‘The Essential Kitchen’ with Kevin M. Henry: Tao of the New Economy: Part I—Meet the ‘So-Con’

The near collapse of the global economic system has had a major impact on the lifestyle of the American consumer, who is buying fewer services and goods that were once considered staples of the affluent life. �

American consumers have suffered a collective breakdown. They have begun to question their lives and their lifestyles…Do I need that big German car? Do I really need that second house at the beach? Do my kids need to go to that private school? Do I need a new phone or iPod or laptop because it now comes in a cooler color? 

Out of this period of self-denial and personal re-evaluation, a new consumer will be born, the Socially Conscience Consumer or SoCon. SoCons are aware of the world around them and what it means to be self-sufficient—they are consumers who understand that the purchases they make have a profound impact on the world around them, both economically as well as environmentally.

The SoCon will no longer be goaded and coerced by peer pressure or ego-based advertising. He has moved from a consumerism based on flaunting and bragging to one of self-reflection and social responsibility. The battle cry of the SoCon is simple and direct “Do I really need this?”

SoCons will emerge from this economic downturn not as victims, but as survivors. They will feel good about themselves and most of all they will feel good about the future. Like the economic collapse of the 1970s and 1990s, the SoCons will enter into an age of great opportunity and great possibilities.

They will feel empowered and they will have the confidence to take on the future. They will believe in a better tomorrow. And they will focus on what’s good about life, rather than what’s not.

So what is at the “heart” of the Social-Conscious Consumer? To the SoCon it is about lifestyle, it’s not about owning, it’s about living. If stress and anxiety were the bi-products of the post-economic collapse, then nothing will be more coveted by the SoCon than a safe haven to gather and commune with family and friends.

What Are They Looking For?

They look at labels and check out websites and align themselves with those companies that embody their beliefs and values. They are no longer brand loyal, but seek brands that exemplify the new social contract and will hold them accountable.

A word that was once associated with an older generation has become the watch word of the new economy. “Frugality.” Everyone is looking over their collective shoulders, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Will I have my job next year or even next month…my 401 is useless, my savings account is near empty and I have no way to cover tuition for the kids next semester. In other words…every penny counts.

The SoCon has begun to buy store brands at the market as well as cutting and using coupons for the first time. They no longer are looking at cars and phones as a disposable commodity…they are looking and purchasing refurbished phones and other personal electronics as well as pre-owned autos…and even considering public transportation.

The biggest change has been the use of credit cards or better yet the lack of use…the SoCon have lost their need for instant gratification…they are taking their time and pondering their purchase…they have moved from a purchasing reflex of “I want this” to a conscious thought pattern of “Do I really need this.” They are abandoning the credit card to using a debit card or cash or— in a throw back to the 50s—lay-a-way…paying for it over time.

The 7 Characteristics of the SoCon
1.    The SoCons feel that they have too much “stuff.” And that they were prisoners of their possessions and had fallen victim to easy credit and the siren song of mass-consumption. Today they will no longer cave-in to their old buying habits.
2.    The SoCon wants to experience life and not just fill space around them with things. Now every purchase must be weighed and evaluated.
3.    The SoCon is embarrassed by past indiscretions…such as the Hummer or that 10- bedroom summer house for a family of three or the latest…the need to have an iPhone.
4.    To the SoCon, wealth is no longer about things or logos or a brand name…true wealth is about giving back to the community, to the country…to the planet. The things they will purchase today will reflect the social good.
5.    From the clothes they wear, to the coffee they drink, to the car they drive, to the kitchen that defines their home…each purchase must reflect a Social Return on Investment by the company or manufacturer.
6.    The SoCon will use limited resources as a currency of consciousness to leverage a greener and more sustainable tomorrow.
7.    The SoCon believes that the actions of the individual can make a difference.
In Part II, next week, we’ll take a look at marketing to the SoCon.

(Kevin Henry is the executive VP of Bazzèo Kitchen + Bath, as well as writer, speaker and industry activist. He can be reached at kevin@nyloft.net)