The way that property is defined and desired has really changed. The range of ways that people engage with belongings has changed, such as storing music, photos or film on the cloud, seeking experiences rather than new material things, and seeking access, rather than ownership of occasional-use products, such as tents, cars or holiday homes.
Two major changes, decluttering the home, and decluttering the mind, are our focus here. I’ll outline the cultural changes taking place, and pose a series of questions for your brand, product and communications teams.
Decluttering has become a global phenomenon. This is about removing unwanted items from your life, but also about an aesthetic that favours white walls, clean lines and surfaces, and retaining items that are both beautiful but functional. This trend is epitomised by the success of Marie Kondo. Her book on tidying up has become a global bestseller. She encourages readers to do a total audit of belongings; you should keep only items that spark joy.
Another cultural shift is towards smaller, or even micro, housing. People are living in smaller homes for a range of reasons. More people are living alone, or postponing or not having children than previous generations. Renting is on the rise, because of financial constraints, the increased costs of property and people’s desire to hold on to urban lifestyles, rather than move to cheaper suburbs. Some people are discovering that once they’ve decluttered, they could downsize. For others, living in smaller homes is about maintaining a sustainable lifestyle, in order to have less ‘stuff’ and less waste and have a smaller home to heat. There are opportunities to rethink storage items, which are more likely to be small and on show. When items cannot be stored away, there is higher demand for beautiful objects that can live out on show and these can command higher prices. A basic dust pan and brush, for example can be bought for £1 from B&Q. A Menu Sweeper and Funnel (that’s a dustpan and brush to you or me) commands a price of £49.
This trend towards minimalism and micro-living should not be written off as a white hipster trend. Downsizing has long been a trend for retired people, and families are also embracing both the minimalist aesthetic and the trend to live in smaller housing than their parent’s generation. Muji, the minimalist Japanese homeware brand is exploring developing elegant, minimalist, pre-fab housing. Whether as a new line of business, or an activation activity to showcase the design and aesthetics of existing products, there are clearly opportunities for brands here, particularly those with iconic design credentials.
In light of these changes, product development, innovation and brand managers need to re-think even established, taken-for-granted products. Can you answer yes to the questions below?
- Does your product have more than one purpose?
- Is your product attractive enough to have pride of place outside storage?
- Is your product sold in small quantities, for those who don’t have storage for bulk-bought items?
- Does your product help maintain stock levels for re-purchase?
- Is your product endorsed by bloggers, influencers or social media (particularly Instagram and Pinterest) to showcase its qualities and range of uses?
Headspace and digital detox
The home isn’t the only place where people are concerned about decluttering. There are many people moving towards decluttering their mind too, either through mindfulness practices or through switching off from their digital lives at certain times.
First, people are using technology (particularly phone apps) to encourage positive thinking and mindfulness. Headspace, a meditation guide, is the front-runner of this category. As life becomes busier, faster and more online, a growing number of people are taking up meditation and other practices to encourage them to remain in the moment, calm and foster better concentration. Apps such as Calm and Mindfulness offer guided meditation courses. Smiling Mind is aimed at children and helps them to deal with their emotions through mindfulness practices.
Secondly, people are trying to set boundaries so that they are not always glued to their screens. Some people are concerned about the growing evidence that increased social media and online activity leads to poor mental health, especially social anxiety. More people are taking their work home, either by working from home or carrying their work emails to bed on their mobile phone. People are also becoming aware that social media, and in particular the mass exhibitionism of often only the best moments of near-strangers’ lives, is leading to a sense of inadequacy.
It is said that people are comparing their ‘insides’ – the mundane, the banal, the nervous – with other people’s’ ‘outsides’ – the airbrushed selfies, weekly highlights, cropped scenes and broadcast half-truths. This has led to a growing number of people setting themselves rules about when they are online, as well as what they post online. During these off times, people are engaging with activities that encourage de-stressing or engaging with loved ones. Popular non-screen based hobbies are emerging: paperback sales are up; adult colouring-in books have become popular; yoga is practised; vinyl is having a second life. Last year Waterstones announced they would stop selling Kindle e-readers and that they were experiencing a resurgence in paperback sales. In the UK, vinyl sales have grown for eight years in a row.
Sales of vinyl records grow for eighth year in row
Your product or brand is likely to be successful if it can authentically find a way to accommodate these new concerns and interests. Can you answer yes to the following questions?
- Does your brand, product, communications campaign or innovative new idea encourage people to enjoy the present moment?
- Does your product provide calm or personal reflection?
- Does your brand embrace ideas around mindfulness, presence or flow?
- Are you contributing to your consumers’ sense of wellbeing and adequacy through advertising and your online presence?
- Are you contributing to better engagement between people and their loved ones?
- Are your communications activities targeting your consumers when they are online, rather than when they are switching off from their technology?
It’s easy to assume these are niche activities and something that can be written off, but you should do this at your peril. Young people are the early adopters of these cultural trends towards decluttering of the mind and living space, but older generations are following. What’s more, it would be wrong, not to mention a missed opportunity, to assume that these changes are being driven purely by economic necessity – there is certainly money to be made from capitalising on these trends. These cultural shifts are radically changing the way that people engage with products and brands. Many taken-for-granted categories are no longer adequately meeting consumer needs. This provides rich opportunities to better meet consumer needs, through product innovation, or for imaginative rethinking of brand positioning and campaigns.
If you want to read more about this, we have a think piece coming out as part of our series Peak Stuff: Pragmatism or puritanism? You can read it here.