Decoding the New Consumer Mind

February 22nd, 2015

Decoding the New Consumer Mind by Kit Yarrow front cover

Today's consumer processes vast amounts of information, but doesn't have the attention span to reflect upon it. We think we don't have the time to do what we once did, so we do it in the fastest way possible, eg. by browsing online instead of going to the store. This constant bombardment of information promotes swift decision-making and high levels of stimulation, paradoxically making us more easily bored.

Whereas the consumer of old was trustful, today's consumer is distrustful, both towards the government, the media, and business. Companies need to be aware of this, because we are also more empowered than ever, able to make or break companies through Yelp reviews, Facebook likes, etc.

Yarrow's modern consumer is an insecure narcissist who is quick to blame others for their own shortcomings. We rely on superficial values to be loved, intensifying these values when we fail in order to mask our anxiety. We don't all exhibit these traits all the time, but we are all to some degree narcissistic and itching to share with the world everything we do:

There is a new emphasis on creating a "postable" moment rather than on living in the moment, and a pull toward perceiving other people as audience members. Technology also supports the democratization of "fame" and an increased interest in becoming "famous" in lieu of being deeply known in the context of real relationships.

It has been less than a year since Decoding the New Consumer Mind's release as I write this, so even in the fast-paced world of technology, Yarrow's discussions of how marketers leverage technology and innovation to combat distrust and reduce the stress and anxiety felt by today's highly individualized consumer remain relevant.

By simplifying the decision-making process and evoking a more immediate emotional response, consumers' fear of making a mistake is reduced. Yarrow mentions bargain-hunting as one activity that many shoppers feel satisfies those needs:

  • Bargains act as a permission to buy, making us feel like we're being treated more fairly by being offered products at prices matching their value.
  • By limiting yourself to the sales rack, you decrease the number of alternatives from which to choose.
  • The time- and stock-limited and location-specific nature of many sales provide a competitive aspect by triggering our fear of missing out.

Authenticity is key. Consumers want to engage with brands through more than products; we want to be assured that there are actual people behind the brands they buy. Marketers can construct a narrative and leverage the rub-off effect of emotions elicited by these stories to wrap their products in a unique world.

Responding to customers' frustrations on social media platforms with an attitude of problem-solving without being defensive, and including them in the development of new products, also strengthens the bond between customer and company.

This is a swift, easy read that never becomes tedious. Some of the books I've read recently have been steeped in academia, with sometimes long-winded descriptions of studies and their results. I am thankful that Yarrow instead uses anecdotes conveyed by her many interviewees, colloquially introduced simply with “Herb says,” or “Judy complains that…” as if they, the author, and we readers are just a group of people sharing our experiences.