What brands should know about the changing face of social capital

What brands should know about the changing face of social capital

From the joy of missing out to the rise of the experience economy, Wagamama's consumer director unveils the key trends impacting social media marketing.

We all know that digital has fundamentally changed how marketers communicate with consumers, but how often do we consider the impact on the people we’re actually communicating with?

With younger generations in particular, we’re witnessing a new addiction to curating life through the lens of one’s peer group and an urgency to accumulate social capital. The addiction can bring highs in the form of 'likes' but – crucially – it can also bring the lows of anxiety and self-doubt.

Should marketer be fuelling social capital or fighting it in an effort to protect customers from the potential negatives?

Here are five key insights from research, undertaken by Wagamama and consumer behavioural insights agency Canvas8, designed to gain a better understanding of the pressures faced by Gen Y and to help define marketing’s role.

1. People are living for now and experiencing more

We knew experiences had become the building blocks of social capital – we just hadn’t realised how significant the phenomenon had become.

Generation Y members in the UK spend £419.5m a month on live experiences or events and 78% say they would rather spend their money on a desirable experience than on a desirable object. Entering adulthood later means there is a strong desire to make the most of youth by experiencing more and by sharing those experiences, rather than aspiring to traditional symbols of adulthood such as home ownership, which may be beyond reach.

2. Gen Y is ‘always on’ and being busy can be an aspirational status symbol

Filling every moment of life is seen as a way of growing and developing. Younger generations in particular can feel a responsibility to engage constantly, even starting up part-time businesses when in full-time employment. As one stated:  "I am young, I have no family responsibility, so it is really important I use this opportunity to be busy and active and do as many things as I can so I don’t have any regrets when I can’t."

We were struck by how purposeful this business was – being busy can be a badge of honour. Yet an always-on approach to life takes its toll, leaving little time to relax and recuperate.

3. Standing up for beliefs (and expecting others to do the same) is key

Generation Y shares a sense of responsibility towards the world and its problems. Identifying as global citizens – and enabled by technology – they can get involved in global issues from afar and look for brands to stand alongside them and take action. Talking the same values is no longer enough for brands – they’re expected to act.

By this point you may feel exhausted by the juggling of "choreographed wonderfulness" and the need to be a campaigning individual. It’s perhaps no surprise then that the final two observations felt like a bit of a kick back to this pressure.

4. The intention-action gap means people don’t always do what they aspire to

While Generation Y’s need for experience is all-encompassing, we were surprised at how often they would talk about wanting to do this or that new latest thing, which would look great on Instagram, only for them to end up in familiar haunts where they wouldn’t feel the pressure to post as it was just an ordinary moment spent catching up with friends.

5. Embrace the joy of missing out (JOMO)

It felt to us like a new state of JOMO (joy of missing out) was becoming more socially acceptable. People talked about duvet days and indulging in a home switch-off, fed by services such as Netflix and Deliveroo, with real passion.

So what does this mean for marketers?

We believe there’s a role for brands to play in embracing the fact that developing social capital is now a vital part of growing up and that digital openness can be a huge force for good. However, we must use young adults’ social capital agenda to fuel positive emotions and not anxiety. This means creating opportunities for social collaboration, not competition.

Brands have the ability to create and drive shared dialogue around causes and communal needs that can unify and support this generation’s social identity journey. But we must also recognise and respect consumers’ desire for space to be themselves – to switch off and stand apart from the anxiety-provoking decisions that underlie self-identity exploration.

Encouraging young adults to relax and unwind, rather than further their busy lifestyles, can start a meaningful, emotional relationship between brands and consumes. While we don’t pretend to have all the answers, the research and insights have already started inspiring our marketing in small ways. For example, in the new year, diners saw no traditional mention of resolutions, and and no invitation to try juices suitable for health kicks. Instead we encouraged our customers to stop, pause and enjoy themselves by simply colouring in placemats.

This is just the start. As a restaurant brand inspired by the Japanese view that warming bowls of ramen nourish body and soul, we also need to provide emotional nourishment and sometimes that means simply giving people a space to step away from day-to-day pressures and to recharge.

Emma Woods is customer director at Wagamama 

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