From ownership to membership; a cultural shift

We all like to feel part of something, right?

This week I was extremely lucky to be invited to Contagious Magazine’s Now Next Why event in London (#contagiousnnw), an event jam-packed with talks and case studies of various length on the current trends, technologies and truths surrounding the future of marketing. The topics were broad, ranging from how brands are making the most of live events to brand loyalty and what can be done to map social activity and loyalty programmes.

One point made by Arwa Mahdawi that really stuck with me was that we are now moving from a culture of ownership to a culture of membership. Exemplified by the success of brands such as Spotify and Zipcar, the point was made that we would rather feel part of something that is bigger than us than to own it outright.

This got me thinking about what might be fuelling this trend, particularly amongst my own demographic, 20-somethings, and here are just three thoughts on larger societal trends that are fuelling this culture of membership:

1. Generation Rent

I hadn’t heard the term until I read Joshi Herrmann’s article in Thursday’s Evening Standard on why London needs more flats for Generation Rent. Having spent time in Germany, I became accustomed to a society that didn’t rely on the housing market for wealth (and indeed happiness), and the UK’s fascination with home ownership intrigues and baffles me at the same time. Indeed it would seem some are bold enough to claim that receiving their inheritance is the only way to exchange and complete (nice PR story, Safestore).

With a fundamental shift in home ownership occurring, there is naturally a change in how we perceive status. More and more friends and colleagues I speak to are questioning whether home ownership is really worth it or more importantly, whether it is achievable within the foreseeable future. Even if a deposit is raised and a mortgage arranged, will our generation derive the same status and feeling of home ownership that the previous one felt?

2. Serendipity is disappearing

Much of the Now Next Why talk focussed on changing technology trends, with a large emphasis on the Quantified Self movement. We can now track everything and indeed Andy Hobsbawm argued that even everyday objects should be wired up to the world wide web.

With everything becoming more measured and trackable, I predict the feeling of serendipity is in decline. Being in the right place at the right time does not seem to be possible, given that we can check in, forward plan and replan the simplest daily activities such as coffee buying.

As a result, being a member of a service can open us back up to serendipity. Using Spotify as an example, being a paid-up member opens up a world of songs that may never have been discovered. Whereas we might have stumbled into a record shop and found a new CD before, we now have to find other ways to keep our lives serendipitous and brands that can provided that will only flourish.

3. Providing a sense of purpose

Ownership brings status, whilst membership brings purpose. Owning a car is more expensive than simply ‘borrowing’ one for 4 hours as and when you need it, however it acts as an object that provides status within society. I would argue that as we continue to move up Maslow’s Hierachy of Needs, we are finding purpose and worth from being part of movements and brands that stand for something greater than simply owning or consuming physical goods will be favoured amongst Generation Rent. Look at Movember as a prime example.

My thinking is still a bit raw on this so I would welcome thoughts or indeed counter arguments to suggest otherwise. Overall it was an afternoon very much well spent with extremely intelligent and eloquent speakers and so thank you to Contagious Magazine for hosting and providing some much needed thought provoking.

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