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U.S. and them: how we differ in our view of consumption

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Global research firm RISC international recently completed their annual, “Scan of Consumer Evolutions and New Trends”. This global look at consumer behavior and trends lead to the coining of a new trend, “Positive Consumption” which we explored in an earlier post. Today we’re talking more about the survey and how the US differed from the other parts of the world with RISC’s Managing Director Sharon Greene.

Global research firm RISC international recently completed their annual, “Scan of Consumer Evolutions and New Trends”. This global look at consumer behavior and trends lead to the coining of a new trend, “Positive Consumption” which we explored in an earlier post. Today we’re talking more about the survey and how the US differed from the other parts of the world with RISC’s Managing Director Sharon Greene.

Sharon, what differences did you find between US Consumers and the rest of the world?

There are numerous differences, so I’ll focus only on some examples which show the strength of the Positive Consumption trend...

Firstly, the desire to do something to help protect the environment has been on the increase in the US. In 2004, only 27% of American consumers agreed that they shared this desire. . Today, over 40% do.

This said, the corresponding figure for the five main European markets is over 56%, reflecting the higher awareness of environmental concerns in Europe than in the USA – we see this particularly in France where 59% of consumers feel that changes in their shopping habits can positively impact the environment.

In the developing BRIC markets, we might be surprised at how important green issues are, they are often linked to a pragmatic view on consumption where recycling and repairing are still a common part of consumption habits. The Brazilians are very engaged and show high concern for the environment, in India and China there is a traditional preference for natural products and a high degree of sensitivity to health related issues, as is the case in Russia. In addition to this, the wealthy segments of these markets will become eco-trendsetters and will increasingly use eco-friendly goods as a way to distinguish themselves.

In terms of social responsibility, our analysis also indicates a very positive dynamic in the US. The number of American consumers wishing to contribute to society has risen from 41% in 2006 to 55% today. Better still, 46% of Americans believe that their consumption habits can change society.

Health concerns in the US have also grown significantly: 70% of consumers will look at what products are made of and are concerned for the effect of products on their health.

In general Health is likely to remain important at a global level. In mature markets, the illness prevention, health maintenance and food security aspect will amplify and consumers in emerging countries will also increasingly take into account the impact that products can have on their health.

The Feel Good factor or Wellbeing is likely to remain important at a global level. However, the consumers’ interest for these issues will evolve in different ways according to the local context. In mature markets, consumers will be looking forward to a more active form of Wellbeing, notably through sport. Consumers in emerging markets will be more eager to let go and adopt more passive relaxed forms of self-care.

Which countries are most progressive and what can we learn?

Compared to the US, Europeans are ahead of the game in terms of finding pragmatic solutions that help tackle the sustainability issue without compromising on convenience.

Here are just some examples on how Europeans find green solutions to everyday issues:

- In Strasbourg, France, there is a new plan where the Town is selling off prime development land directly to groups of consumers who have environmentally friendly development projects. The more eco-friendly the building projects are, the less they pay for the land. This answers community responsibility, social engagement and environmental issues.

- In many European cities, a free bike rental service is proving extremely successful, showing that consumers are responding to such community responsibility and environmental initiatives and that they are happy to help the environment once a solution is extended to them.

- We are also seeing the explosion of car sharing projects as can been seen on this European site, which not only respond to the desire to car share going back and forth to work but now also are expanding into the area of leisure.

Consumer brands need to learn from this trend and adapt their product development as well as their marketing strategies. Today, companies still tend to deal with sustainability as a negative issue; if we don’t comply we should feel guilty. In reality, the consumer has no desire to be made to feel guilty. The result is that that consumers are often told what not to do and therefore switch off. Consumers are not going to stop consuming over night, they still need to buy, they still want to buy however, they will look more and more to the Brands that make it easy for them to make their consumption choices count in a positive way, the Brands that make them feel good about themselves

How can companies do this? Not by asking consumers to trade off efficiency and performance for the sake of the environment or ethics, but by giving them products that respond to their desire to do the right thing and feel good about themselves? The results can be a simple as the new Ariel Excel cold wash detergent or something as extravagant as the recent initiative by the Mobile Carrier Orange called Rockcorps, where people were invited to give 4 hours of their time to a social project in exchange for a free concert ticket, now that’s reciprocity at work!

Thanks Sharon!

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Vince Thompson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor, People Vince Thompson is a digital revenue consultant, author, speaker and host of the popular BNET show Dog and Pony. His firm Middleshift LLC helps Internet companies build revenue by creating advertising solutions and scaling sales efforts. He is based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure