2019 buzzwords explained: how identity, transparency and authenticity shape consumer behaviour

People do not longer belong to one subculture or group, but are able to shift between different roles and identities in their daily lives. One moment you can be a punker and listening to rock music, the next moment you are working from 9-5 in an international office, wearing a suit which covers your tattoos. So, identity is no longer a fixed truth, but something more fluid, fragmented and flexible in today’s society.  

Consuming identity

Today people are less bound by social categories such as class, gender, age and religion and more liberated than ever to choose what to wear and how to behave. Consuming ‘things’, whether it is food, education, gadgets, technologies, accessories or clothes, allows people to shape their ‘liquid’ identity. People cruise through lots of clothing and consumer good worlds, and are able to easily shift between various styles and identities. Sociologist Ted Polhemus defines this consumer society as a Supermarket of Style where everything is offered like tins of soup on a supermarket shelf.

Authenticity as counter trend

Although people are shifting between identities and styles, there are also signals and counter movements which show the emerging importance of authenticity and search for true self. For many years consumers have enjoyed the benefits of convenient and available consumption in a material world where most products are mass-produced in standardised processes. But nowadays, an increasing number of consumers seek for a more personal and unique experience. It becomes more important to present oneself as an individual who stands out from the crowd.

Interestingly enough, the further away people feel from values like authenticity, the more important they seem to become. People strive to be authentic: defining your individual look and style is key. For example, the popularity of vintage clothing shows this desire for authenticity and a signature style. Vintage items are unique, one-of-a-piece items in contrast to mass-produced fast fashion. Also truisms and tautologies as ‘Keep it real’, ‘Stay true to yourself’ and ‘Be yourself’ have grazed many coffee cups, self-help books and T-shirts and are tapping into the same counter trend.

Transparency is key

Not only people are striving towards the ‘real me’, also companies and brands are embracing authenticity more and more as important feature to reach new groups such as millennials and Gen-Z. For many years, customers have enjoyed the benefits of convenient and available consumption in a mass-produced material world, but an increasing number of consumers are pondering questions about our current world. With this rising emphasis on transparency and authenticity, brands also have the responsibility to be absolutely transparent and communicate everything about their production processes, ethics and values. It’s the only way to build trust.

At Fronteer, we take regular deep dives into the needs and drivers of people. These consumer trend workshops form the starting point for supporting organisations to become more aware of what will drive the consumers of tomorrow,  and set the right direction for positive change, transparency and meaningful innovation. Curious about our approach to make positive impact? Reach out to us!


Photo: courtesy of Hans Eijkelboom via Volkskrant