Conscious Collecting: What All Generations Now Have in Common



By Michela O’Connor Abrahams


What matters to us and how we acquire things we love, has completely changed. If you remember the 1980s, there was a time when it was all about the “badge” and monikers of the Joneses. Today, most discerning consumers no longer care about status symbols (See, The End of the Status Symbol) or what we used to call “conspicuous consumption.” Sure, the idea of status and consumption still exists; that is unless you’re homesteading off the grid in the woods, growing all your own food and making all your own clothes - and there’s even a certain status and privilege in that! But for the rest of us who get pleasure from shopping and well-designed products and services, we’ve no doubt shifted our values about what matters. We’ve moved from conspicuous consumption to conscious collecting.


Conscious collectors are seeking a timelessness that is only possible with good design at the core of the brand, and they will pay more for these brands.

What is Conscious Collecting?


“Conscious Collecting” is the idea that we care more about the story of the brand and its products such as how it's made and by whom. We’ll buy a beautiful rug as long as it’s certified by a label like GoodWeave, ensuring that child labor was not involved. We’ll install an LED bulb because it's the greenest choice or wear a ski jacket because the company that makes it pays stock dividends to its employees. Conscious collectors have no desire to acquire things for “temporary pleasure, ” which is the denotation of the word luxury. Instead they are seeking a timelessness that is only possible with good design at the core of the brand, and they will pay more for these brands. Conscious collectors want electric vehicles in their garages because of the lower impact on the environment. They want to travel in order to expand their understanding of other cultures and their traditions. They buy food from local farmers and cottage industry producers to support sustainable farms and healthy ingredients and food products.


These values are no longer specific to one generation. With five generations in a marketplace, brands are now faced with a need for a diversity of style, prices, textures, colors and sizes.

Five Generations in One Marketplace


These values are no longer specific to one generation. Yes, the Boomers (ages 56-75) are still outspending everyone, according to our Design Insights Forum. Gen X and Millennials are winning by a small margin in fashion and retail. Boomers spend more because they have more; they’ve had time to grow their wealth by staying in lucrative markets longer. They also tend to be more optimistic about the global economy and their own ability to earn more for a longer period of time. But in 2021, seniors, boomers, Millennials, Gen X and Gen Z are all present in our shopping economy, whether its retail, real estate, packaged goods, financial services, hospitality or travel. With five generations in a marketplace, brands are now faced with a need for a diversity of style, prices, textures, colors and sizes.


We’re All Living Longer


You might think that boomers, millennials and GenZ all want something different which in a way is true. But right now, especially after collectively living through this pandemic, we all care about investing in our health, our homes, and the health of planet (See, The Art of Wellness at Home) The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the pandemic is propelling consumer-goods companies to look anew at everyone over 50. Because the pandemic has affected so many older people, disproportionately, it's placed a new focus on the importance of staying healthy later in life. I recently hosted Chip Conely, the hotelier and founder of the Modern Elder Academy, in our Collective Conscience salon series. He founded his academy in Mexico on the idea that people are living longer. He wanted to find a way to guide people over 50 in figuring out the next few important stages of their lives, and also be mentors to younger generations. “I think we're going to see a lot more brilliant young technologists connecting with someone with some age who's there supporting them and helping them to make good decisions,” he said in our conversation.



Psychographic over Demographic


Conscious collecting is a pervasive trend among all these increasingly connected generations - even if consumers choices are shaped by different needs. It’s key to the challenge of how brands can market to such a diverse marketplace. It used to be that brands focused on age, geography, body type, gender or race. But now, brands are finding that they need to shift away from these strict boxes and instead get into the psyche of consumers through what advertisers call psychographics. Psychographics is a qualitative methodology used to describe human traits on psychological attributes whether its personality, values, opinions or lifestyle interests. With this approach brands will find that an elder or Baby Boomer may actually have a lot more in common with a Gen Xer, Gen Yer or Gen Zer than they expected. Think about your daughter sharing her Zara clothes with her grandmother. The reason that Apple, Tesla, and Patagonia are so good at reaching a broad market is because they’ve designed their brands with psychographics in mind no matter the generation. Finding that sweet spot is where a brand will hit its stride.





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