Thursday, October 1, 2009

Inspiration remains a hot commodity, even in these tough times

I just heard they are closing the Bank of America branch in the small New England village around the corner from my house. It's convenient having a bank so close but not a big hardship to see it go. Worse by far is the news that the great cheese shop next to the BofA is suffering too. The owner is going to try out some different inventory to try and get sales going but he told me he’s taken a big hit in the past year. Since it’s fair to say that most of the people in my neighborhood aren’t about to go into foreclosure (though one did), it’s another sign that the recession is changing everyone’s habits.

It was with this frame of mind that I noticed that despite the bad news, some stores seemed to be thriving. In one set of stores in a plaza down the road here's what I saw doing well: a yoga studio, a karate school, one of those working kitchen/culinary arts places where they teach people how to cook again. What else, well there’s also a fantastic running shoe store with super knowledgeable staff and a brand new performance bike shop. Oh, and there's also a hairdresser/manicure salon and a (therapeutic) massage place.

Now, you don’t have to be a genuine professional brand planner like me to see the common thread here. People might be buying fewer fancy cheeses and mutual funds but they are still buying experiences, especially ones that make them look and feel better, that expand their horizons and teach them new skills.

Pine and Gilmore first talked about this coming wave in their 1999 hit “The Experience Economy.” The part that’s most relevant to my point here is in the final chapters where they discussed the next wave of business, after experience businesses, what they called “Transformation” businesses, because these businesses help people transform themselves into something they want to be: lighter or prettier or smarter or more relaxed or more effective martial arts killing machines.

I think they’re right. And you don’t have to go to the mall to see it. You can just look at your twitter/social media feed where dozens of people will tell you every day, over and over again, that you should be more focused, more determined, more positive, more entrepreneurial more committed to doing what you love. And that many of these people who call themselves life coaches and/or human potential professionals, can be hired to help you be all these things and more, because that's what it means to reach your limitless potential.

You can tell by my uncharitable tone here that I personally have a limited tolerance for these kind of platitudes, but as a senior consumer insight professional, my job isn’t to let my own snotty tastes interfere with the accuracy of my observations. And I’d be a very bad consumer insight professional indeed if I didn’t see what was staring me in the face everywhere I looked: people want to be inspired, inspired to transform themselves into something they haven't quite become yet, and even in these very challenging economic times, those that can afford it are still very willing to pay for it

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