Our Meaningful Brands for a Sustainable Future analysis challenges traditional measures of business and brand value.
It questions the long term viability of economies and companies built solely on greater and greater levels of consumption and provides direction for businesses trying to maintain their profitability in the face of a consumer slow down.
And nowhere does this issue become more important than at Christmas. For many retailers and market sectors, Christmas is a critical period for business growth, but with consumer confidence at an all time low and increased pressure on the cost of living, what will Christmas 2011 bring?
In mid-November we surveyed a sample of 2,000 nationally representative respondents about their attitude to Christmas and what (if anything) they planned to do differently this year versus last.
The new Scrooge is female
Forty five percent of people plan to buy gifts for fewer people and 37% plan to buy fewer presents.
Women are far more likely to be belt tightening, with half of them planning to buy for fewer people and 41% buying fewer gifts over all.
However, women place far more emotional investment into gifting, with 74% agreeing that it is the effort rather than the price, compared with 58% of men.
Retailers should renew their focus on targeting men
While people are reigning in their spend this Christmas, it is a far more female trait.
Traditionally retailers focus on women and housewives at this time of year, but men are far less likely to modify their spending behaviour as a result of the recession, with 33% saying it has had no effect on their Christmas spending (compared to 23% of women).
Men are far less concerned with minimising waste, with just 36% planning to buy less food and drink this year compared with 46% of women.
Men seek convenience and ease when it comes to gifting. They are less price sensitive (77% consider price important vs 85% of women) and they invest far less emotion into gifting - just 62% claim to get a great deal of joy out of the act of giving compared with 78% of women.
They are also more likely to spend as little time as possible (31% vs 19%) and put less effort into thinking about what the recipient would like (68% vs. 84%)
Men therefore offer greater spending potential and in putting in less effort in to the process they are also looking for easy solutions to their gifting challenges.
There is therefore opportunity for brands in providing assistance through 'ready-made' solutions.
There is a strong and growing desire to limit waste at Christmas
Traditional ideals of abundance have disappeared - 57% of people are concerned about the amount of waste at Christmas and 64% of people are actively trying to buy only as much food, drink and household items as they need this year.
This represents a growing trend, with 67% of people being more careful to minimise waste compared with Christmas 2010.
Discount voucher sites will win over Christmas
Forty six percent of people said they will use sites such as Groupon, kgb, Achica and Wowcher more than they did last Christmas.
This will be more prevalent among women (54%) and 25-34s (56%).
For consumers these sites offer a means to maintain the ‘volume’ of gifts given but at a vastly lower investment, posing strong competition for retailers.
Buying British is 'in' at Christmas
While people are certainly planning to buy less, they are making what they buy count, particularly in supporting the local economy.
Forty seven percent of people care where their Christmas food comes from, which indicates an awareness of provenance as a means to stimulate the economy.
This also rings true for gifting, where 39% of people feel it is important to support local producers or suppliers.
Gifting taps into our core need to be a part of social groups
Gifting represents so much more than the exchange of presents. Giving directly benefits the emotional and social wellbeing of the giver and the experience itself is important as 60% of people want to be with the recipient when they open it.
Sixty nine percent of people get a great deal of joy out of giving, rising to 78% of women, reflective of their greater emotional investment in the process.
Gifting enhances relationships, with 57% saying it makes them feel closer to the recipient and 65% saying it reflects their relationship.
Younger respondents are more inclined to feel it brings them closer and conversely older respondents less so.
This demonstrates the importance of gift giving in bond creation and affirmation of relationships, although it is less important to older people where relationships are already well established.
The talk of an economic slowdown seems to be enhancing the amount of effort, care and consideration that goes into gifts.
Eighty one percent of people believe it is the thought that counts and 76% of people put a lot of thought what the recipient would like.
So while financial pressures may mean spending less it also fundamentally enhances emotional wellbeing through increased consideration and perception of effort. Generosity is not linked to the amount spent.
This represents new business opportunities around developing more fulfilling experiences as gifts that promote social cohesion, rather than over-consumption of product.
Recent economic pressures have indeed impacted consumer behaviour with greater concerns over excess but resulted in a more considered approach to consumption that may offer potential benefit to the economy.
This more considered spending will increasingly be directed to brands that enable greater positive outcomes for all concerned.
Christmas offers the definitive opportunity for people to build and foster relationships and gifting creates bonds through emotional and social wellbeing.
This ultimately means that brands looking to drive growth at Christmas need to focus on helping people to better achieve the social and emotional wellbeing that underpin the real meaning of Christmas.