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Alain Giguère

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Do you need to feel recognized and admired by the people around you? 43% of Canadians admit they do (and La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 12-04-17 at 4:51 p.m.

A very intriguing trend seems to be emerging in the social and consumer psychology of Canadians: a marked decline in the need for status recognition and personal pride. Although we can use several indicators to measure this driver and its impact on consumption, one of the most reliable indicators, according to our analyses, is the need to feel admired by other people-an indicator in dramatic decline since 2014. A large critical mass of people still continue to be motivated by this "hot button," particularly in Quebec, but overall this driver seems to be falling, at least since 2014.

We normally prefer to draw conclusions about trends from data collected over longer periods of time, but the sharp drop in this indicator since 2014 is certainly striking. Prior to 2014, our indicators for this motivation were unchanged. Hence, this trend seems to be relatively new.

In fact, the proportion of Canadians who crave status recognition and admiration from other people has fallen from 54% to 43% since 2014, a 12-point drop. Even in Quebec, which has been and continues to be the country's "proudest" province, the proportion of recognition-seekers has dropped from 64% to 52% over the same period.

Surprisingly, even the younger generation, the 18- to 34-year-olds (the proudest cohort we measure), display a similar decline in their need to feel recognized and admired. Since 2014, their agreement with our question fell from 63% to 57% (from 74% to 62% in Quebec!).

Market segmentation more crucial than ever

We find this trend particularly intriguing because most of the brands and market segments we work on for our clients are positioned on a "sociocultural map" where status recognition (pride) is a very important motivator, one that drives consumption and consumer choices.

Pride in owning a sought-after product, showing off a prestige brand ("masstige" or mass-market luxury): these are extremely important drivers, motivating consumption by large segments of consumers (buying the latest iPhone, a pair of Ferragamo shoes, etc.). Given that we often work with consumers who expect the brands they buy to deliver a status boost (or an experience that makes them feel proud), we find it very surprising that this motivation is trending downward.

This development suggests that brands and companies need to do much more to segment their markets and target their customers. If the need for status recognition is indeed on the wane, it may be necessary to exploit other hot buttons to promote their products, based on the type of consumer being targeted (unless you're targeting only the consumers who want products and services that confer a sense of pride and status). Businesses, must properly segment their markets and target clientele in order to send the right message to the right people.

It should also be noted that, along with the younger generation, employed individuals and professionals display a markedly strong need for pride and social recognition. However, they too are showing a diminished need for this kind of validation, in line with the general population.

The energy of personal achievement vs. a keen need for authentic connections with others

When we analyze the values and hot buttons associated with a desire for status recognition and those associated with its decline, we get a very clear picture of what is happening.

On the one hand, the most "status-driven" individuals are charged with a strong need to excel, to realize their potential, display their creativity and their uniqueness. Status recognition is their "reward" for achievement.

This kind of motivation has a very dynamic effect on society and the economy. The more people there are in the workforce who have this keen desire to excel and take pride in their accomplishments, the better shape the economy will be in, since they will inevitably bring some of this dynamism to their work.

On the other hand, those less motivated by this need for status recognition, whose numbers have steadily increased since 2014, express a keen need for authentic connections with others, a desire for personal fulfillment based on a symbiotic relationship with their environment (people, nature, life). Rather than being concerned with status, they are interested in more meaningful and authentic relationships with others-and equate pride with vanity.

What our society loses in economic vitality due to a diminished desire for status recognition it gains in authenticity. However, for the time being, young people are the primary drivers of our dynamic new digital economy, and their desire for achievement and status recognition, even if less strong than before, is still sufficiently vibrant to keep the economic boat afloat!

An aging society

These findings makes sense in the context of an aging population. When we reach a certain age, we tend to have less to prove to ourselves, and authentic relationships with those close to us takes precedence over jockeying for social status. Moreover, a less frenzied contribution to the economy can still create value, while encouraging greater humanism, which can only benefit society. Although innovation is spawned by a demographically small number of individuals, we fully expect a flood of innovation over the next few years!

Historically, when economic conditions are good (Canada hasn't done too badly in recent years), authenticity can thrive. Conversely, in more perilous times, people are afraid of moving downward on the social ladder (or on Maslow's hierarchy of needs pyramid), which exacerbates their concern for social status and recognition.

Given the foreseeable technological and economic disruptions in the medium term, the country's future economic conditions may well put a strain on this emerging movement of authenticity! Only time will tell.

Verdi's La Traviata

When we refer to this opera or to Alexandre Dumas' novel, La Dame aux camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), which inspired it, we are normally referring to the heartbreaking story of love thwarted by the heroine's immanent death and the inflexible class structure of 19th-century French society.

However, a crucial element of the story that is often overlooked is the frantic desire for social recognition by the main character (Violetta, la Traviata). She is a marvelous incarnation of a social climber with her craving for prestige and admiration-for the kind of social mobility that could only prove exceedingly difficult for a courtesan in Parisian society at that time.

This excerpt magnificently expresses the heroine's dismay at the impossibility of her love and the futility of her social-climbing ambitions. (Gentlemen, calm down. Netrebko may take off her dress, but there's nothing erotic about it: she is throwing off her life as a courtesan.)

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata - Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Thomas Hampson, Konzertvereinigung Wiener Staatsopernchor, Wiener Philharmoniker, Carlo Rizzi (Dir.), Willy Decker (Prod.), Salzbourg Festival, 2005, Deutsche Grammophon.