END OF COCOONING: NEW AGE OF CONNECTING


END OF COCOONING: NEW AGE OF CONNECTING

The concept of cocooning, a trend identified by Faith Popcorn back in the 1980s and which has dominated our thinking about the consumer culture ever since, has finally come to an end. As a culture, Americans en masse have emerged from the cocoon that kept us inwardly focused and house-bound for the past 20 years. During that time, consumers spent their energy and resources filling up their emotional empty spaces with things. We collected and we consumed until every nook and cranny of our homes were chock-a-block full of stuff. Our homes were literally bursting at the seams, so we had to buy even bigger homes with more square footage to hold all our stuff.

But today an entirely new sensibility is taking over. A new downscale, downsize, and anti-clutter approach is being reflected all throughout the culture. Martha Stewart who was so instrumental in helping us fully realize the cocooning lifestyle has taken a fall. Real Simple magazine, the magazine about simplifying your life, is Time Inc.'s runaway best-seller, while the rest of the shelter magazine category is struggling to remain afloat as advertisers abandon ship due to declining subscriber bases. TLC's Clean Sweep and HGTV's Mission: Organization teach us how to take control of our lives and get rid of the clutter.

Even TLC's enormously popular While You Were Out and Trading Spaces are not about the materialistic cocooning lifestyle, rather they reflect a new do-it-yourself approach to home decorating that is about doing more with less, not about gathering more stuff, collecting more things, or filling up all the empty spaces. Architect Sarah Susanka's surprise best-selling book, The Not-So-Big House, has given rise to a whole series of books based upon the original concept of living big in smaller spaces.

In focus groups with consumers whenever the home comes up, and it always does, so does a discussion about how much participants hate clutter and how they strive for an uncluttered, peaceful home environment. Just because the cocooning trend has come to an end, it doesn't mean consumers aren't going to buy things for their homes. But it does signal an entirely new nonmaterialistic sensibility that is driven by a need to express real values, meaning, and experience and not by a need to have and have more.

Consumers today are like butterflies that have emerged from the cocoon. They are turning away from the overt materialism that was characteristic of the cocooning trend. With a "been there, done that" attitude, consumers have had their fill of feathering the nest and are now directing their energy beyond the home and into the outside world. The key trend word today is connecting and the marketers and retailers must turn their focus to connecting with the consumers' new needs and passions.

Consumers today are like butterflies that have emerged from the cocoon. They are turning away from the overt materialism that was characteristic of the cocooning trend.

The connecting trend is about finding ways to link up and forge meaningful relationships in our social sphere. It is reflected in new linkages through media, travel, and electronic networks, as well as a desire to know our neighbors, get involved with our communities, to be better parents, better employees, better neighbors, better citizens, and better friends. It's about becoming a part of something bigger than one's own narrowly defined inner landscape. Through connecting we search for true meaning and an expression of essential values about who we are and what we hold most dear. We all know in our heart that things won't bring happiness and through connecting we are seeking beyond mindless consumerism to find ultimate meaning.

We all know in our heart that things won't bring happiness and through connecting we are seeking beyond mindless consumerism to find ultimate meaning.

As Americans break out of the cocoon, they are assuming an active role in the social milieu by taking leadership in the social, political, and cultural landscapes that define their identity in relation to the outside world. At the local level people are becoming more involved with the schools, neighborhood watch programs, fire and emergency services, and church activities. This extends to the national arena where ordinary people are banding together to form interest groups that can take their grievances and concerns about injustice to the courts, our elected representatives, and to the media where Fox News's Bill O'Reilly promises to look out for you.

Connecting is all about creating meaningful relationships with others, near and far. We recognize today in a way that we couldn't really grasp before this period of global upheaval since September 11, that we are incredibly blessed to be Americans and to have all the material and social wealth and personal freedoms that we do. We are learning about our place in history and how for generations that came before, from the Founding Fathers to the soldiers now facing hostilities in Iraq, that our enormous blessings carry with them great responsibilities. In 2002, Americans directed $202 billion toward social giving, a 17.2 percent increase over $172.3 billion in personal giving in 2000. We want to give back to the society that has given us so much. We want to leave the world a better place for future generations. Thus, connecting links us with the past and the present, and into the future.

Consumers seek to connect by establishing a new equilibrium between the roles they play in their inner and external worlds. It is about connecting through both having and getting and giving and sharing. We see this played out with many of our cultural icons, like Bill Gates and Ted Turner. Both are extremely wealthy individuals with all the material riches and both are dedicating a significant portion of their wealth to endowments and charities that they believe will make the world a better place when they are gone.

Connecting links us with the past and the present, and into the future.

Connecting brings values to the fore and a search for deeper meaning. And while we still want material goods and while we will still buy, connecting is ultimately a desire for a richer, deeper, more meaningful experience, rather than about more and more things. Figure 5.5 details personal consumption expenditures for 2000, 2001, and 2002.

 

2000

2001

2002

CHG '00–'02

SOM '02

Total personal consumption expenditures

$6,739.4

$7,045.4

$7,385.3

9.6%

100%

Food and tobacco

1,003.7

1,047.8

1,094.8

9.1

14.8

Clothing, accessories, and jewelry

397.0

396.8

405.5

2.1

5.5

Personal care

93.4

94.3

97.2

4.1

1.3

Housing

1,006.5

1,073.7

1,144.6

13.7

15.5

Household operation

719.3

738.4

748.3

4.0

10.1

Medical care

1,218.3

1,322.8

1,436.6

17.9

19.5

Personal business

539.1

539

564

4.6

7.6

Transportation

853.4

874

876.7

2.7

11.9

Recreation

585.7

603.4

633.9

8.2

8.6

Education and research

163.8

176.3

187.9

14.7

2.5

Religious and welfare activities

172.3

186.1

202

17.2

2.7

Foreign travel and other, net

-13

-7.2

-6.3

-51.5

-0.1

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis


Figure 5.5: Personal Consumption Expenditures in Millions

The key marketing challenge for the future is to establish a true, meaningful, and lasting connection with the customer and prospective customer.

The new connecting trend brings new challenges to product marketers and retailers. As consumers make new choices in the stores where they shop, the brands that they select, and the product categories they purchase, consumer marketers and retailers are discovering that their connection with the consumer is growing more and more tenuous. Today, connecting why people buy your product or shop in your store with how to reach them and where to reach them takes on new meaning. The key marketing challenge for the future is to establish a true, meaningful, and lasting connection with the customer and prospective customer.

Because connecting means a shift of focus from the concrete thing to the emotional experience, businesses that sell to the consumer need to connect with the consumer on this new emotional, experiential plane. Here are ways to achieve just that:

  • Talk less and listen more. Today virtually all commercial communication is one-way (i.e., through advertisements the marketer tells the consumer what they want them to know). But that doesn't forge a connection. Rather it results in consumers turning off to an avalanche of meaningless, irrelevant ads. Marketers must establish new ways of creating meaningful two-way dialogue with their consumers. The success of eBay is that their entire corporate culture is based upon the premise of listening more to the consumer. Anything else won't do in today's connecting world.

  • Give more value, rather than take more money. All businesses are in the business of making a profit, and consumers do not begrudge businesses a fair and reasonable profit. But they resent companies that are greedy and don't provide a good value for a fair price. Consumers today are driven by an experiential passion for bargain hunting because marketers and retailers have trained them to expect sales and discounts. There is another way, and that is to give the consumers more meaningful value in the products you offer and the shopping experiences you deliver. Women's fashion marketer, Chico's FAS, fully embraces the concept of connecting with the customer by giving more value and their reward is written every quarter on their rising balance sheet.

  • Become involved with the customer, rather than waiting for the customer to get involved with you. Marketers today have a totally backwards view of customer loyalty. They believe customer loyalty is something that the customer does for them, whereas in truly connecting with the customer, marketers discover that customer loyalty is something that they give to their customers. Southwest Airlines thrives by reaching out to their target customer and staying loyal to their customers' needs: dependable fast service at the lowest possible cost.

  • Connect with the consumers' community. No man is an island and consumers are connecting more and more within their social, political, and cultural landscapes. Connecting with the consumer today also means connecting with the community in which they live. One of the secrets of Wal-Mart's phenomenal success is that, despite their enormous size, each local Wal-Mart store reaches out to become a hub of the local community, for example, by supporting local schools and fraternal organizations in fundraising.

  • Create your business for your customers' needs. Ultimately marketers and retailers need to turn themselves around 180° and look at their business, their products, and their services totally from their customers' point of view. Connecting means you place their needs, desires, priorities, and concerns first.