Meet the Transumers

October 19th, 2007

The 1980s have often been characterized by greedy power spending. The 1990s, a blingfest. Both were decades when brands defined the person.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that in the socially conscious, compassionate noughties, the antimaterialist backlash has begun. The voracious appetite for “objects” suddenly started to look a bit uncool to many.

Enter a growing lifestyle segment: “Transumers.”

Not defined by age, some might characterize them as lifestyle refuseniks who’ve had enough of conspicuous consumption. Transumers are consumers driven to collect experiences instead of objects. They are pleasure-seekers who spend money in a totally different way from previous generations.

They seek experiences to create rich stories. A focus on entertainment, discovery and fighting boredom, transumers are those who increasingly live a transient lifestyle, freeing themselves from the hassles of permanent ownership and possessions. The buying is replaced by an obsession with the here and now, an ever-shorter satisfaction span, and a lust to collect as many experiences and stories as possible. The motto is, “Hey, the past is, well, over, and the future is uncertain, so all that remains is the present. Live for the ‘now'”.

If you’re in the service sector, you may think you can’t tap into this trend, but Vancity, Canada’s largest credit union, did just that when they recently launched a Bike Share program. They released 45 shiny red bicycles into the community for anyone’s use and requested users to keep the bikes for no longer than three weeks before passing them on to someone else. They created a blog so people can request the use of a bike when another participant finishes their turn. If a bike needs repairs, it can be taken to any Vancity branch for a tune-up. After a certain period of time, the bikes will be donated to a charity for distribution to low-income families.

Just because they aren’t buying as much, it doesn’t mean they aren’t spending.

Marketers are tapping into this trend by providing a unique set of products and services well beyond the obvious travel and entertainment-oriented offerings. From the likes of Target with its focus on disposable yet stylish design, to companies like Bag, Borrow or Steal (think of it as the Netflix for fashionistas), where members join and can borrow outrageously costly couture handbags on a monthly basis.

There are practical offerings like ZipCar in Chicago where cars are parked around the city for members to drive by the hour instead of owning their own vehicles, as well as HourCar, a similar concept in Minneapolis. On the not so practical front, high-end exclusive car sharing clubs like Classic Car Club and P1 Club are popping up faster than you can trade in your old jalopy. Why spend all your money on a Bentley when you can experience a Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maybach, too? Even the jet-set can be transumers, as the growth of companies like NetJet and Club One Air demonstrate.

And then there are the likes of Freecycle.org, where groups have formed who want to “recycle” that special something rather than throw it away. You need a fridge, but have a couch that needs a new home? Trade it on Freecycle. It’s like a giant online swap meet for members.

Creativity and innovation are resulting in unique and compelling product offerings. Think way outside the box. What experience can your company deliver for transumers to collect?

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