At a time when the world feels out of control, consumer behavior can seem contradictory: People are prioritizing themselves … but want to effect change for others. They want to follow their values … but not at the expense of value. They’re taking matters into their own hands … but also want companies to hold their hand.
These kinds of inconsistencies might not be new, but they’re increasingly considered normal—and even good. In fact, Accenture research reveals that 69% of consumers globally think that paradoxical behaviors are both human and acceptable.
Consumer needs are changing fast—and companies will have to evolve just as quickly if they want to stay relevant. Oversimplifying segmentation and underestimating the impact of life forces on behavior have led to a growing disconnect between what companies think their customers want and what consumers say they want. To bridge the gap, businesses need to widen their aperture and move from focusing only on the consumption of customers to seeing their customers as they see themselves: multifaceted, complex and doing their best to adapt to unpredictable life circumstances out of their control.
A crisis of relevance
Consumers are showing they are comfortable being multi-dimensional, but many businesses continue to see them in just one way: as walking wallets.
Companies are focused on finding simple ways to define consumers and predict their behaviors. But our research reveals a major disconnect between what consumers say they most value from companies and what companies appear to be investing in. The disconnect is felt by consumers and businesses alike.
At a time when consumer choice has never been higher—and the cost of switching to a new brand has never been lower—a relevance gap this significant could come at great cost if not addressed.
One thing is clear: The old playbook for relevance is now obsolete. It’s time to take on a new strategy.
Life forces causing relentless instability
The world today is radically different from the world of two years ago … or even two months ago. A non-stop barrage of external life forces—health, economic, social, environmental, political and beyond—is affecting day-to-day decisions in unavoidable ways.
Consumer prices are skyrocketing at their highest rates in 40 years, while the war in Ukraine indicates long-term consequences for global markets, food prices and political stability. Major societal and cultural movements around the world are magnifying conversations around social justice issues … just as increased political polarization and a growing distrust in government and media complicate the path to change. Technology has democratized access to information, with Web3 and the metaverse hinting at a creative and dynamic future; but 43% of consumers say technology advancements have complicated their lives just as much as they have simplified things.
With external forces exerting more pressure, and a list of practical and ethical considerations that keeps getting longer, people are facing more complex and more frequent decisions than ever before.
To help make decisions, consumers are looking to the people they trust the most: themselves. Now, they are ready to act in their own best interests—because if they won’t, who will?
Forced to adjust to circumstances beyond their control and armed with technology that gives them more access to expertise than ever, consumers are developing a stronger sense of self-reliance: Nearly 75% of consumers say they feel empowered to make key decisions in their lives.
As people become more self-reliant, they are also rethinking the values that drive them. Up to two thirds of consumers say they have completely reimagined what’s important to them in life—a 10 percentage point increase over the prior year—but nearly 62% of consumers also say many new things are important to them because of what’s going on globally and locally.
Redefining a sense of purpose amid a backdrop of unstable external life forces opens the door to inconsistencies—between what consumers believe or want and what they actually do.
Making peace with paradoxes
In an environment of perpetual change, consumers are working to reconcile their core values and sense of purpose with the demands and practicalities of everyday life. The outcomes can be messy and inconsistent: For example, as they feel the strain of supply chain disruptions, 55% of consumers are newly motivated to buy items produced locally and sustainably—but they also want to take back control of their wallets as prices rise.
The result is a growing acceptance of paradoxes, in which people make peace with the often contradictory and conflicting consumption decisions they make moment to moment. Paradoxical decisions are not new—what’s changed is the increasing frequency and comfort with which they are made.
People are giving themselves permission to be inconsistent. As they evaluate a growing list of things that matter to them, consumers realize they can’t expect perfect choices in every circumstance. As they make decisions, paradoxes become inevitable. And those inconsistencies are being seen as strengths, not weaknesses.
From customer centricity to life centricity
Businesses once looked to a product centric approach focused on performance. Then they shifted to a customer-centric strategy, meant to prioritize experience. But now, the dynamics are more complicated. Until companies stop over-simplifying their customers and start accepting that they are ever-changing, multi-dimensional people deeply impacted by unpredictable external forces, they’ll find themselves stuck.
They need to become life-centric.
Life-centric businesses deeply understand the different forces shaping customers’ lives and deliver the most relevant solutions for those contexts. Companies that embrace a life-centered approach— one that takes into consideration the humanity of the consumer, their shifting modes and the unpredictable life forces that come into play along the way—are best positioned to thrive in the future.
To move toward life centricity, companies need to do three things:
1. See customers in their full life
Our research shows that as consumers lean into their self-reliance and accept the inevitability of paradoxes, they are breaking every convention. By only focusing on static segmentation models and expecting a straight-line customer journey, companies risk missing out on the deeper insights underpinning behavior—and the ability to drive new value and relationships.
The way forward is to take a holistic, dynamic view of who customers are and what motivates their behaviors—and to treat them as more than just buyers.
2. Solve for shifting scenarios
Life-centric businesses are prepared to adapt so that they are delivering relevant options across their products and services to accommodate the shifting life forces impacting their customers.
Consider where they are in terms of two key factors: time and control. In decision-making, time-based considerations (short-term versus long-term needs, urgent versus unrestricted schedules) can change moment to moment, but always shape the way consumers make choices. Also critical is their appetite for control—sometimes they want something highly specific; other times they value inspiration and new ideas.
Offering options that combine values and priorities in new ways will speak to consumers who are reevaluating what they want and need. Ultimately, businesses need to abandon the idea of one-size-fits-all and focus on flexible options.
3. Simplify for relevance
Amid the pressure of life forces and the chaos of everyday life, what customers ultimately need is simplicity. They are drawn to anything that cuts through the noise and makes their decision-making—and their lives—easier. Businesses that want to stay relevant need to find ways to clear the path for consumers to walk easily.
To do this, companies can look to data, artificial intelligence and expert inputs to help draw connections between their customers’ needs and the external life forces that are influencing them. At the same time, they must simplify from within by being ruthless about prioritization and continuously evolving.
Putting life front and center
Global instability isn’t going away. So as consumers work to navigate it, businesses must embrace a life-centric approach that helps them meet customers’ ever-changing circumstances and priorities. In this way, they will be best positioned to meet the future—no matter what new challenges are around the corner.
Courtesy Accenture. Read full report here