Co.Design

The Keys For Keeping Your Brand Relevant In The Post-Occupy Era

Americans no longer yearn for bigger and better, argue Continuum strategists Susan Lee and Jenny Liang. Here are three keys to creating products and services that evoke the new American dream.

For many Americans, the world seems like a markedly different place than it was in 2008. They have experienced a global recession, sweeping changes in technology, and four seasons of Jersey Shore. In the context of all this change, what they want out of this life and what the American dream means for them has changed along with it.

Many of them no longer aspire for bigger and better things. Instead, the conversation has turned from having things to doing things. Suddenly, wealth, property, and an impressive career have become far less important than experiences, recognition, and impact. And with emerging services and technology, these dreams have become more attainable than ever.

So what does that mean for companies whose job it is to provide products and services that tap into our values and aspirations? How can your organization deliver the new American dream to the new American consumer?

Give them access

Americans now value access over assets. They care about getting to their destination, not owning a car. Watching movies, not collecting DVDs. Looking great, not seeing clothes hanging in the closet. As material wealth loses its cachet, consumers will demand products that are less of a mantelpiece and more a portal to the right experience.

Service providers like Netflix, Zipcar, and Rent the Runway have already disrupted their industries by selling the experience without the ownership. Now, even companies with products to sell are starting to take big bets on this shift in consumer values.

Google, for example, took on the PC world by releasing the Chromebook in June 2011--the first “web-based computer” on the market. Stripped of many of the features that other companies compete on, the Chromebook is not so much a computer as it is a portal to the web. Instead of building in desktop applications, Google equips its computers with free wireless and 3G data, keeping users constantly connected. The jury’s still out on whether Google’s bet will pay off, but given consumers’ growing desire for convenient access, it’s likely that the market will only grow.

Whether your company has products on the shelves or a service to provide, think about how your product or service allows customers to get behind the velvet ropes of an experience they desire. If it can be replaced by a product or service that offers more access at a lower cost of ownership, soon enough it will be.

Make them famous

With the increasing ubiquity of social networks, people can access the eyeballs of others near and far. They want to declare who they are to the world (or at least their Facebook friends), and they want products and services that can help them do so. Instagram, for example, allows people to showcase their photos in a creative way and share them with an audience. Pinterest is an almost effortless way for people to show their taste and style without ever purchasing or creating a thing.

All kinds of companies can tap into this desire by designing their product or service to recognize the accomplishments and creations of their customers. Nike did just this when they transformed their running shoes, a decidedly unsocial product, into a platform for competitive fitness communities through Nike Plus. By tracking and sharing users’ running activity, Nike elevated an individual activity into a social one in which people can be congratulated (or heckled) by their friends at every mile. How can your product make your customers famous?

Help them make their mark

As Americans strive to identify themselves, they increasingly believe it is their civic responsibility to help make the world a better place, and technology is empowering them to do so. Citizen-driven movements such as the Occupy Movement reflect a growing desire among Americans to help shape the world around them; it also reflects their drive to get it done. So when it comes to buying products and services, they don’t just want to hear about how a company is committed to a cause--they want be on the front lines.

Rather than thinking about how your company can be more socially responsible, think about how your customers can directly affect a cause with your product. For example, when designing new toothbrush packaging for Preserve, an eco-friendly home products brand, we created a way for customers to get directly involved in their environmental cause with the Mail-Back Pack. The Mail-Back Pack is a toothbrush package that doubles as a return envelope, so customers can send the toothbrush back to Preserve after use. Preserve then turns the used brushes into plastic lumber for picnic tables and boardwalks for a third stage of use. Extending responsibility onto customers reminds them that they are the ones enacting change. Making their contribution quantifiable gives them proof that they made a difference.

The American dream reflects our highest aspirations and deepest values. During times of rapid change, companies need to look closely at these aspirations and values, as they drive the products and services people will want in years to come. It could mean the difference between staying one step ahead of the market or being stuck in the past.

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Written by Susan Lee and Jenny Liang

[Images: arindambanerjee, duckeesue, and Paul McKinnon via Shutterstock]

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18 Comments

  • Gary Gilstrap

    Thank you, I have never held a sign or protested but you are right about wanting to make a difference, Facebook sure has changed the way we stay connected unlike past generations that, after graduation rarely if ever connected again,but now we all can keep in touch. Google perfected search so well that I have almost forgotten that any of their competitors were in the same business. Twitter nailed the "Hey look at me" instant update. Linkedin Groups are starting to get active and be more than a group of degrees and resume's. And now Pinterest comes along and offers us a place to organize, connect, share, and grow not just our P interests but our markets and visibility. The world has never been as socially_connected as it is today and building connections and finding solutions makes a lot more sense than protesting and blaming others for their problems. If we all set out to do something positive individually or as a team, at the end of the day I bet we could make the world a better place than those who stand in protest. socially.connected@yahoo.com  

  • Foxtrottery

    I wholeheartedly agree with the comments debunking the Occupy movement as a catalyst for changes in consumer behavior--these changes preceded Occupy and extend far beyond "Occupiers" themselves. The main argument here is that a new economy, new resources, and a new generation of consumers have affected the values and desires of many companies' customer bases, and those companies need to recognize it.

  • Moorebuilder

    I firmly believe that these authors are prescribing an historical context to the Occupy movement that is not yet justified.  The "Post Occupy Era"?  Is it not a bit of a stretch to submit that a couple of months of angry, jobless folks in the streets defined an "Era"?  We certainly cannot be certain of any consequence of Occupy, let alone describe it as a historically significant event without the clearer lense of actual history.  As a society, we tend to live so much in the "now" that we dare to say we are making history before history actually judges it to be so.

  • JamesNW

    There were  high-paid "jobful" peaceful folks in the streets if you care to know, and I was one of them.  Don't assume the 99% are all poor, angry and jobless.

  • Cameron

    Some good points, but this feels mostly like a push piece. For the most part, Americans want freedom, whatever that means to them.

    In addition, the Occupy movement is contrived, funded by highly organized political groups, and exploiting the ignorant for money and/or power. Most occupiers bemoan free markets and call for more concentrated power in government, ironically failing to understand that collusion was one of the main contributors to our current economic situation. They also do so while wearing expensive name brand clothes and using their iPhones.

  • DCTF

    Lack of regulation of the financial sector in the USA and UK caused the banking crisis. The banks were given the freedom to act in ways that would previously have been illegal, and they exploited it. What serious power can Occupy's mobilisers gain? Why would you not want a return to the kind of regulation which was thought to be essential by the governments of Bush Sr and Reagan? Why has a person forfeited their right to complain about banks if they own consumer products? These are ridiculous arguments. 

  • FS

    Copy... annnnd Paste... got it. Ho hum. This comment is so repetitive, slanted, and fabricated from news, information, and opinions from somewhere other than personal experience... Let's be clear, Occupy is a movement about making a better future and a better democracy for ALL (period). And it has had a huge effect on the national and global dialogue proportionate to its size for such a self-funded grassroots campaign... This propagandist-tunnel-vision-couch-critique is small-minded, sad, and laughable at best. Which is OK! When it comes to making the world a better place, one should take the criticism and the praise all as one experience. Thanks Cam.

  • Anton_Ego

    You must be kidding me. To regard the Occupy "movement" as a bellwether of social change that must be taken seriously is *&^%ing absurd.

  • Anton_Ego

    FS - correct me if I'm wrong about this, but I thought the "national uprising for equality, political responsibility and people's rights" described the Tea Party. Perhaps had they crapped on more cop cars, broken more laws, and had more deaths at their rallies they'd be taken more seriously, yeah?

  • FS

    So, it's absurd that there is spontaneous national uprising for equality, political responsibility, and people's rights? How do you go about making change in your surroundings... Drinking?

  • Misterbreeze

    First of all, kudos on the toothbrush awareness. But saying that the desire to change the obviously decaying system is on par with the consumerism - and it still is and only is consumerism - that fuels this decline, that's just insane. I could go on but I'm afraid I couldn't stop.

  • Bob Jacobson

    Continuum should find ways to promote the sale of products and services that enable Occupy to monitor and publicize the activities of rogue financial institutions and keep track of associated nefarious corporations and politicians.  Products and services that relatively poor people -- the 85 percent of Americans who are neither financial sharks nor the professionals who serve them -- can employ to level the playing field.  Such leveling in the service of fairness and the social contract is a large part of the American dream, definitely more so than stuff you buy at the local multinational drugstore chain owned by a hedge fund or two on Wall Street.  Our highest aspirations should be less suffering and more fulfillment for Americans like ourselves, not dominance of an artificially constructed market based on selling non-essential geegaws and junk food.  What kind of value is that?  Shallow, for sure.

  • Barry Carbaugh

    I think people have gotten to the point where they think our current economy is the new reality. If this economy persists, this attitude change may be permanent. In the near future I suspect that the economy will slowly evolve back to something closer to what we would define as normal. At that time, I believe people will go back to more normal patterns as well. What do you think?

  • Bob Jacobson

    Normal as in post-Cold War "normal" or post-Climate Change "normal"?  Local climatologists are talking 120º F temperatures and a lack of drinking water where I live today, plus having to deal with migrations from other regions nearby where it's going to be even worse.  (Note Texas is still in a multiyear drought affecting 50% of its geography and most of its people.)  Add to that recurring violence and repression as the perpetually un- and under-employed -- now about 25% of the population -- start to get hungry and decide to do something other than watch their kids quietly starve.   "More normal patterns"?  Good luck with that.

  • DCTF

    Hard as it may be to believe, the Occupy movement doesn't represent an opportunity of any kind to brands or designers. Please stay away from it. It doesn't sound like you understand what it is or its aims. 

    I commend your idea for the toothbrush brand, but why does this recommend a post-Occupy change? Are environmental issues just too last year?

  • Yakbob

    Someone should clue the Porsche brand to this new direction, as the ad for their $80,000 911 sits along side this article. Or, perhaps they've received the message and are showing amazing restraint in these post-occupy times by not pimping the $172,000 Turbo S.

  • Peterbot Malmö

    "Occupy is a process, not a protest"
    - anonymous sign-maker

    If that's true, we're definitely not post-occupy yet!