Social networking and virtual worlds will mark the new social dwelling model of consumers, according to the latest Habitat Trends Observatory report
Changes in the definition of the household and in the core family model have decisively influenced today’s ways of dwelling. This is one of the findings of ‘New ways of dwelling’, the most recent report by the Habitat Trends Observatory, officially presented by Ms. Belén Juste, Minister of the Regional Department of Industry, Trade, and Innovation, at the Textile Technology Institute, AITEX, in Alicante. A key field of work for business in the new techno-social environment will be the generation of new channels of communication. In order to create such new channels, stakeholders’ understanding of social networks will be of vital importance for brands. In this sense, numerous strategies are available for acting in the new technological setting, such as knowledge management, enhancement of communication with the client, generation of an image of transparency, etc. Social networking and virtual worlds are set to become key factors in consumer behaviour.
These conclusions are part of the work conducted in recent years by Habitat Trends Observatory specialists, made up of technicians belonging to ALICER, the Area for Design and Architecture of the Instituto de Tecnología Cerámica (ITC). Thus, the Habitat Trends Notebook 08/09 predicted what the objects making up the habitat would look like, relating these to consumers that were close to those trends and to a series of marketing strategies for better distribution. Subsequently, it has been sought to analyse dwellers, how family models or households have changed in the last few years, what repercussions those changes have had on the habitat (city, home, and objects), and what alternatives are being put forward by habitat professionals.
The results of this study are summarised in ‘New ways of dwelling’, a report that outlines the main changes that are occurring in the way in which people live in cities, homes, or daily objects. The monograph is structured in four different sections, which analyse the major changes in the habitat, socio-cultural environment, market, and home units or households. These changes are reflected in a series of cross-referenced charts, so that the charts characterising new households provide references to the type of dwelling and objects most closely related each of those models.
CHANGES AND TODAY’S RESULT
Nowadays, the definition of the family or household has changed dramatically, as has the concept of the most widespread model, the core family, which has splintered, giving rise to a broad spectrum of possibilities. This situation has been brought about by a series of social, economic, and demographic issues, in turn affecting all habitat-related sectors, which are gradually putting forward living solutions for the new dwellers.
To be noted is the spectacular rise in single-person households: in Spain, they accounted for 13% in 1996 and reached 21% in 2007 (source: UNED, GETS). In addition, the increase in the number of senior citizens, 1 out of every 5 Europeans is over 65 (source: IPF), and the reduction in the average number of persons in a household, from 4 individuals in 1960 to 2.4 in 2005, highlight the magnitude and speed of the changes that are affecting the configuration of housing and objects.
The Report reflects a complex outlook in which a very wide range of household models are found together with different ways of dwelling and, hence, with different needs and preferences. However, the family remains a key subject for people, 78.5% of Spaniards consider the family to be one of the major issues in their life (source: CIS Barómetro no. 2578). Understanding those differences will shed further light on the new needs regarding the habitat, housing, furnishings, and objects and thus allow consumers to be understood from a different viewpoint, i.e. grasping what drives the consumer as a dweller. These new models stem from the evolution of certain values and from a number of economic factors, such as the growth in female employment, or demographic factors, such as the decrease in fertility levels or increased life expectancy, among others.
This has led to refocusing city models, which have gone from unsustainable consumer models to models that are more environment friendly, leading to more participatory and more socially inclusive cities in response to demands stemming from cultural and economic diversity. Even town planning, which concerned itself with structuring housing or transport, is being questioned since it now has to address other, more complex situations.
Also changing is the dwelling model, though its structure has hardly varied in 50 years. Thus, architecture intended for dwellings is arousing renewed interest, not just because of State calls for tenders for public housing, but also because of decreased demand and, hence, the ensuing search for added value in such housing. The key element in each household will be flexibility, requiring strategies aimed at adapting to the different situations and preferences of dwellers.
With regard to products, people are asking for expanded objects, i.e. with more uses, laden with more feelings, which give rise to experiences of all sorts: games, surprises, wellness, etc., while also matching the ethics and way of using the objects. The objects are interactive and flexible, while also being simple.
As a result of the above, the growing individualism is favouring a greater demand for custom products and services. The abandonment of dogmas and the acceptance of a world that is constantly changing provide a breeding ground for the materialisation of a type of consumption that expresses a personal identity through objects or, even, through experiences.
This is where the purchase experience comes into play: the set of positive emotions produced in the purchase or consumption of a service, the arousal of feelings that affect consumer response. The purchase experience allows different degrees of implementation, from the generation of experiences based on the decorative features of the sales outlet to their greatest embodiment in the so-called Flagship Stores, where consumers experience total brand immersion.
The new technologies will also play a decisive role in consumer habits, whether through social networking or virtual worlds.
Everything suggests that the trend is focusing on a smart virtual world, in which avatars or virtual identities move and act in terms of an individual’s data and habits. These communication systems will be in charge of supplying users with the types of news and product advertising that interest them most, providing instruction in subjects that are most useful for them, and encouraging relationships between people with common interests. This will be a participatory, smart, and efficient communication approach through the Web, which will allow users to save time while providing them with a boundless stream of information.
At present, there is a difference between the changes that society is undergoing and their reflection in materials. Perhaps one of the reasons needs to be sought in the speed at which such changes have occurred, though proposals are already beginning to surface and actions are being undertaken, some of an experimental and others of a more general nature, envisioned to reflect those changes.