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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Five Human Aspirations That Hold the Future for Brands

We marketers can be obsessed with generational trends. How many meetings have you had lately on what Millennials think of your brand? Or what Generation Z means for your digital strategy?And yet, while important, we may be asking the wrong questions — or at least seeking insights and revelations in the wrong place.

We marketers can be obsessed with generational trends. How many meetings have you had lately on what Millennials think of your brand? Or what Generation Z means for your digital strategy?

And yet, while important, we may be asking the wrong questions — or at least seeking insights and revelations in the wrong place.

The truth is that generations are defined by more than birthdays. Our generational identity is formed by the common human experiences that shape who we are and the understanding of our place in the world around us. A generation shaped by 9/11, perpetual wars, economic crises and environmental threats is experiencing an equal and opposite reaction toward generosity, creativity, collaboration and caring.

Indeed, building on four years of global insight from more than 22,000 respondents across 22 international markets, BBMG and our partners at GlobeScan have revealed the Aspirational generation, who combine a love of style, social status and sustainability values to shift cultural norms and rewrite the rules of marketing.

This Aspirational generation isn’t defined by age, but rather the desire for their actions to meet their needs, have a positive impact on others and connect them with an ideal or community that’s bigger than themselves. Representing 39 percent of the global adult population, Aspirationals are connecting the right thing to do with the cool thing to do, creating new possibilities for brands, business and the society we share.

We’ve identified Five Aspirations rooted in deep human needs and desires that define the identity, priorities and behaviors of this new generation of shoppers, workers, citizens and humans, and they point the way to the next frontier of marketing, design, innovation and the marketplace of the future.

1. Abundance Without Waste

Aspirationals are redefining the idea of abundance, seeking more experiences in ways that use fewer resources and produce less waste. It’s a shift from a scarcity mentality to a new reality, where our creativity is an infinite resource. Aspirationals are leading the way from an ownership economy to one driven by access, sharing and collaboration. Aspirationals don’t necessarily want more material possessions but rather more meaningful experiences that help them live better.

In virtually every product category, brands are meeting this aspiration with new business models and delightful brand experiences. Le Tote is an apparel subscription service that delivers on-trend clothing and accessories to your door, allowing you to rent full outfits for as long as you want and return them when you’re ready. Similarly, Patagonia is redefining the rules of apparel with Worn Wear, a platform encouraging people to think about the enduring quality of what they buy and to repair, share or recycle their clothes so that the stories and experiences live on and on.

2. Truly as You Are

The explosion of mobile technology and data has fueled new expectations for transparency and new dynamics of trust. The very fact that “the truth will out” is accepted by the Aspirational generation, and whether it plays out in their lives or in their expectations of brands, it’s no longer about perfection, but honesty.

Aspirationals are leading the shift from flawless to honest, from hiding imperfections to revealing realities and from controlling the conversation to inviting others in to help solve challenges together.

The fearless fashion house Everlane is making radical transparency an essential part of its brand promise, providing detailed information and costs on every step of its manufacturing process and inviting customers to “know your factories, know your costs and always ask why.” Dove has inspired a cultural movement by celebrating our Real Beauty, and The Honest Company is disrupting the baby and personal care industry by uniting healthier ingredients; honest, mom-friendly answers; and a social goodness platform designed to help us make a difference together.

3. Get Closer

Like never before, peers have become the new face of brands. We’ve always desired human connection, but today people like us are the actual providers of the products, services and brand experiences. From Airbnb to Uber to Getaround, the marketplace is shifting from selling products to engaging peers and from generating transactions to building relationships. Increasingly, we’re purchasing from peer networks, seeking to “meet the makers” and moving from “made by machines” to “made by people.”

The desire to get closer to the people behind the products is embodied by West Elm Local, sourcing locally made furniture in their retail outlets and working with Etsy to connect, support and empower the artisans in our own backyards. Similarly, tech platforms such as PayPal, Square and Yerdle are enabling a new world of peer-to-peer commerce where People Rule.

4. All of It

The Aspirational generation wants to be, do and have it all. Rooted in a deep desire for freedom, the rejection of limiting binary choices and a reimagination of the American Dream without finish lines, Aspirationals are fueling a cultural shift from fixed answers to fluid options, from having a clear destination to enjoying the journey and from reacting to others’ ideas of success to seeking happiness on our own terms.

Shifting the paradigm from fixed to fluid means refusing to be trapped by predetermined categories such as age, gender or yesterday’s expectations. Tapping this new reality, Urban Outfitters has created Without Walls, a new brand and curated collection that takes you from morning workout to the workplace to an evening with friends, living seamlessly through the roles, opportunities and adventures that each day brings.

Similarly, UK retailer Selfridges & Co. recently launched Agender, a brand platform dedicated “shifting gender boundaries through ground-breaking fashion, music and design collaborations,” while two former Nike executives have created Wildfang, a brand for “modern day, female Robin Hoods raiding men’s closets.”

The desire for “all of it” signals a bold and brave new world where work is fun, treats are healthy and brands help us experience the best of life and realize our best selves.

5. Do Some Good

Aspirationals represent a refreshing optimism and a new sense of agency born from the belief that their purchases, votes and actions matter, especially when joining with others to create change together.

However, the lens for social impact is shifting from narrowly defined political issues to broad lifestyle values, from bold stands to everyday behaviors and from rallying toward some distant goal to taking action today in ways that help move us all forward.

Aspirationals want something to believe in and they want brands to stand for something bigger than incremental product benefits. They want brands to embody an inspiring ethos, to bring a strong point of view and put a flag in the ground.

Inspired by pioneering social brands such as TOMS and Warby Parker, Target is delivering on the desire to do some good with Made to Matter, a handpicked collection of 31 brands that are better for your health and give back to the community. This new tribe of brands including Method, Happy Family and KIND is projected to generate $1 billion in sales for Target this year.

The Takeaway for Brands

These five human aspirations represent a profound cultural shift in the marketplace and a tremendous opportunity for brands. It’s no longer about asking consumers to buy something. It’s about inspiring them to be something by helping us reveal our best selves and realize a better world.

It means honoring, respecting and engaging not just consumers, but human beings — based on the deeper needs, hopes and aspirations that define who we are and what we want to be.

And it’s about embodying a new set of cultural values that can shape a future with unprecedented possibilities and constraints, as NYU Professor Dale Jamieson explains: “The virtues of cooperativeness, mindfulness, simplicity, temperance and respect for nature will not solve the problem of climate change on their own, but they will help us to live with meaning and grace in the world that we are creating.”

At the end of the day, we believe that the greatest opportunity of our time is to leverage the power and scale of business to serve humanity, and harness the best of our humanity to reimagine the way we do business.

A new generation of Aspirationals is leading the way.

This post first appeared on LinkedIn on June 18, 2015.