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The Big Consumer Themes of 2017

Consumers seem increasingly scared of the future, and are looking at numerous ways to make themselves feel better or actually make the world more like it once was

Politics and the US presidential election had a big influence on consumer trends last year, and this shows no signs of abating in 2017. Analysis of in-depth CEB data produces five trends that should inform consumer marketing strategy this year.

  1. The defenders: White traditionalists, galvanized by the 2016 presidential campaign, are rallying around their shared narrative of American history and norms, and the protection of both.
  2. Bursting the bubble: Consumers are aware that they tend to sort themselves into echo chambers of like-minded thinking, but efforts to burst those bubbles are emerging.
  3. Noise reduction: Consumers are overwhelmed by the volume and tone of today’s discourse, but they’re reaching for the volume knob instead of earplugs.
  4. Post-trust social: Social media users have mixed feelings about influencers. While some are distrustful of sources and skeptical of posts, many, especially higher frequency users, look to social media influencers (SMIs) for advice and information.
  5. Newstalgia: Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Consumers now seek emotional and intellectual safe spaces to contend with current cultural conflicts, and find them in new, more introspective modes of recent-past storytelling.

Scared of the Future

If there’s a single theme that unites these 2017 trends, it’s consumers acting to stall, stop or circumvent the future. They understand that the future is inevitable, but they are engaging in self-protection, fortification and even full pushback against the major features of it.

As consumers sit on what feels like the precipice of the “algorithmic age” (Alexa, Siri and their brethren taking more and more of a central role in our lives), and what is is already the precipice of a demographic shift in the US toward a population made up of a majority of what have been called “minority groups,” consumers are experiencing a range of pressures from a future that feels all too present.

Social-media-savvy consumers are wresting back control over their feeds, and the content they consume. White traditionalists seek to wrest back control of the American narrative, which they see as fundamentally Anglo-Saxon and Protestant. Consumers are looking to the past to help them confront the issues of the present.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that marketers should halt any progressive-leaning strategies that they may have been cooking up, but it does mean that brands need to be sensitive to this critical consumer outlook, in order to mine campaign or positioning inspiration, add subtlety to a bold proposition and/or sharpen an already reassuring message.

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