UK Consumer Happiness 2017 Join the dots

What will make consumers happy in 2017?

The world in which we live is changing. We’re a nation divided, our political and economic situation is in a state of transition, and trust is elusive. This change shapes consumer expectations, it creates a new set of needs, and ultimately informs what they seek from brands.

Using our happiness framework, we’ve mapped the key macro forces at play and explored how they are creating a new set of expectations amongst consumers.

This exercise enables us to predict what consumers will be demanding from brands to make their lives better in 2017 - and beyond. We also make recommendations as to how brands can meet these changing expectations and make consumers happy through leveraging our updated 14 Happiness Trends.

Understanding Happiness

Happiness Drivers

Our philosophy at Join the Dots is that consumer trends are a result of our desire to satisfy basic human drivers, and in particular, the need to increase happiness.

Based on research into Positive Psychology, our original UK framework identified five key drivers that aid human happiness. But what started off as a concept to help us explain consumer trends in the UK is growing into something much more far-reaching.

As such, we’ve decided to relaunch our happiness framework for a global consumer, adding two new happiness drivers. At the same time, we have taken the opportunity to re-align our existing drivers to mirror those proposed by psychologist, Martin Seligman. The resulting seven happiness drivers become: Security, Health, Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Achievement and Meaning.

Happiness Drivers

This report details our new Happiness Trends for UK consumers, using our updated drivers. Our cross-cultural framework is due to be released early 2018.

Our trends framework

The drivers of happiness remain constant, yet the behaviours we adopt to make ourselves happy are continually changing.

We believe this is because happiness drivers are impacted by external triggers, or macro trends (e.g. the prevailing political backdrop, state of our economy, the launch of new technology, etc.).

They are also influenced by the basic human desire for something new. This is the hedonic adaptation bit of our model, which argues that the pleasure we get from something diminishes over time as our expectations rise to create a new normal.

Of course culture also has a major impact on the way happiness is attained and the ways it is fulfilled. But the pursuit of happiness itself is a universal human trait that crosses all nations – even the factors that enhance it seem the same everywhere.

We argue that it is from the confluence of all these factors that trends in human motivations then emerge.

Our trends framework

Our Happiness Trends

We are constantly connected to tens of thousands of consumers via our ongoing research communities, giving us a window into their daily lives, and enabling us to see how trends translate to the mainstream. We combine this rich stream of consumer insight with desk research and learnings from our Illume Network – our community of leading edge, culturally savvy individuals – to understand how consumers’ lives are changing over time.

Through this listening, we have identified 14 current Happiness Trends for the UK consumer which tap into the seven basic happiness drivers. Many trends tap into more than one driver, as illustrated in the map below.

Our Happiness Trends

Our 14 trends are not fixed. New trends emerge over time, whilst some of the trends will decline in importance, as the macro environment changes and hedonic adaptation comes into play. Indeed, three trends in our model are brand new for 2017, but others are evolutions of previous consumer needs which have changed in response to the new forces at play.

Macro trends


People will quickly adapt to the new political reality

After six months of drifting into the unknown, there’s finally a firmness to what the political future holds. 2017 is set to be decisive – we will face a hard Brexit, there will be more cuts, Trump will command America. With the future becoming ever clearer, the previous sense of uncertainty is lifting and people are facing up to a new political order.

Regardless of which side of the political fence we sit, this certainty itself is a powerful force for change. Consumers are re-evaluating what is important to them in life and society, there will be a period of recalibration and adjustment of expectations with a new focus on the things that really matter to us, everything else is just nice to have.


We’ll prioritise quality and value when it comes to spending

Any momentum behind the post-Brexit spending boom now appears to be softening as the wider political and economic situation begins to impact consumer confidence. Against a backdrop of rising food and fuel prices, a weak pound and fear of rapid inflation, shoppers are tightening their belts. But this time, we’re ready for it.

There’s hope things will get better for us in the long run, but we must brace ourselves now for a rough ride. Shrewd consumer behaviour learned during the recession and a new understanding of ‘value’, alongside a post-recessionary desire for pleasure and indulgence is steering a ‘less but better’ sentiment when it comes to spending.


We’ll question everything and place trust in those closest to us

In a post-truth world where confidence in traditional institutions has plummeted and everything must be fact checked, we’re seeing consumers being more selective in their information sources. An inversion of trust has seen a shift towards personal and individual recommendations – whether that be accessible and personable experts, or close family and friends.

We’ll see consumers turning toward trusted individuals whose veracity cannot be questioned. Trust is now about drawing upon close relationships and having one-to-one conversations on a human level, saving time searching and checking information whilst being sure of its reliability.


We’ll look to retreat into our own small worlds

Today’s political and social issues feel complicated and difficult to address, there is frustration at the political elite and uncertainty around what or who to believe or how best to approach things. This is giving rise to a sense of individual hopelessness towards the world at large. In these difficult and confusing times many will look to block out the wider world, finding it simply too stressful to deal with.

We’ll see consumers turning inward and retreating to their own small worlds. With a more inward view on the bit of life we can control, we’ll be limiting our horizons and focusing our attention and energy on our immediate circles and life concerns.

Hedonic adaptation


There’s a new hedonic factor coming in – that of “comfort”

The macro environment is causing us to re-evaluate our lives. We’re dealing with a new reality which is forcing us to rethink what is truly important to us as individuals. In this environment, value, quality and credibility become increasingly important as we focus our consumption around what makes us feel safe and secure. At the same time, we’re seeking solace in a little luxury, cosiness and relaxation as we look to escape difficult times.

The focus will be on taking refuge in the comfortable, because we all need a little familiarity and reassurance in unpredictable times.

Happiness Trends


Need to Believe

After years of disheartenment fuelled by economic uncertainty, political gridlock and business scandals, consumers became sceptical of institutions. But that sceptical eye has now turned to the media, to ‘experts’, and even each other. We can be presented with what looks like truth, but now it’s the credibility of that information which is important. As such, we’re withdrawing from the ambiguity of online reviews in favour of closer networks, ‘dark social’ and face to face recommendation. We’ll be turning to knowledgeable experts, or word of mouth from those closest to us - because nothing in between will do.

There are opportunities for brands that can prove themselves as authentic experts and credible sources of information we can trust.

Beyond Reality

In a testing political and societal climate, we’re seeing the need for escapism come to the fore. Whether for distraction, entertainment or complete escape, many of us are looking far beyond reality. We’re seeing dystopian novels back on best sellers’ lists, futuristic sci-fi heroines on the catwalk, and consumers seeking spirituality through crystals and astrology. Consumers are striving to both break free and withdraw from the insecurity of the everyday.

There are opportunities for brands to tap into our inherent need for hope, conjuring up opportunities for escapism, or helping us to create havens in which to retreat.


Time to Relax

In response to our lives speeding up, we’re seeing some consumers slowing things down. The rise of mindfulness has woken us up to the importance of taking time to pause, unwind and reflect. This is no longer seen as a ‘waste’ of time – rather, consumers are choosing to spend stretches of time indulging in long-form media, or to genuinely relax rather than considering the productive value of the time we spend.

As our relationship with time changes, there are opportunities for brands that can maximise the quality of slow time, encouraging consumers to ease up, kick back and enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

Perfectly Balanced

To deal with their maxed-out lives, consumers are applying a holistic approach to physical health and emotional wellbeing. Food is a huge part of this, but it’s no longer about slavishly following restrictive diets. Consumers are looking to eat healthy, ethically and functionally while celebrating food. Similarly whilst we find joy in working hard and playing hard, virtuous pleasures and de-cluttering our minds are also becoming focal to achieving balance. Health and indulgence, today’s consumers want it all!

This is creating opportunities for brands that can deliver to this reimagined picture of health and sustainability, and prove that wellbeing and indulgence needn’t be mutually exclusive.

Positive Emotions

Considered Pleasures

As humans we impulsively seek rewards, especially in stressful conditions, and 2016 saw us live for the now in the face of uncertainty. The effects of Brexit are beginning to bite, but it’s unlikely that we’ll relapse into full recessionary behaviour. A more discerning and shrewd consumer has emerged, exercised in knowing exactly where to save and where to splurge. Extravagance and quality will be just as important, perhaps more so, as we pick and choose where to invest our more limited means.

There are real opportunities for brands that can help us balance our desire to escape in feel-good purchases, with our practical need for quality and longevity. Less but better is the order of the day.

Reassuringly Familiar

In recent years, ‘authenticity’ has become overused, clichéd and mistrusted. Faced with endless choice and cheap alternatives, consumers are looking for comfort and familiarity, seeking shortcuts to trust and quality. When we don’t know who to trust, where do we go? Back to the big, obvious, everyday brands – because branded authenticity cannot be faked.

The brand logo is once again becoming a signifier of steadiness and familiarity in an increasingly uncertain world. This environment is creating an opportunity for brands to leverage their backstory, and classic, trusted and reliable status.


My Space

In our connected lives we are exposed to a mind-dizzying number of messages, images and notifications each day. Dealing with the virtual onslaught takes up our time and is impacting our health and happiness. Whether it’s ad blocking, digital detox, or withdrawing to dark social rather than broadcasting to the masses, we’ll see more people seeking to redress the balance.

Consumers are looking at ways of fighting back and protecting themselves against the content avalanche by regaining control of their personal environments. Brands who offer something valuable will be invited into this space; attention will no longer be the priority of those who shout the loudest, but of those who can find the most meaningful connections.

Let's Play

Whether we’re checking emails in bed or banking in the bath, the distinction between working day and leisure time continues to blur. We’re getting lots done, but are we having enough fun? Research is increasingly saying we should be spending less time working and more time playing – play de-stresses us, it refreshes us and restores our optimism.

In stressful and uncertain times consumers are in need of a sense of release. There is growing demand for brands that are visual, playful, fun and bold, brands that help us realise our inner child. Because all work and no play is no fun.


Seamless Simplicity

Interest in DIY has waned, and travel agents, cleaners and meal subscription services are on the up as we start to choose life over work and money – and ultimately get better results. AI has tipped from sci-fi novelty to functional reality, working tirelessly in the background to anticipate our needs and genuinely facilitate day to day life. Similarly, seamless integration means smart homes are taking off and consumers are happily engaging with chat bots. The key, it seems, is breaking the barriers between innovation and our demand for simplicity.

We’re increasingly comfortable delegating the boring bits of life to knowledgeable experts, technology and AI. This is presenting opportunities for brands that offer utility, whilst keeping us and our data safe.

Free to be Me

Part of achievement is about being true to yourself. Consumers are liberating themselves from the restraint of conformity by tapping into new influences, reinterpreting trends, and speaking out about their opinions. Carving out your own identity is increasingly linked to status and there’s never been as much acceptance for so called ‘imperfections’. Alternative interests? There’s a group for that. Cosmetic surgery has seen a sudden drop, and weird is the new cool. It finally feels good to be happy in our own skin.

We’re seeing celebration of difference, individualism and greater self-expression - people want to be valued for being themselves, quirks and all. There are opportunities for brands that celebrate not just diversity, but individuality.


Cool Encounters

With growing recognition that experiences make us happier than things, consumers are ever more focused on living in the moment. But with so much hype building around concepts, experiences seem to have become commoditised. Suddenly everything feels overly-engineered and high-pressure. Instead, consumers are looking for a little more casual spontaneity and serendipity – encounters to stumble upon and casual environments to enjoy.

Brands should look to set a new tone; heightened yet understated experiences that fulfil our desire for pared back enjoyment.

Better Together

Having positive social relationships are critical for well-being. Humans are social creatures, we feel happier just being around people. As interest in weekend drinking wanes, we’re looking to get involved in something a little more expressive or worthwhile together. Urban axe throwing, craft workshops, morning raves – collaboratively experiencing something valuable or new strengthens relationships. In the digital world, once niche interests flourish into growing tribes as consumers explore and connect over shared interests, mutual needs and common goals – which increasingly tip over into the real world.

Brands can help by providing the setting and frameworks for us to come together, to play, have fun and share something meaningful together.


Power in Numbers

People are becoming fed up with perceived inactivity from governments and frustrated at formal avenues of support. In times of uncertainty we all need reassurance, and we’ve found power in numbers - spurred on by social media, many are linking up with like-minded others. Whether marching for women’s rights or wearing safety pins to puncture post-Brexit racism, there is a real sense of people at the grassroots taking matters into their collective hands. And doing good together feels good.

Brands can be part of these chains of goodwill, if they are sincere and timely with their support.

The Social Good

Happiness and wellbeing can be derived from having meaning and purpose in life and by contributing to a greater good. Consumers today are increasingly aware of the long-term impact of their consumption habits and buying behaviours, with thought increasingly going to the origin of ingredients, locality of producers, and impact on social causes. They are now seeking out progressive companies that share their beliefs – favouring those companies who do more than behave responsibly; those who invest in the social good and value purpose above profit.

This is creating opportunities for companies with clear values that acknowledge current issues, join the conversation, and that actively do good.

Evolving Trends

The graph below illustrates how our trends have evolved over time.

The evolution of our Happiness Trends

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