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Consumers Beginning to Re-Embrace Individuality

Consumers Beginning to Re-Embrace Individuality

It's hard to recall another year in which consumers were so hesitant about injecting their own personalities into buying decisions.

Everyone seemed to move in lockstep: Buy on deal, avoid impulse, use coupons, stay away from restaurants.

But things are beginning to change. Last week in this space I discussed the need for retailers to recalibrate for the post-recession period.

That includes adapting to shifting consumer behavior. Recently a number of consultants and media outlets unveiled forecasts that signal a reemerging individuality among consumers. It's useful to spotlight these predictions here to understand how this trend may play out.

Perhaps the clearest look at this trend comes from the Food Channel's “Top Ten Food Trends For 2010.” One of the predictions is called “I, Me, Mine.” “It's the rise of the individual” and about “food that reflects personality,” stated Food Channel. “It's part of the reason why we are making our own cheese, smoking our own meats, and making our own specialty desserts.”

Food Channel also pointed to a restaurant trend dubbed “Experimentation Nation” that further shows how consumers will make their individual preferences known. “Restaurant concepts are in flux as people redefine what going ‘out’ to eat means,” Food Channel explained. “Gastropubs, fusion dining, shareables and communal tables are all being tried. New concepts around ‘fresh’ and DIY will do well.”

Individual preferences are emerging in a way that sometimes suggests “consumers seem to be suffering from a split personality,” according to a story called “10 New Directions” recently published in Modern Baking, a sister publication to SN under Penton Media. Referring to the cake and dessert category, the article said, “On the one hand big elaborate celebration cakes are all the rage, while on the other hand, small and individual size desserts are gaining sales. Cake shops specializing in celebration cakes are opening up across the country while at the same time cupcake-only bakeries are experiencing a boom.”

One senses a kind of rebelliousness among shoppers, and not just in food purchases. Mintel predicted in a report that consumers will start “breaking free from the tyranny of value in 2010,” after a long stretch of “staycations, small indulgences and cooking at home.” This will amount to a form of escapism, Mintel adds, “as people splurge on big purchases,” such as flat-panel TVs.

Changes in consumer behavior coincide with new ways for companies to interact with consumers. One of these, social networking, figures to gain traction in 2010. An older tool with lots of future potential, loyalty marketing, is also likely to be enhanced.

Meanwhile, kudos to Advertising Age for an article this month that identifies “Musts of Marketing for the Next 100 Years.” The first one listed is: “Become increasingly targeted, focused and personal.”

I don't know about the next 100 years, but I would put my money on targeted communications being more important next year, especially as consumers become more receptive to reclaiming their individuality.

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