The value of the act of consumption

The value of the act of consumption

It’s not so much ‘what’ a product does but ‘how’ it does it…

Some emergent, yet under-exploited, dimensions of the consumption experience have been growing as a direct result of matured ‘new’ technologies.

Two such key human needs can be called personalisation and time.

Consumer marketing

These dimensions always existed, but were not possible to be ‘manufactured’ in the industrial mass production age. Now they exist because we can, and the more ‘mass-commoditisation’ of both product and experience, the more these become key human needs.

Both personalisation and time are somewhat limiting in their definitions…


Time – there are two definitions…

  1. Time – instantly (I buy speed of delivery)

microwaveSome items meet our need for immediate action, response and satisfaction (and repeat), an essential element of consumption such as iPhones, Kindles, automotive acceleration, fast-food, Amazon deliveries, Tic Tac mints, microwaves, Ikea furniture etc.


  1. Takes longer time (I buy time to enjoy)

CruiseThere are also acts of consumption that can be prolonged or slowed down such as holidays, cruises, opening a bottle of fine whiskey, or luxury perfume, unwrapping luxury chocolates, cigars, drinking a coffee etc.


These are mostly associated with leisure and (symbolic) ritual. We build in our own actions, so they become deeply embedded and personal. We have more time to enjoy the sensorial experiences of touch, smell, taste etc.


Person – there are products and experiences that we can choose to enjoy on our own or share…

  1. ‘Me’ Person

chocloateThese items are consumed personally, often alone and we can build strong and lasting loyalty to them for example chocolate and much confectionery, ice cream, drinks, music, books and magazines, personal care/hygiene, driving cars, clothing etc.

  1. ‘We’ People

SportsSuch consumer ‘items’, rather than naturally shared events, have proliferated with the rise of most forms of social media. Shared consumer items also include gaming and sharing sites, films and plays, restaurants, sports events, music, holidays etc.


Of course, there is no black or white, no simple ‘either/or’ definition, and herein lies the insight.

It is precisely because we are human animals with ‘conflicting’ states of instant gratification and longer reflection, selfishness and responsibility etc. that we, as modern and promiscuous consumers, are highly adept at being many things simultaneously.

So, I want my espresso made and delivered immediately but I want to take my time to drink it, I want to order my book (and they to deliver it) immediately but read it at my leisure, I want to buy my favourite chocolate or drink or music but then share it with my friends, these are my clothes but I want to look great for others, etc. etc.

Indeed, it can be argued that the successful brands – Apple, Starbucks, Coke, Gap etc. are as successful as they are because they appear at ease in all four ‘quadrants’ with no apparent conflict – they exist and perform for us as and when we want them to.

These commodities of time and person (and knowledge) are the great desires of the 21st century just as oil, power, shelter, sugar etc. were for the 19th and 20th.

Beyond the efficacy of function it is the same old story; it is not so much what a product does as how it does it. The difference now is that this is a judgement increasingly made by the consumer and less by the producer.

Successful brands will understand and adapt swiftly to this.