Why we should all be aware of social and cultural shifts

Is a ‘vibe shift’ really coming? Why does it matter? And what the hell is a vibe shift?!

You may have heard the term; originally written about in The Cut, sparking numerous think pieces and debates around how we react to changing trends. If you haven’t, I’ll explain; the renowned New York-based Trend forecaster Sean Monahan (known for coining the ‘normcore’ trend of the last 10 years that gave birth to athleisure and minimalism) believes we are currently entering a once in a decade change when tastes and values shift. According to him, this vibe shift indicates the beginning of the end of the things millennials have come to hold dear in mainstream culture – from the clothes we wear (goodbye skinny jeans) to the food we eat (so long avocados) and the pastimes we engage in (see ya Instagram filters). This cultural overhaul comes in place of a trend we don’t yet have a name for but is a rejection of the current status quo and therefore is expected to take on a more nihilistic, less preened, and ‘messier’ identity.

Still confused?

This might start to make sense when we look at Gen Z who are now reaching a formative age (late teens to mid-twenties) when they get to define the overarching style that influences mainstream culture. We would expect that they, as any past generation has, will want to define their own identity and rebel against what came before. Perhaps more poignantly, this is also the age when as a generation they reach a tipping point in voting and spending power, therefore their tastes and interests become more socially and commercially relevant.
However, there is more to this shift than a predictable change in generational style. As we consider what has been happening economically, politically and socially it’s easy to see why the beginnings of a major change in taste and values are inevitable. The end of a two-year pandemic, years of political upheaval mixed with a depressing economic and environmental outlook, an epidemic of poor mental health and now war in Europe, it’s no surprise that ‘vibes’ may be changing. According to Sean Monohan, the shift is a rejection of clean-living and picture-perfect social media filters and an end to influencer and hustle culture, resulting in a return to the messy nihilism last seen in the late 2000’s, including a less preened appearance and a more relaxed attitude to work – the Chinese call it ‘lying flat’.
Some might question whether this is of consequence to those existing outside of the age group, and as expected with most change, not everyone will welcome it. However, as the diffusion of innovation curve would predict, new tastes and ideas that are adopted by the early mainstream -commonly young people living in cities – will eventually filter down and emerge in everyday consumption choices across all demographics.

But what has this got to do with market research?

As a brand or business, it is more important than ever to be culturally relevant and therefore aware of potential social or cultural change to make good strategic decisions. However, we know that business leaders can often lack the time or the opportunity to stand back and observe through a wider lens. A social or cultural trend (before it was ever called a ‘vibe shift’) is not something that is easy to measure. Some of the trends talked about above will manifest as lots of smaller observations – the subtle uptake of new ideas, innovation, style, or behaviours we see happening within a subculture. When these trends are accurately observed, tracked, and analysed, they can together point to a wider cultural shift that will have a profound impact on what consumers spend their money on.

It is also not always possible to rely on consumers to articulate why they are changing their behaviour, – or the subtlety of why they are suddenly developing a taste for a new style or design. And data, even big data, will only show us how consumers are thinking, feeling, and behaving now and not how this might change in the future. This is where trends analysis and forecasting can be used alongside qual and quant research to provide contextual depth and guide awareness of how our client’s customers might change over the forecast period. As market researchers and trusted advisers, we can make them aware of the impact that cultural and social shifts will have on their businesses – even if this is further down the line than they are contemplating yet.

These shifts don’t happen overnight, often taking a long time to filter into the mainstream where most of our clients are positioned commercially, therefore naturally their focus will be on the here and now and not necessarily what is on the horizon. At Boxclever, we want to ensure our clients can lean on our analysis and tracking of cultural and social trends, trusting us to interpret what it means for their business and to guide them when the time comes to react. We have incorporated trends analysis and forecasting in our proposition alongside our qual/quant & analytics to ensure we can better answer our clients’ research questions with contextual depth and future-proofed insights. Every so often a rare succession of world events will create a perfect social climate for accelerated cultural change (or a ‘vibe shift’), and we seek to be the trusted bellwether who helps our clients navigate this change and stay ahead of the competition.

To learn more about building in a stage of trends, cultural analysis and forecasting into a research brief sign up for my Spring Classroom on the 31st March.