LCI Blog: Lunch and Learn

By Stephanie Lough of LCI’s PRGN Phoenix affiliate HMA PR
If you head down to a college campus, it is likely you will see a student riding a scrappy bike while complaining to his parents on his phone about needing more money. Tuition is rising, gas prices are ridiculous and the excess of yesteryear is now a distant memory.
But then you take a closer look as this college student hangs up his phone – ahem, iPhone-, pulls out his tablet computer and starts browsing the internet. How can it be that someone so cash poor can have a thousand dollars’ worth of technology on him at any given time?
Because, as I learned at the recent PRSA Luncheon featuring Paul Leinberger, senior vice president and director for The Futures Company, this is our current consumer, following current consumer trends.
And Paul should know – The Futures Company is the nation’s foremost consumer trends forecasting firm and provides insight to some of the world’s biggest brands.
“Twenty-five-year-olds today are not the same consumers as when we were 25,” Paul said (presumably referring to people over the age of 25). “As our population is growing older, we actually start acting younger. Our values as a population have changed”
(This isn’t the first time I’ve heard of “extended adolescence”.)
While Paul’s presentation was chockfull of information, we barely explored the tip of the iceberg that makes up everything that goes into influencing trends.
Here are some highlights:

  • Biggest concern is healthcare
  • Predicts 33 months before economy unemployment rate returns to that of before the recession
  • People who remained employed have been working at a higher level and will be expected to maintain that level without pay increase.
  • Changes in trends occur in consumer’s values, not consumer behavior
  • U.S. is the 2nd oldest country in terms of average age of the population with Japan being oldest
  • The average age is 37.2, up from 35.3 in 2000 and 30 in 1980
  • 20 percent of Americans live in a traditional family structure
  • The Hispanic population accounts for nearly half of the overall population growth in the U.S. The Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million people in the past decade.
  • 48 percent of the population is single
  • There are more households with dogs than there are households with children
  • Living alone has increased dramatically, 28 percent now live alone
  • Sustainability is a big trend, however, consumer spending on sustainable goods dropped dramatically in 2010
  • More support for local businesses

In case that last one didn’t perk up your PR ears, I capitalized it. Yeah, it’s that important.
While the above is mostly demographic statics, the clear message was there: Regardless of the Great Recession, America is still very much a consumer society and we still define ourselves by our material possessions, however, consumers’ values have changed.
What does this mean, exactly? Since the recession hit, people are spending less and looking for ways to save (duh). But while the economy was collapsing, social media was growing, as was consumer’s dependence on peer opinion and mistrust in the media, government and Wall Street big wigs.
Remember the poor college kid packing some serious Apple heat? Technology and connectivity are now bigger necessities than having a car. It keeps him in touch with who influences him the most – his peers. It is a MUCH bigger picture than the tangible technology itself – it is how it is being used that is affecting the consumer trends.
For PR professionals, this means we need to further humanize our messages to reach the consumer. We are the trust-makers and keepers, which in this day and age can mean the difference between success and failure.
The best example of gaining trust from the consumer is from the department store formally known as J.C. Penney, jcp. Despite the ugly logo – which is actually growing on me- they tapped into one of the biggest peeves of shoppers: Missing the sale. There was actually a study on people’s anger levels when discovering something they purchased last week is now 99 percent off.
I hate that.
So what did they do? They got rid of sales. Instead, all prices have been lowered and will remain the same. Sounds simple enough, and the consumers have responded positively.
There is a word to describe this trend – one that is going in the direction of car sales and food services– a word that is virtually never used in marketing, in the media, or in life.
And that word is fair.
Be fair.
Please send your thoughts to Stephanie Lough at [email protected] or [email protected].