New York, NY 11.03.2021

Get a deeper understanding of today’s polarized consumers

by Stacy Bereck

It is hard to remember a time when it seemed that values – our core characteristics and convictions – divided people to such a degree. Whether we look at politics or media or even brand preferences, consumers seem to disagree for no other reason except disagreement; they are fundamentally at odds at a level that goes beyond individual ideas or points of view on particular issues. It seems the conflicts are almost cellular.

But when we take a closer look at the nuances of these clashes, we see some surprising alignments along with the discord. GfK Consumer Life has been studying people’s values since 1999, tracking 57 ways of being that define our life choices and perspectives – from Material Security to Authenticity to Patriotism. And these values have been shifting.

We find, for example, that people of the same generation from different countries tend to share more values and points of view than those who live in the same place but belong to different age groups. In the United States, for example, Gen Z and Millennials prioritize very different ideals and goals; while Millennials embrace Fulfilling Work and Romance – more self-oriented values – Gen Z seem to be more high minded, prioritizing the Environment and Equality.

But the same characteristics that we see in the US’s Gen Z also turn up in the same age group in China – with a focus on Social Tolerance and Freedom. And, in the past two years, we have seen this young generation lead protests across the globe to protect the Earth from climate change and demand accountability from companies and governments – from Asia to the US and Europe.

These shared movements across country borders make sense given the barrier-breaking effects of social media and digital news services – giving developed and even emerging economies access to the same information, and combining with specific values to trigger some of the same reactions. When you mix shared inner values with shared sources of information, it is logical that results will be similar.

We also find that, if we map people based on their prioritizing of four key values – Pleasure, Power, People, and Tradition – consumers of the same age group but from different countries tend to cluster together. Among those ages 15 to 24, for example, Pleasure and Power seem to hold sway, but those over age 65 elevate People and Tradition.   

Values are the characteristics most closely connected to personal identity, showing up in almost every human interest and activity. Defining and characterizing these factors is essential to a clear understanding of behavior – a smart approach to brand marketing and management.

Consumer Life also segments people into a set of key, recurring types, creating a Values Framework that helps us understand people according to broad characteristics. The Framework focuses on such essential drivers as

  • pleasure seeking
  • compassion
  • ambition
  • exploration and discovery

GfK’s values research and Values Framework are powerful tools for business decision making – from recognizing product white space to choosing messages that will resonate. Leveraging this longterm insight source can help brands in almost any category and region.

Learn more about accessible, quick-study reports on today's consumer values from GfK Consumer Life. 

Stacy Bereck is Managing Director of Consumer Insights and Sales Effectiveness for GfK in North America, as well as GfK's Director of Global Consumer Trends.