Why brands must forge deeper, more personalized relationships with consumers for future growth
Exclusive new research from Kantar Consulting finds a huge disconnect between businesses and the consumers and talent they’re trying to engage—and the problem is particularly acute with Hispanic consumers and employees. Unfortunately, many organizations don’t even realize they have a problem, meaning the gap is only likely to become more pronounced with time.
To chart where society is going, it can be helpful to map where we’ve come from. The multicultural era in the United States featured a dominant “mainstream” white culture. Other cultures, while often influential, interacted on the mainstream culture from the outside and at the margins.
Today we’re living in the polycultural era. Diversity has embedded itself into the fabric of mainstream society; there’s a much freer and more eager cultural exchange, and the dominant culture is a blend born of countless contributors.
The next social paradigm—microculturalism—will prove more radical. Flexibility and fluidity will be a hallmark of microculturalism, and individuals in this era will increasingly reject familiar classifications that people have traditionally used to define themselves and each other—classifications including race, age, and even gender. This emerging paradigm will see the proliferation of diversity within diversity, where limitless identity markers intersect uniquely for everyone.
Moving forward, consumers will continue to explore new avenues in culture, elevating aspects of their identities that they once overlooked—or even tried to downplay. It will be a fascinating time in culture, but also likely a fractious one. Hyper-individualized micro-cultures may result in small groups with particularly strong ties, but there will be ample opportunity for echo-chambers and extremism as the broad consensus that once formed the basis for American public life weakens.
There will be significant marketplace implications, as well. Microculturalism will be a unique test for marketers who believe success means reaching as wide an audience as possible with a single, broad-themed message. The “total market strategy” is already showing its limitations: Majorities of many key groups today feel poorly understood by brands. But the intersection of multiple identity markers can accentuate the alienation consumers feel. For instance: While nearly three-fifths of Hispanic consumers say brands don’t adequately represent them, that feeling is notably stronger among Hispanics whose survey responses suggest lower acculturation.
The youngest generation, Centennials, are an early glimpse of this emerging social shift: Nearly one-third of Hispanic Centennials say it’s extremely important for them to push past traditional stereotypes in terms of age or gender. That’s a remarkable difference from the generations that came before, and it’s a leading indicator of the changes the youth generation will drive in coming years.
The move toward microculturalism has crucial implications not just for consumers’ expectations of brands, but also the way they’re willing to engage with them. As consumers continue to hone and refine their identities, they’ll grow less comfortable aligning themselves with the impersonal imagery of big corporate brands. Brands accustomed to being a defining characteristic in their consumers lives will need to become more comfortable playing a supporting role—letting the spotlight shine on their customers and their own distinct personal brands. The future will belong to brands that create meaningful connections with consumers based on a deep, hyper-personalized understanding of individual needs and wants.