Monday, October 20, 2008

Here Come the Simplifiers

John Quelch, an associate dean at the Harvard Business School, foresees the rise of a new type of consumer in 2008: the "middle-aged simplifier." This group consists of well-off people who are turning their backs on conspicuous consumption and the accumulation of stuff. They don't define their social status by the size of their McMansions or the number of range Rovers in their garages. They value experiences over material possessions.

Writing in a Harvard Business Publishing blog, Quelch does not analyze this phenomenon in generational terms. But a generational dimension is implied. He notes that the group includes "empty-nester baby-boomers ... who are tired of heating unused spaces in cavernous mansions, now preferring smaller houses with architectural character and intimate spaces, more charm and less maintenance."

This analysis is consistent with Boomer Project research findings that today's Boomers define their self identities less by how they compare to others -- "keeping up with the Joneses," as it were -- and more by their own internal compasses.

Quelch identifies four salient characteristics of the Simplifiers:
  • They have more stuff than they need. The temperamental opposite of pack rats, they want to purge themselves of excess possessions.

  • They want to collect experiences, not possessions. They'd rather dine out, go on an adventure travel or learn a new sport than buy a vacation home, with all the responsibilities and headaches it entails.

  • Their stuff embarrasses them. Big, gas-guzzling cars and big, electricity-guzzling houses convey conspicuous consumption, which in the era of rising green consciousness, is deemed irresponsible, if not downright anti-social.

  • Their wealth is so assured it no longer requires conspicuous display. "They reject the marketer's continual pressure to spend more money on possessions rather than on education, health care and other social goods."

The Simplifiers pose a huge challenge to the marketers of traditional consumer goods. As the number of Simplifers grows, suggests Quelch, expenditures on stuff by this group will lag rising incomes. Consumer goods multinationals may find richer rewards focusing on emerging markets where "stuff" still has allure.

(Hat tip: Dick Stroud at 50-Plus Marketing.)

No comments:

Valuable Insights into the Hearts, Minds and Wallets of Today's Baby Boomers

This blog is by the authors of Boomer Consumer: Ten New Rules for Marketing to America's Largest, Wealthiest and Most Influential Group, on sale now.

Here is where you'll find information referenced in the book, as well as updates, news and perspectives from Matt Thornhill and John Martin, founders of the Boomer Project.