“The hunt for happiness has evolved.”

I have always been interested in why people do the things they do. It’s a question I constantly ask within the framework of my life as a marketer.

On a more personal level, I apply this curiosity to people and situations on an everyday basis. If we have a conversation, I am likely wondering why you said the things you said. It’s become very much a habit. Much can be learned by asking “why?”

The answer often reveals juicy insights for a marketing or sales strategy, in parallel to my startup, Cintell. But the implications of the question go far beyond this application. Motivation is connected to the greater state of our society and culture.

A Brave New World

Particularly in the most recent decade, the ways in which we shop and consume are drastically different than ever before. Because of that, there’s a swell of new thinking, research, and ideas that I find fascinating.

One such resource is Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy from Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor who is now on my bucket list to meet in the hopes of gaining an ounce of her brilliance.

She warns marketers that what has worked before won’t work today. To make matters worse, things are changing so quickly that marketers have less time to get ready. They need to be ready.

The technological, social, and emotional changes that are now influencing consumers are easily relatable. They all apply to most of you reading this post. But consider them in the framework of marketing and it’s clear to see our work has been cut out for us.

After digesting her excellent book on a recent flight, I offer 3 truths about consumers today, and 4 strategies as presented by Kit.

Truth #1:Buyers think differently than before

Technology use is literally rewiring our brains. Smartphones, or what Resource CEO Kelly Mooney calls “weapons of personal empowerment” have changed us.

We want quick fixes to our problems, we want what’s new, we are empowered, and we seek transparency. We have a new set of emotional needs as buyers. We’re more easily distracted and have less tolerance for ambiguity – and nearly everything else that requires patience.

We are driven by an anxiety to keep track of information and an expectation that we be available around the clock. The result is continuous partial attention, a phrase attributed to Gary Small. Our brains are being trained for speed – scanning and processing mountains of information rather than focus, paying attention to detail, and patience.

Truth #2: Buyers are more guarded, but seek connection and respect

Human connection is on par with food, water, and shelter. It forms the foundations for happiness and the source of meaning and purpose in life – and yet we’ve never been more alone. Kit points out a paradox of modern society. “Although we’re genetically predisposed to connect, we can actually survive on our own. And that’s what we’re increasingly doing.”

This results in more isolation and a more “me”-centric society. Our lives are increasingly more superficial and disconnected as communication takes place via technology. This has led to a rise in our fundamental need to be seen, respected, and connected. Marketers take note.

Truth #3: Buyers are crankier, edgier, and more anxious

Even though we are still optimists by nature, we as buyers approach the market with more emotionality. Our moods and emotions have a tremendous impact on how we perceive the world, including our perceptions of brands, products, and retailers. This affects how buyers process information and make decisions – emotions enter into the appraisal and trade-off functions of buying decisions.

Narcissism is an important factor in the current state of things, as well. As narcissism is on the rise, and knowing that to some extent it exists in all of us, Kit advises marketers to harness the allure of specialness, exclusivity, secrets, and social ranking systems.

In a world where everything feels available to everyone anytime, the old-fashioned thrill of finding something special, unique and exclusive is more appealing than ever. A rare find, like a private invitation or exclusive offering, bonds consumers to a retailer or brand.

What to do?

Strategy #1: Understand that “tried and true” is simply tired and old.

Today, value is placed in what is new. “Consumers have a passionate sense of exploration, especially with technology. There’s a fertile appetite for ‘new.’” – John Digles

Brands that incorporate technology and innovation into their offerings are viewed as simply smarter, cooler, and more consumer-centric. They simply feel more relevant to modern consumers. Digital technology is so integrated into the lives of consumers, it’s like an additional body part.

“Just as consumers won’t eat, sleep, work, or play without it, they’re not shopping without it either.”

Strategy #2: Be authentic. Be the real deal.

Fewer than 3 in 10 Americans say that corporate America’s reputation is positive. The perception here is that businesses have become the antithesis of humanity. Today’s consumers are defensive and distrustful, and today’s marketers are therefore working from a deficit of trust.

As Kit says, “the key to regaining the trust of wary consumers is to get real. Humanized, authentic brands that act transparently and live up to their images are beloved.”

Deep down, buyers “want to be able to relax their guard and buy and love products without vigilance – and the brands that offer them that security have a competitive advantage.” Yes, they are dazzled by “new” and eager to explore options but they want comfort, simplicity, and pleasure of doing business with brands they know and trust.

Kit also write a line of pure poetry, in my opinion. “There’s another reason why authenticity and the real deal are so potent today – they’re the antidote to our online lives. As more and more of our time is spent in a photoshopped, intangible, and virtual online world, we increasingly crave what feels real and genuine.”

Strategy #3: Make the consumer the star.

Aspirational marketing is gone - to an extent. As individualistic consumers, we are more responsive to marketers who appear to honor, admire, and serve us.

“The consumer wants to be the star – and in a very personal way. The secret to cool is to make your customers feel cool – and smart for choosing your brand. The appreciated customer is one who’s invited to participate.”

Strategy #4: Keep it simple, but more intense.

“It takes more, faster, harder, better to break through our technology-juiced, hyperstimulated brains. Everything has to be ramped up a bit to get attention and inspire actions.”

With a world of options at our fingertips, so much to choose from, no constraints on when and where to purchase, today’s shopper needs a jolt of emotional intensity to pull the trigger on a purchase.

Kit recommends removing interference and noise such as product complexity, confusing processes, or waiting to make the shopping experience more intense, and therefore more effective.

For marketers, understand that consumers will spend less time exploring detailed information and will consider a wider variety of sources when searching for product solutions. They are looking for faster, simpler solutions to match the way they think.


I am so drawn to any media on the subject of understanding consumer behavior, see my post “How Did We Get Here?” for an example of what Freud did for the field in the early 1900's.

I have immense respect for those in the field such as Kit who are trained in the art and science of ethnography and psychology. I am equally grateful and inspired by their research and insights keeping us on the forefront of how our world is changing buying habits, and the resulting strategy we as marketers need to adopt.

Abstract light human brain, vector illustration
Abstract light human brain, vector illustration