Going Back to Go Forward: Foundational Needs Take Center Stage
Today, Forerunner is unveiling comprehensive psychographic research that we’ve been developing since Summer 2022, illuminating who consumers are today and how our behaviors and preferences are changing — and in conjunction, we’re providing an early look at our new collaborative primary research platform, The Dinner Party. At a point in history marked by broad economic uncertainty and increasingly complex, discerning consumers, research on human behavior and modern culture is all the more essential. This is true for us as investors, for startups of all industries, business models and stages, and for consumers who are searching for ways to make better sense of the world around us. We’re now ready to share what we found and welcome everyone to The Dinner Party, which is currently in public beta.
Looking back a decade ago when we started Forerunner, we were captivated by the breakneck pace of change in human behavior and modern culture that was spurred by (what was, at the time) a novel boom in hyper connectivity via social media and mobile technology. We asked, how will these new pathways and frameworks shape the consumer mindset, redefine commerce, and push companies to set new standards for operating in this paradigm? These forces underpinned our early investments in hundreds of companies, many of which have scaled to becoming market-defining businesses in their sectors — Chime, Faire, Hims&Hers, Oura, Glossier, Narvar, Prose, Ritual, The Farmer’s Dog, and more.
The consumer shifts that Forerunner oriented around felt uniquely monumental at the time, but as we step back and look at the consumer again today, we feel a similar inflection point where humanity is in the midst of irreversible change. Rarely have we seen a time marked by so much transition, at such scale, across nearly every dimension of life. The global pandemic shut down schools and offices, highlighting deep flaws in many of our established institutions. The healthcare crisis laid bare untenable realities about social inequities. Social and political unrest spilled into the streets and onto our phones, permeating our consciousness. Climate change accelerated into an ever-present danger. And now, with a looming recession and soaring inflation, we are all forced to think hard about our needs amid mounting uncertainty and adversities. We are due for a re-examination of the Consumer: who we are today, and what behaviors and priorities may lay the foundation for the next decade of change.
The Dinner Party
We set out to conduct a comprehensive research effort, analyzing the psychology, behaviors, identities and consumption patterns of people across the US. To approach this with utmost objectivity and integrity in research design, we engaged Bain & Company’s Consumer Insights and Segmentation team to execute our survey of over 4,300 respondents ages 18+ across the US. We asked over 100 questions supplemented by qualitative interviews of randomly selected consumers of diverse viewpoints and experiences, leveraging statistical clustering and hundreds of iterations of analysis to derive our final consumer archetypes.
Our research ultimately illuminated eight psychographic archetypes that represent the most statistically significant profiles of people in the US today. We’re ready to not just share what we learned, but pull back the curtains on our early efforts to expand this archetype framework through a new collaborative research platform, The Dinner Party. Today, anyone can take the quiz to find out which archetype they are, learn about their behavioral traits and affinities, and join a growing community that will help uncover ongoing consumer insights and opportunities through research and dialogue.
What We Learned
As we dove into the nuances of the eight archetypes, one clear theme was resonant across all: people are struggling – we are craving purpose, direction, and resilience. Consumers are grasping for community and belonging as the volume of alone time they spend has steadily increased for years (even pre-COVID) across all demographics. People feel like they’re climbing a mountain when it comes to managing their health and wellness, which has exploded as a consumer category with compounding interest but too few support pathways for achieving sustainable improvement. And people feel kneecapped by the mounting financial burdens of today, with low levels of confidence in managing money amid soaring costs and economic uncertainty. This has all led to tremendous distrust from consumers toward the traditional institutions historically responsible for servicing the fundamental needs of society.
The past decade has been dominated by digital proliferation and hyper consumerism that unbound our lives, but in the process, it seems society is losing its way. Businesses have been feverishly building products vying for consumers’ attention and wallets, but all the while, society’s underlying foundations have grown increasingly fragile — and now are starting to crack.
Against this backdrop, our research shows that the “new” aspirational consumer lifestyle is starting to look remarkably…traditional. People are craving a return to the basics and desperate for some of the most primary core life needs. Life fundamentals are increasingly seen as “luxuries” in the sense that, despite seemingly fundamental, they’re increasingly scarce and unreliable: financial stability, health, security, purpose and community. It is very telling that over half of the respondents in our research, in one way or another, are looking to get back to the fundamentals — living day by day, thinking through priorities, needs and next steps.
Now, as consumers look to stitch things back together and harken back to a simpler form of life, they are exploring non-traditional avenues. For example, as organized religion fades, people are searching for community, belonging and belief — see: the boom in tarot cards, astrology, “cult” brands, Discord threads, music festivals, and more. People are even looking to the companies where they work for political and values-aligned leadership (and the right boundaries for this are still very much an open question). And amid a growing medical provider shortage that’s ballooned wait times from weeks to months, people are trying to take their health into their own hands, leading to compounding growth in health trackers, rampant health-related subreddits, supplements, self-care routines, and more. Finally, there is a profound interest from consumers in DIY vs. paying to outsource. This may stem from the pandemic where DIY activities of all forms (ex: building standing desks, cooking, dying one’s own hair) experienced a renaissance. And presumably, a looming recession and rising inflation will continue to drive people away from superfluous consumerism and compromising on cost for convenience.
Consumer sentiments can often be summed by levels of optimism. When we asked respondents about the future of their kids, only 41% are optimistic, mirroring a recent Gallup research that found that only 42% of US adults think that today's youth "will have a better living standard, homes and education." This marks an 18% drop in two years and a statistically-tied low with 2011. Perhaps even more concerning, when taking a further step back and considering the future of the world — only 27% are optimistic.
As consumer inspired investors, we believe there has never been a more complex and fascinating time. There is a massive opportunity in building for core life needs, as the historical structures and organizations responsible for these domains have come up short. Many of consumers’ problems are also new, yet to be fully identified, let alone solved for. Research can help illuminate the opportunities where we can build new paths for purpose, direction and resilience.
The next wave of game-changing companies will be life-changing companies.