Reimagining Consumerism As A Force For Good
The Future Of Commerce In The Human Age: From Consumers To A Human Collective
* The JACR edition of this paper was 1 of the 4 most quoted articles in the American Journal Of Consumer Research in the last 12 months.
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Dr. Martina Olbert is the world's leading expert on creating meaning in business known simply as The Meaning Expert™, recognized by Forbes as the 'global authority on brand meaning'. She is a business visionary, thought leader, strategy advisor, speaker, author, humanist, futurist, consumer psychologist, and social scientist. She helps companies envision new possibilities for future innovation, value creation and growth as we move toward a new sustainable economy where aligning with our humanity is a must. Martina partners with business leaders to reimagine their brands and organizations from the human perspective and use the immense social power of commerce as a force for good – to serve our complete humanity and the planet. She focuses on how the social and cultural shifts redefine our perception of value today and helps companies capitalize on this shifting socio-cultural context to create new meaning in people's lives. Martina is a global keynote speaker represented by Chartwell Speakers in London. Her new talk inspired by this study is called How Brands Can Shape A Better Future. For all her talks and booking requests, see Speaking.
For brand and business strategy-related questions
and consulting requests, contact Martina directly
Martina presents a clear roadmap for how brands can ensure they are not engaging in purpose-washing, but
rather authentically engage with consumers as humans. The thought leader we need for the '20s and beyond.
Dr. Giana Eckhardt
Professor of Marketing, King's Business School, King's College London, and editor my JACR paper
Dr. Martina Olbert is a
Global Business Thinker on Marketing, Sustainability, and Ecosystems to Follow in 2022
Ranked Global Thought Leader
on Ecosystems #3 and
on Sustainability #17
I was asked by the editors of the American Journal Of Consumer Research to contribute a new provocative piece on the future of consumer collectives last year. After a short call with the editor, it was clear that the piece would go in a radically different direction. This was finally the opportunity to tell the whole story: the story of what is happening with consumers, brands, culture, how we got here, and where do we go from here to navigate a more meaningful and sustainable future for business, people, society, and the planet. The succinct version of this paper is now published in the latest special edition of the JACR journal, entitled New Insights on Consumption Collectives (Vol. 6, N. 4, October 2021) which you can access here.
But there was much more to the story... The state of the industry that we're in today. The shift happening in the market after COVID pushing us to awaken to our own humanity. The limits of the current brand-consumer paradigm based on desire, aspiration, and transactional relationships. The evolution of our collective psyche over the last 100 years and how our consciousness has changed from human beings to consumers. And finally, the dual role that brands play in our lives either profiting from exploiting our desires or offering us an outlet to increase human wellbeing and act as catalysts to advance society.
The latter is the new humanized way how brands can exist in our world if only we dare to envision a new future for business that stems from humanity, sustainability, integrity, and consciousness – to create new forms of human value that benefits people and adds meaningful value to our lives. You will find this full story in a new exclusive study that I published below. I plan to expand my research, apply this new thinking to brands, add new business cases of organizations using brands as a force for good, and publish these in a new book in 2023.
For now, until the book comes out, I simply felt the urge to set the story straight and offer the much-needed and largely missing interpretations and philosophical explanations of why the current system of business, brands, and value creation is no longer working, why it's hitting its limits today, and what we can to fix it. All of it with one sole intention: to finally move the industry conversation forward and start generating real, tangible, and measurable results for good.
Today's business world is devoid of meaning in so many ways because it is fundamentally devoid of humanity. It is not aligned with where we are going as the human collective and is not fit for purpose. The challenge with meaning we are facing in business today is systemic. The whole system in which we still conduct business and create value is unsustainable: ideologically, socially, economically, culturally, environmentally, and ethically.
Greed is no longer good as a foundational principle of either business or consumption. Transactions are not enough. People are not here to be consumers and serve the business needs, businesses are here to serve the needs of people. We desperately lack something larger to strive for in business to make the value that we create meaningful again. We need to learn how to produce new forms of value in business that are for human benefit, and not just to generate profit.
We need to find a new foundational principle that unites us rather than divides us and gives us a chance to collectively create a better future. In other words, we need a new narrative for business driven by radically different values and human motivations than a pragmatic self-interest advocated by Milton Friedman. We need to develop a new ideological system for business rooted in our humanity and core values. We need to radically reimagine the business paradigm so that we can use the social power of brands for a larger good.
This study explores the intricate power dynamics between brands and people in the existing business paradigm and traces back the fundamental origins of our unsustainable ideology of consumerism. It also gives a glimpse into the emerging reality today that is leading us back to meaning and humanity in an effort to reclaim the fundamental essence of all value creation: our human potential. It is only when the business world aligns with where humanity is already going that we can create the future of commerce as a force for good.
I wholeheartedly believe that commerce can become the most potent force for a positive social, cultural, and environmental change, that is if and when we learn to harness its immense power consciously and for a higher purpose. To make this vision a reality, we must first make an evolutionary step in consciousness. When businesses become conscious of the impact of their actions and act for the collective benefit, they can become catalysts of a real change in the world.
I look forward to your feedback.
Dr. Martina Olbert
Founder & CEO, Meaning.Global
We are standing at the precipice of a Great Change toward Humanistic Capitalism, Conscious Business, and Humanized Growth. This paper can help brands and organizations understand how to lead with meaning and humanity at the core to become the forces for good and meaningful growth in the world.
This study offers an in-depth exploration and cultural understanding of the 180° fundamental paradigm shift in consumerism and our collective consumption patterns, driving us from brands to humanity, and from consumer collectives to a human collective. Its aim is to inspire the industry to redefine the future of commerce: how we do business, how we manage brands, understand their value, and how we consume.
We are entering a new Humanistic Paradigm where the dynamic of consumerism is shifting from brands
to people: We are now experiencing a 180° paradigm shift from brand aspiration to human wellbeing.
reversing the inner dynamic of consumerism as the locus of power between brands and consumers is moving from corporations back to humanity. This shift in relationship dynamics is at the core of the
biggest and most fundamental change in the philosophy of consumerism in the last 100 years.
Over the past 100 years, consumerism has produced material success but it was at the expense of
a social and spiritual failure that had weakened the notion of human freedom and democracy. After a full century of exploited desires, we are coming back to our essential human needs to guide our consumer choices in a way that benefits and directly increases our human well-being. For this, we need to develop
a new level of consciousness – as individuals and as brands and organizations to act for a larger good.
Since the COVID pandemic in 2020, our human needs and values have been rapidly evolving in a new direction that takes us back to our humanity in a quest to retrieve the lost meaning in our lives. This newly heightened level of our collective awareness poses a challenge to brands as they now need to look for more authentic ways to connect with people and create new value that adds real meaning to their lives.
As we are awakening to our higher needs and reclaiming our humanity, segmenting people into consumer collectives is no longer seen as relevant. There are no more consumer collectives. There is only one collective: the human collective. To authentically connect with people in this new Human Paradigm, brands need to shift their focus away from themselves and their purpose and focus on what people value – and that is meaning. When brands do this right, consciously and on a large scale, they can become the catalysts of a real social change. They can become the forces for good and for meaningful social growth.
“Dr. Olbert addresses one of the most vexing and disruptive schisms of all time – the cracking of the world into two – and that the threat is not climate change; it is a Tale of Two Ways of Conceiving the World. One where corporate reality takes over our lives, and the other in which we have the power to create a new reality and live from our humanity again. What Martina offers in Reimagining Consumerism is a quake under our feet. Her suggestion is don’t stand behind false totems. Face up and face forward to the reality of life, its light and its darkness. That is what will put us on firmer ground. It’s a duel between impulsiveness and introspection. Exceptional view.“
Cognitive Anthropologist, Founder of Brain-Sells, Author, Creator of Apple's 'Think Different'
Reactions from the industry
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