I was listening to a TEDx talk by a trend consultant friend recently and she mentioned how she thought that our consumption model is broken and that America is missing its soul. I think she’s right. But, how did that happen? Where are we headed now and what does it mean for the brand landscape?
America came into its own during the Industrial Revolution. Our factories, workers, products and standard of living was the envy of much of the world. Other countries wanted to be us once. Whether they really want to admit that now or not.
We lived the Industrial Model.
But, over time our desire to own more and more things in order to attain our ever-inflating image of prosperity, drove us to need products to be less expensive. Less expensive because Americans middle-class wages have stagnated for the last 30 years, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich pointed out in his eye-opening video “The Truth About the Economy”. Sadly, our wages have not kept pace with our appetite to own more things.
So, we out-sourced our production overseas. But the price we paid was dear. Entire industries in the US crumbled. Furniture making, textiles, steel production, automobiles, electronics, the list goes on and on. Physically and culturally it decimated our heartland. Look no farther than Detroit, but we all know the list is much longer.
We began to discover that not making things hollows out your soul.
We’ve become a nation of middle-men and service providers. In fact, 86% of jobs in America are in services and 14% are in goods production and manufacturing. But there are huge numbers of our population who don’t have the skill sets or the desire to become white-collar workers. So the collective pride of the worker begins to die along with their cities.
The white collar workers find their work rooted in technology. Entire industries are living in the digital domain. Employees, initially enthralled by the computer and its magic have become surrounded, ruled and overwhelmed by the technology they once coveted.
At the same time, big box stores became the norm and Mom & Pop businesses disappeared from Main Street. Every town in America looking like every other town - the same collection of retailers, only with different weather.
But there is a renaissance happening.
People have begun to want to create something they can touch. Something you can’t send in an email. There is a new makers movement, a movement of people wanting to get back in touch with making actual things. Reviving dying trades, artisan skills, mills and factories. There are printers, wood workers, bicycle makers, textile designers and manufacturers, blacksmiths, craft brewers and jewelers.
People driven by a need to create. Their souls are fed by it. To produce and distribute goods bound by an ethos of sustainability, craftsmanship and local trade. Market places, pop-up stores and curated websites (digital, I know) are springing up with a decidedly anti-chain, pro-Mom & Pop, pro-local personality bent. Consumers want a human face and a name to go along with a product. For it to come from a place that they know how to find on a map. And most importantly, todays consumer wants these products. They value a true story.
Witness the Social/Industrial rEvolution being born.
Big brands are desperately trying to find a voice for themselves that is credible in this new model. Trying to use social media and acquisitions to make themselves appear much smaller, with a human face and a genuine narrative. Take Clorox’s purchase of Burt’s Bees for example. But for the most part the consumer public is seeing through the facade. The only way to sound local is to be local. The way to appear small is to be small. The way to be hand-crafted is to get your hands dirty.
This new model is built on quality over quantity, knowing where its materials came from, knowing where it was made, knowing a little about the person who made it. With all the digital connectivity we have at our disposal, what we have come to miss most of all, and want to get back is connection.
Physical and emotional connection is the heart of the Social/Industrial rEvolution.
This rEvolution is about being true. Brands that embrace this evolution and live by its ethos will win a place of honor in consumers lives. Because we want to feel we are once again makers, doers and creators. We want to truly own our success. We want to play a part in reclaiming Americas soul.
ADDENDUM: On the flip side of this coin we have the "4th Industrial Revolution" which is the digital evolution of our society and economy. Thanks to John Hawthorne, for sharing this article that comes at our societal evolution from a different perspective.
Image Credit: Anna Zoromski/Miles @ flickr.com