Our framework for assessing consumer-facing products looks at both functional and emotional characteristics: what does it do for me and how does it make me feel? We call the first differentiation; the second, aspiration.
Over the last 50 years the Western world has started to question traditional identity-conferring institutions en masse - nation, family, religion, employers. Each is in a crisis in its own unhappy way.
The outcome of the rise of individualism has been the atomization of groups of belonging. A mere thirty years ago, we listened to rock'n roll, or maybe "metal." Today, we are into post-hardcore, indietronica and chillwave. We are making ever finer distinctions in gender and sexual orientation, race and origin, and belief systems. The personalization of society is at least in part the result of the internet, and its possibility to identify and connect with ever more specific sub-groups. Thus: Rule 34.
The majority of consumer products have historically been meant to make us feel special (successful, trendy, happy, smart). From an evolutionary psychology perspective, they promise to increase sexual attractiveness by signalling status, fertility, or conscientiousness. But as part of our relentless quest to question and examine everything, an increasingly sizeable segment of consumer is skeptical: of the claims of big companies, the system of "fashion", conspicuous consumption, the sexualization of marketing, and so forth.
Enter the "mass-market products of belonging."
Increasingly brands are becoming communities. Unlike the fake luxury fashion products, where carrying the same Hermes handbag or wearing the same Valentino dress may be acknowledged in embarassed silence, the mass aspirational community-oriented brands encourage recognition. Away, Allbirds, Glossier are not brands founded on separation but on community identity, much more like mini-Harley Davidson's.
I believe that because of the loss of traditional identity-conferring institutions, this trend has a long, long way to go. We all want to belong. We want to feel safe in our choices in a world that is made up of nothing but choice. My gut says there will be multiple, very large consumer-oriented companies built that will put communities of belonging at their center.
These companies may look more like religions than many people will be comfortable with (remember Apple in its heyday?). But then I maintain that a new religion is probably the single greatest market opportunity in the Western world today.
P.S. Inspired by a brief chat with the co-founder of LOT.