Consumers today can be divided into two major groups: Old Consumers who buy out of need and to improve their social class, and New Consumers who buy for self-actualizationto become the people they aspire to be. To oversimplify for a moment, New Consumers might buy a kitchen to become a gourmet cook, fabulous hostess or more nurturing parent. Old Consumers might buy a kitchen because they need one (maintenance/replacement) or to impress friends.
New Consumers are found among all age, ethnic and income groups. They are individualistic, involved, independent and generally well informed. They look for original, innovative and distinctive products and services, and they reject mass-produced and mass-marketed commodities.
This is the gist of a thought-provoking book, The Soul of The
New Consumer, by David Lewis, chairman, David Lewis Consultancy.
Lewis has worked with major corporations including IKEA.
In Search of Authenticity
The hallmark of New Consumers, Lewis says, is their quest for authenticity.
Why does he talk about their soul? "For many New Consumers, the purchase of products and services has largely replaced religious faith as a source of inspiration and solace," he claims. "Buying decisions are driven by a deeply rooted psychological desire to develop and enhance their sense of self.
"No matter what product you manufacture or what service you
sell, if you fail to understand not merely the behavior of these
radically different consumers but their very soul, your marketing
strategies will crash headlong into their distrust and
disinterest," he warns.
What is authentic in the eyes of the New Consumer? "Quality that fascinates," says Lewis. Quality that's expected isn't good enough.
Quality that fascinates generates authentic loyalty. It results from an "emotional response that involves affection for and feelings of attachment to the person, product or company," Lewis explains. "Unless the consumer is emotionally involved and motivated, they won't become an advocate by recommending the company."
Keeping It Real
Given the power of referrals in the kitchen and bath industry, it's critical that dealers develop and nurture emotional bonds with as many customers as possible. Lewis identifies several ways to accomplish this.
- Locate your product or service in a place. In the kitchen and
bath industry, this might be German appliances; Italian marble;
Limoges sinks; Pennsylvania cherry; Mexican, Spanish or Italian
tile; or Amish-crafted cabinets. Anything that speaks to the
origins of the product, and anything that connotes "non-commodity"
will attract New Consumers. In a similar vein, your designers may
have trained at the Rhode Island School of Design, or some other
- Locate your product in time. Products rooted in a specific era
are likely to be viewed as authentic, Lewis says. However, this
doesn't mean products have to be old. "Avant garde or futuristic is
also an era," he notes. Think about 1950s laminate patterns,
Biedermeier doors, Shaker doors, Victorian sinks, or appliances
with futuristic technology.
As an example of the power of locating a product in time, Lewis conducted a study asking people whether they liked a green glass bottle. Some participants were told it came from Pompeii; others were told nothing. New Consumers who believed it came from Pompeii liked it more. Old Consumers were not influenced by whether they thought the bottle had come from Pompeii.
- Make your product or service credible. Partly because they have limited time, and partly because they are so distrustful, New Consumers rely on experts or mavens to help them make buying decisions. Mavens can create a buzz around a product or service, as long as they are viewed as being credible.
Third-party endorsement, especially editorial, can be very important. So, if you've been published, promote it. Or, if products you carry have been featured in magazines, be sure prospects know.
Who are the mavens among your past customers? What do you do to stay in touch with them? Newsletters? Parties? Invitations to come to the showroom to see what's new, along with their friends? Regularly scheduled "tune-ups" on their existing kitchen, not by a service person, but by the head of the company?
Your mavens create buzz, not hype, which is perceived as authentic. The irony is, once there is buzz about your product and service, your regular advertising is perceived as more credible.
Manufacturers should court kitchen and bath professionals as mavens, even if they aren't directly selling products such as appliances, tile, lighting, etc.
In the era of the New Consumer, the importance of the professional specifier will grow.
- Make your product fun. Many New Consumers react positively to products and services presented in relaxed social environments. That's why cooking schools, lectures and meetings in your showroom can be so beneficial.
"Many retailers are prospering by providing New Consumers with a
chance to become involved with the products they are buying," Lewis
observes. That's why manufacturer or distributor appliance
experience centers make sense. While they may not pay for
themselves on a strictly bottom-line basis, they give consumers a
way to become involved with the product. We may soon see spa
experience locations, where consumers can experience high-end bath
Ultimately, though, the final badge of authenticity is something that many dealers already possess but may not think of as a powerful marketing tool: a true and deep-seated passion for their products and services.
"Most of usknow of at least one enthusiastic specialist who lives and breathes whatever it is he or she sells," Lewis writes.
"In the future, such suppliers will not only be in a strong position to fight back against impersonal and sometimes product-ignorant salespeople in vast companies and superstores, but will also gain a positive advantage. Their personal passion and wealth of knowledge will prove massively attractive to New Consumers in search of authenticity of service, which comes from individual attention and expert knowledge."