Women, Wealth, Power: Consumerism redefined

Children of the internet revolution are coming of age and forcing change in the communications industry says Joanne Wong

The world’s consumer has never been as powerful as they are today. Children of the internet revolution, Generation Y (age 21-34) is a driving force in a profound altering of global consumer behaviour. The impact of this generational tip of the iceberg is yet to be fully mapped or understood, but in the age of globally wired and interconnected market forces there is no doubt that the influence is profound. More so, the factors affecting consumerism will determine future trends in the communications industry.

Much like today’s Generation Y-consumer the industry is presented with the ability to precisely compare and contrast what works best for them. This is an unprecedented factor in the history of consumerism. A spin off of the internet revolution, it has also meant that at no other time in history has the consumer been as strong, nor brands potentially as vulnerable.

While the impact of technology on industry and consumer behaviour is an established debate, qualifying industry insight has always presented a moving target. The fifth ‘Women, Power & Money’ global research study by FleishmanHillard, Hearst Magazines and Ipsos, provides a compelling, if small, insight into the women of Generation Y’s outlook. Released in July, the report reveals similar perspectives, aspirations and marketplace preferences in the US, UK, France, Germany and China irrespective of geography and culture. This in turn is placing women at the forefront of consumer decisions once perceived , even today, as a male-domain. For industry, brands and communications professionals trends indicated in the report suggest that the future of consumer engagement is a lot less about the name or the product, but their consumer’s life choices.

The annual survey is the fifth since the financial crisis and the ramifications of that event continue to be felt in the western markets. However, this has not dented the momentum at which women worldwide are gaining an ever larger share of spending decisions on both day to day items and big-ticket purchases. Women have assumed greater financial responsibility with their spouse in the period since 2008 – a trend that is a departure from women of the X and Baby-Boomer generations (35-49 and 50-69, respectively). This has delivered a value-orientated approach to their consumer choices, a preference for solid brands countered with an openness to new brands across all categories. Indeed, while women are open to new brands, the overwhelming array of brand choices seen in marketplaces today has at times retarded spending habits with women defaulting to simple products, the least expensive or on sale options.

Another leading trend apparent is that women’s choices are orientated toward experiences and not items, even in the luxury segment. Accordingly a brand and product’s ability to influence how the consumer lives their life, rather than what they live it with, is now at a premium. Ultimately, it seems, unless brands are part of the everyday conversation, their relevance and indeed loyalty is an open question in the Generation Y segment. The impact of this is relevant across the spectrum of brands and products. With men also far more willing to partner on big spending decisions, women’s influence is playing across a growing portfolio of daily and big ticket items. Comparatively, men’s is static.

While equality across the generational gender divide is not yet past, women’s advance in society makes this just a matter of time. How best to deliver key brand messages into female hands is now the question at hand for the communications industry. Some brands are already responding to these next generation demands with notable success seen among household FMCG firms. Other industries, such as the automobile sector, while initially slow to respond are gaining speed in the same women-focused messaging.

The survey’s results would indicate that brands attuned to women’s lifestyles, motivations, aspirations and interests will have the greater traction in Generation Y. Yet the survey also reveals stark differences between generational outlooks, which means that brands will need to focus their attentions on pools of consumers, with separate strategies and messages that resonate with those respective generations. Brands must therefore strive for consistent yet multi-platform message exposure. Extrapolate this through the years and in designing brand strategies the communications industry is likely to see more vertical integration between communications and business consulting.

Joanne Wong is FleishmanHillard Executive Vice President & Senior Partner, MD, Client Service, APAC

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