People are looking beyond material replenishment to mental nourishment as they begin to question when enough is enough, and if happiness can be bought as they search for meaning and understanding in new ways.

Health as the new wealth

A new form of status has emerged, competing with (and displacing) symbols of old on the social feeds of those that portray an aspirational existence; health as the new wealth. Gym memberships, workouts and personal trainers now compete with holidays, houses and cars as displays of doing well, and come with a profound realignment of needs and values that savvy retailers are striving to meet.

Health is of course more than fitness, and it’s the mental aspect of this shift that is most interesting. Mental health problems are unfortunately increasing year on year and are having a devastating effect on the quality of life of millions of people. While we attempt to unpack and understand the impact of social media on mood and esteem, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is profound consequence in exposure to the skewed representations of life posted by our peers.

Role of retail and brands

Retailers and brands play a fundamental role in enabling people to become this idealised version of themselves: the version that they see in their head and in the posts of those they aspire to emulate.

Overtly present or hidden in plain sight, brands are an omnipresent force of influence and often disappointment.

While many revel in this position, and thrive on their aspirational value, few brands acknowledge the detrimental impacts this picture has on the those exposed to it and striving to mirror it in their own existence. When did you last hear a brand telling you buy less, or encouraging you to take stock of your own life and what you’ve achieved? This is what your customers are considering or doing as they yearn for more meaningful, mindful existences, and eschewing possessions for experiences.

Whatever status is, it isn’t going away. We will continue to invest in products, experiences and services that bring us closer to our ideal selves and communicate our tastes and sensibilities to the world around us. As has always been the case, brands and retailers must maintain an acute sense of who their customer’s ideal self is and when it is changing?

Creating a brand story

As we seek meaning in our lives, we begin to interrogate all that sits within our control. We evaluate and unpack the big stuff like our work, relationships and lifestyles as we yearn to become curators of our existence. Whether head on or indirectly, this curative process begins to dictate the brands that we allow into our sphere, because after all, they are a means of realising our idealised self, right?

This is where brand backstory comes into play; a narrative of how, who and why that can be so compelling it becomes entwined in the fabric of the brand and its people (Think Bill Bowerman and the waffle iron). They become nuggets of social currency that we use to demonstrate our allegiances and initiate those who also recently ‘bought in’.

When these stories play out in store it can make for a rich, immersive environment that feels more museum than store, beckoning people and perfectly priming them to buy into the brand by pandering to our ever-increasing desire for authenticity and provenance.

And it’s not reserved for those with heritage – upstarts can just as capably captivate crowds with a narrative built on looking forwards rather than backwards.

As we become more willing to put faith in lesser known, so called ‘clean slate’ brands, an anti-establishment movement inadvertently gathers momentum and onetime pillars of industry like Kodak, Nokia and Blockbuster quickly appear in-limbo and out of touch as these new entrants bring fresh narratives, approaches and offerings to the fore. Heritage isn’t the asset it once was, and these goliaths found themselves part of an altogether less desirable narrative that portrayed them as cumbersome and irrelevant; we all know how this story ended.

This is an excerpt from the free downloadable report Retail Trends 2020 and Beyond