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Global Chief Digital Officer: Selling Value In An Era When Less Is More

Global Chief Digital Officer: Selling Value In An Era When Less Is More
Brand Development

Matt Howell, Global CDO of Havas, explores how consumers are shifting away from mindless spending in favor of more meaningful consumption choices with emphasis on experiences

PSFK Op-Eds
  • 10 january 2017

It’s no understatement to say that we are living in a time of unprecedented change. In addition to the complexity of political upheavals and massive technological shifts, a new trend is also emerging in consumer behavior—a move toward simplicity. As people grow more connected, and are forced to keep up with an increasingly complicated world, many are turning toward a more personal view of consumption—valuing fewer, higher quality products or, in many cases, forgoing ownership altogether in favor of convenience, experiences and the sharing economy.

For brands looking to remain relevant in a culture where ownership matters far less than before, this new playing field raises the question of what consumers actually want, how they define value and what role they want brands to play in their lives. As brands grapple to navigate these shifting consumer priorities, they would do well to consider the following:

Consumers want better, not more. Consumption for its own sake was once the American way, but that sentiment is evolving. According to a recent global study, a quarter of millennials worldwide say they would be happier if they owned fewer things. This is a small but significant trend we see playing out in culture, made evident by the popularity of Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which encourages people to minimize their belongings by getting rid of items that don’t “spark joy”. We see brands like fashion label Cuyana, which promise “Fewer Better Things”, aligning with this idea.

Increasingly, consumers are defining “better” products as those that fill specific individual needs, reflect their values, and help express their identity. The rise of customization in manufacturing will only further this trend and create opportunities for brands to develop the most personal offerings possible.

Create a gateway to an experience. The interest in the sharing economy has shown us that young people value the freedom and discovery of experiences over ownership. And while not every brand is in the business of selling an experience, many are now shifting their focus from of messaging to improving the quality of the interactions between the customer and the brand. Brands should ask: “How can we make the lives of our customers simpler? Where can we remove friction or promote ease? How can we promote wellness? To educate or entertain?” A customer-driven mindset can spotlight opportunities to improve the value of the experience and redefine the role the product or service plays in the life of the consumer.

Meet rising expectations. The Internet of Things—along with an existing ecosystem of apps and digital services and emerging artificial intelligence products—is automating the small chores of our daily lives and causing a shift in consumer expectations. Even in the early stages of these technologies, consumers already want and expect the products and services they buy to make their lives simpler and easier, to learn and anticipate their needs, and to save them time. Brands must consider what these heightened expectations of simplicity and convenience mean in relation to their own product or service—irrespective of whether or not it is itself connected to a network. Better, not more. Consumers want a smart house, not a big house. As technology boosts productivity and consumers find that more of their time is freed up, brands must find new ways to participate and fulfill a different need or aspiration.  

The fast, radical advance of technology has pushed consumer expectations. The shift toward convenience, personal expression, and experiences means brands must dig deeper to identify the narratives people want to build around their lives—and become enablers of those stories. In an era when people want to buy less, your products and services must do more.

As global chief digital officer, Matt Howell leads all digital efforts across the Havas network, overseeing strategy, development, and innovation. He focuses on expanding the agency’s global offering and delivering Havas’s “Together” strategy from a digital perspective.


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Built on a robust study of trends and patterns in the market, the Future of Retail 2017 report offers transformational strategies for a customer-first business. The directional playbook from PSFK‘s research team helps business leaders drive success with insights into empowering employees, optimizing operations and leveraging technology. 

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