world, whether through sustainable sourcing, ethical business practices, or contributions to charitable causes.

Marketing in general after the Great Consumer Reset will be different because priorities and expectations have shifted. Marketers will need to give people a deeper reason to buy and a true, verifiable story that builds trust in the brand, turns customers into advocates, and drives long-term value and return on investment.

Christian Jones is currently the head of marketing at Hawthorne Advertising and brings over 15 years of proven success in business development and sales, creative digital media, and technology to his role.

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