Solutions to some of our intractable global challenges could be found in 2.5 billion empowered, young and urban shoppers. These are the “aspirationals”, and the way they are uniting style and social status with sustainability values represents both an opportunity for business and a lever for change.
Aspirational consumers love shopping, but they also want to be socially and environmentally responsible and they respond to brands that take initiatives in this direction. While aspirationals are found all over the world, they are particularly highly represented in Asia’s emerging markets: 51% of Chinese people, and 58% of Indians, are classed as aspirationals.
Aspirationals are defined the same worldwide – based on how consumers answered questions about their attitudes and behaviour in research conducted by GlobeScan and brand consultancy BBMG (GlobeScan and its national research partners interviewed random samples of 1,000 consumers in each country by telephone or in-person during January to April 2014; the national results are considered accurate to within 3.5%, 19 times out of 20). Those in industrialized countries, however, tend to look beyond materialism, while their counterparts in emerging economies are more motivated by enjoying their new wealth.
Yet the social “face” aspects of conspicuous consumption, so visible in many Asian cultures, are far from the whole picture. In the Chinese mindset there is a strong, long-term, collective aspiration towards social and environmental progress. Urban citizens of emerging economies are also motivated by environmental conditions that are increasing their personal health concerns.
It is in Asia that the clean technology market is alive and well. Our research suggests that serious amounts of yuans and rupees are being and will be spent on people- and planet-friendly choices. For the foreseeable future, entrepreneurs and intraprenerus with clean tech solutions for consumers will get earlier traction in emerging markets.
Across cultures, aspirationals are particularly receptive to market offers in what is variously called the sharing, collaborative or “we” economy. In emerging markets, sharing a car, washing machine or other major appliance enables consumers to benefit from it more quickly than if they had to buy it outright, while greatly reducing its footprint, in both ecological and household budget terms.
In industrial economies, a key selling feature of sharing is getting to use a higher quality car, appliance or tool than a consumer would buy themselves, without the hassle of ownership. Stylish offers like BMW’s electric “i” Series automobiles are well suited to this niche.
As with other consumers, aspirationals are tribal: peer identity and group norms matter to them, and they respond to opportunities for meeting like-minded people and taking collective action. Brands that find ways to leverage individual actions into collective impacts across their entire consumer base can create the modern equivalent of “brand loyalty.” Unilever’s Project Sunlight is a case in point; 83 million “Acts of Sunlight”, from improving health to helping the environment, were recorded by consumers on its website after only six months.
Other corporate platforms that are well positioned to engage Aspirationals include BT’s Better Future, HP’s Living Progress, McDonald’s Together for Good, M&S’s Plan A and The Walt Disney Company’s Be Inspired.
Being upwardly mobile and highly socially engaged, both online and offline, aspirationals are more likely than others to shape societal norms in their countries. Their power as a cultural force is illustrated by the way urban Millennials have made car-sharing services like Zipcar feel “cool” to the wider population.
Consequently, aspirationals represent not only an opportunity for profit, but also for well-focused government leadership and nudges to mobilize latent consumer readiness to act in new ways. People know that government and business institutions can leverage larger change than they can as consumers; the public needs to see these institutions playing their part.
Aspirationals are redefining modern consumption, unlocking the market for sustainable products and services, and propelling the economy forward through new business models. Brands that tap the power of this segment will be big winners – and they will help to address humanity’s challenges in the process.
Doug Miller is Chairman of GlobeScan, the stakeholder intelligence & engagement firm with offices in London, San Francisco and Toronto. This post originally appeared on the World Economic Forum Blog.