Consumer spending is stagnating, and it’s easy to blame our lousy economy. But, is that the only reason? In “Why Millennials Don’t Want to Buy Stuff,” on the Fast Company website, Josh Allan Dykstra has proffered alternative consumer spending theories, and I’m pondering what it means for business communication.
As Dykstra points out: It’s not just the Gen Y-ers who aren’t shopping. I’m a baby boomer, yet I can see it in my own life. I’ve completely given up buying CDs: All of my music is downloaded and/or played through “the cloud.” After purchasing a sizable collection of VHS tapes and then a slightly smaller collection of DVDs, I now only rent or stream from Netflix. If I didn’t live in Los Angeles, I would rely solely on Zipcars – one of the best car-rental services known to humankind. And, although I own my own home, I can’t tell you how much I wish I didn’t, now that the mortgage has completely submerged.
Of course, if you want to buy something, it’s never been easier. Internet shopping makes it a snap to find almost anything and to purchase it almost anytime. Maybe it’s just human nature not to want what you can so easily have. So what do we acquire? One could argue that much of what we shop for today is about connections: mobile phones that keep us texting our friends, reading our e-mail, posting to Facebook; big-screen TVs that allow us to follow events, watch movies, stay on top of the news; computers that keep us working, shopping, creating, calculating and playing.
Dykstra offers three reasons for why people buy things today, and it has me thinking about what it means for communications. According to Dykstra,
1. “People buy things because of what they can do with them.”
From a communications perspective, this means connecting your “product” to the concept of “empowerment.” Even in the not-very-compelling insurance industry (where I spent many years), connecting insurance to the idea of managing risk and thus empowering people and companies to create and build was at the heart of our best marketing efforts.
Think manufacturing: Although GE is moving away from its 40-year-old “We Bring Good Things to Life” slogan, it still resonates as a reason to do business with the company: It helps us improve our lives. For communicators, the old WIIFM – What’s in it for me? – message formula seems more relevant than ever: Connect your message to what it can do for your audience and how they will be empowered as a result.
2. “People buy things because of what they can tell others about it.”
There is a social side to ownership. Dykstra notes, “The joy of having something isn’t in the having, but in the sharing.” Social media has moved marketing away from “selling” and closer to the idea of “building community.” This can be effective in a communications strategy, too. Rather than selling your idea, position the message in terms of how it builds the community.
3. “People buy things because of what it says about them.”
Purchasing establishes identity: If I own this thing, it says something about me. My iPhone says “I’m cool.” My Jaguar says, “I’m rich.” My Manolo Blahniks say, “I’m stylish no matter how much my feet hurt.” For communicators, this means connect your messages to the larger organizational identity and the greater good – your mission, your goals. Employee engagement with an initiative will increase if doing so reflects well on the individual.
Whether it’s due to the economy or the result of a generational nuance, the subtleties behind communicating the “connection” mindset instead of the “ownership” mindset are worth considering.