Tara-Nicholle Nelson started her career in transformational marketing unknowingly when she was nine years old. Her parents owned a gym, where women often pursued fitness through the then-popular and empowering Jane Fonda workout program. She would also hear them talking about diets as well as the fulfilment they planned and achieved in clothes purchases and travels. They were transforming their lives, repeatedly, as consumers.
She studied psychology in university and then in her early career posts saw similar patterns. As a real estate agent, she realized she wasn't selling homes but helping people to make major lifestyle decisions that would change their lives. As a consultant for MyFitnessPal and later as chief marketer for that calorie-tracking app, the transformational thread continued.
"People crave to live better – to be healthier, wealthier and wise, to be better people – and companies that will help them do that will win," the Oakland, Calif., consultant says in an interview.
We have lived the past 30 years in the Age of Oprah and many self-help gurus promising transformation. In their illuminating 1999 best seller, The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore showed how society had moved from economies based, successively, on commodities, goods and services, and how the best businesses were then focusing on developing unique experiences for customers. As businesses jumped on the experiences bandwagon, less attention was paid to the authors' comment that already on the scene was the next stage, the Transformation Economy, in which people would pay not just for the experience but for their life to be transformed. They pointed to fitness coaches, who unlike fitness clubs promise specified improvements, and some management consultants who were taking a fee based on the success of the changes they help to implement.
Ms. Nelson has built on that in her new book The Transformational Consumer. And if your first instinct is to shrug it off as a hippie-granola niche appeal, not for your business, she says her survey of 2,000 consumers in the United States found 50 per cent use digital or real-life products at least three times a year to achieve a goal of being healthier, wealthier or wise. If you sell alcohol, tobacco and firearms, maybe you don't have transformational consumers, since those don't make people healthier, wealthier and wise. But otherwise, she says your clients are probably looking for ways to be better through your product or service – to transform themselves or their business.
Garbage bags, for example, are not transformational, you might think. But tell that to the person who recently enthused to her about buying some large construction ones to get the clutter out of his life. "You need to look at products through the lens of problems customers are trying to solve, which may be transformational," she says.
While the number of people trying to transform part of their life is large – 54 per cent of people, for example, in her survey say they are trying to eat better – she identifies a group that plunge continually into self-transformation efforts, often with four projects at a time. She identifies five core characteristics they share, remembered by the acronym HUMAN:
H for healthier, wealthier and wise: They pursue joyful prosperity. They crave to fix, or heal, dysfunction. The most common goals are losing weight, escaping debt, getting out of physical pain, no longer being depressed or anxious, or quitting a terrible job or "firing" a horrible boss.
U is for unending: They see life as an unending series of personal-disruption campaigns. They believe everything about life is always on the table. "They believe they can change anything in their life and know that changing behaviours is a prerequisite to making those life changes," she says.
M is for mindset: They epitomize the growth mindset popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck. Indeed, she says they have an "extreme growth mindset." They aren't oblivious about the difficulties, knowing it will be hard. But they pursue and persist.
A is for action: They have a bias toward action rather than just dreaming. "Everybody wants to be healthier, wealthier and wise. But transformational consumers are always doing something toward that," she says.
N is for never-ending: They are in a never-ending quest to find the products, services and content that support their behaviour-changing goals.
This transcends demography. It's a mindset, and it's widespread. "Post-Oprah, we have several generations of people intent on transformation," she says, urging you to rethink what you sell to tap into this trend and learn more about the transformational consumer.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter