Jukka Aminoff is a sales and marketing expert who has recently published a book called 'Buying Revolution' or 'Ostovallankumous' in Finland about the current shifts in consumer habits.
The world of business has always affected and changed the way people live by introducing disruptive and revolutionary innovations. The most influential example of this was, of course, the industrial revolution which, by making products accessible through mass production, was able to lower prices of many products that had once been seen as luxury items and transform how people lived.
The first phase in the development of our modern economy was to satisfy basic demands. The second phase was to enhance branding and to give entertaining buying experiences, hence, the rise of fast fashion, premium and luxury. The third phase, which we are currently in, seems to be the time of ‘conscious buying’. Buyers now seem to want to satisfy their needs, receive unforgettable buying experiences, and, they want to support higher purposes and good causes while they do that.
Nowadays, the world provides a vast number of consumer products, and it could be said that modern buyers’ needs are satisfied extremely well. We rarely see any shortages in supplies and there is huge variety of choice. However, as our living standards and human rights have improved in the western world over time, modern buyers have become gradually more complacent. They have started to see the vast choice of products and services available to them as unremarkable even though they improve their lives quite radically.
As a result, the major question for brands now is: what are modern buyers expecting from a consumer experience and, in a world of choice, what will make them opt for a particular brand? More and more, it is a brand's values that influence and attract consumers.
The rise of the internet has opened up the way businesses operate to ever more scrutiny by buyers and facilitated this new approach to consumerism. Increased access to information has also increased awareness of which products and services should be avoided in order to improve the overall wellbeing of individuals and society. Further to that consumers have the power to effortlessly spread the word about businesses that still make use of ‘bad practices’.
Everything comes down to the openness of value chains. Every now and then we hear how some companies have been violating basic human rights; destroying the environment; recklessly polluting the air, water and soil; torturing animals and failing to promote ethical practices towards buyers and staff. These companies have tried to achieve a competitive edge over those who are employing fair practices in the market. However, the current digital environment increases the likelihood that these companies and individuals will be exposed and that consumers will then simply move their business elsewhere. In other words, the new digital environment tends to favour those who are promoting fair and transparent business practices and it gives the consumer a great deal of power.
A good example of how this trend of ‘conscious buying’ is effecting change in business and society is how certain consumer groups are dealing with fast-fashion brands. These are brands who offer low-priced products but are also known for producing a huge amount of waste, which cannot be ecologically sustainable in the long-term. The pressure of the ‘conscious buying’ trend, and its focus on environmental sustainability has meant that H&M, a Swedish fast-fashion retailer, has now stated that its mission is “to be 100 per cent circular - in other words, to use material from entirely recycled, renewable or sustainable sources (British GQ, 10/2016)”. This means that conscious buyers can now purchase guilt-free items, and at the same time support new renewable technologies.
The food industry is also under pressure from the consumer to improve and innovate. There is now a growing public spotlight being shone on how the food industry engages with animal rights and the environment. Are animals treated well and what sort of living conditions do they have? What is the impact of farming for climate change? Further to this, an increasing number of consumers are making the choice to avoid preservatives and artificial ingredients, which means that there is a growing demand for high quality organic food and healthier choices. Almost every single major brand has begun, through this shift in consumer values, to provide products that have been marketed as a healthier choice - less fat, less sugar, fewer preservatives, less artificial sweetener, fewer calories, gluten free and many others.
We can already see how different values, which are important for conscious buyers; human rights, ecological values, animal rights, fair competition, sustainable development, high quality raw materials and many others, are having a huge impact on how brands operate. As a result, the conscious buyer’s values are gradually effecting a positive change on the way the entire world of business functions.
In order to survive in this new world of conscious buying, businesses have to become more value-orientated, and communicate their mission and values more widely. Most brands are opting to have their core values mentioned in their mission statements but they might be weak in expressing them at all levels of the business. Being value-orientated might sound as though businesses have to take care of all the world’s problems, and lose their focus on the market but this is not the case as they can decide what is their most relevant way to participate. Brands can use their communications power to highlight a social problem for example or could participate through sponsorships and donations. Conscious brands without unhealthy egoism are the brands of the future, which can make the global economy more fair and stable.
The reason for this is simple: buyers hold most of the power in the marketplace for the first time in world history, and it is the result of the Internet. Therefore, it is fair to say: the “old” way of doing business is now dead.