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American Families Approach 2024 with Cautious Optimism

Financial curveballs sent many American families reeling in 2023. Household budgets were squeezed by rising interest rates, surging prices on everyday goods, and a stagnating housing market. Consumers were feeling strapped. That sentiment, however, appears to be waning. The question is, to what extent?

To take the pulse of consumers’ feelings about their financial well-being ahead of a highly anticipated election, ThinkNow conducted a nationally representative quantitative survey. The survey highlights consumers’ hopes and anxieties as we move into 2024. Let's unpack the key findings to gain insights about where we stand.

Download the report here.

Optimism Is on the Rise

Nearly twice as many respondents in our survey anticipate an improvement in their financial situation (both personal and family) for 2024 (38%) compared to those expecting a decline (20%) when compared to 2023. And, around two-thirds of respondents feel confident managing their finances moving into 2024. African Americans and Baby Boomers lead in this category, while Gen Z lags behind. This gap highlights a potential need for targeted financial education initiatives, especially among younger consumers.

Some Still Feeling Overwhelmed

The financial optimism isn't shared equally. Hispanics, non-Hispanic Whites, and Millennials top the list of those feeling financially overwhelmed. While N.H. Whites worry about retirement more than African Americans, both groups face significant pressure. Interestingly, Baby Boomers seem the most grounded, with the lowest reported stress.

Compared to last year, almost half of the respondents have reported a significant increase in their financial anxiety—notably, women, N.H. Whites and Gen Xers are at the forefront of this trend. Despite these challenges, optimism isn’t lost. Approximately two-thirds of respondents believe their finances will improve in 2024, with Gen Z and Millennials emerging as the most optimistic.

Navigating the Debt Dilemma

Debt looms large, with half of the respondents burdened by it. While Asians and Gen Z carry less debt, Millennials and Gen X grapple with debt, especially credit card debt, the most. Making payments is a struggle for many, with African Americans, Gen Z, and women the most impacted. Rising interest rates add another layer of anxiety, particularly for African Americans and Baby Boomers. Previously sustainable debt levels can become overwhelming as interest rates rise.

As per the headlines, inflation is the top financial concern across the board, followed by unexpected expenses and housing costs. Gen Z worries less about inflation and the economy compared to older generations, but housing affordability and saving for the future weigh heavily on their minds.

Fortunately, over half of respondents actively seek support when stressed about finances, especially Gen Z and Millennials, known for being more open and vocal about their lives. While most respondents are likely to reach out to family and friends for advice, the willingness to openly talk about finances is still somewhat taboo. African Americans and Baby Boomers are ‘very uncomfortable’ talking about their finances with others.

Promoting Financial Wellness

Finally, the survey emphasizes the importance of financial education, with an overwhelming majority acknowledging its crucial role in financial well-being. This underscores the need for financial literacy programs accessible across all demographics to empower individuals to manage their finances confidently.

Remember This

America's financial landscape is diverse, with different groups facing unique challenges and holding varying degrees of hope. Recognizing these disparities and fostering financial literacy across all generations and ethnic groups is key to building a more financially secure and resilient economy.

For deeper insights into the ThinkNow 2024 Consumer Financial Wellness Report, download it here for free.

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Unwrapping the Top Five Multicultural Holiday Shopping Trends in 2023

The 2023 holiday shopping season kicked off strong, with Adobe Analytics reporting a record $9.8 billion in Black Friday online sales, up 7.5% from 2022.Cyber Monday numbers were even stronger, with consumers spending $12.4 billion, a 9.6% increase over last year. So, what does this mean for December sales and the rest of the holiday shopping season? ThinkNow recently conducted a nationally representative quantitative survey of 1,500 consumers revealing insights into what Americans buy and spend for the holidays. From shopping habits to spending patterns, let's delve into the top five trends shaping the 2023 holiday shopping season.

Download the report here.

Top Holiday Shopping Trends

  1. Pre-Holiday Shopping: According to the survey, 2 out of 5 consumers preferred to kick-start their holiday shopping before Black Friday with many aiming to beat the holiday rush and avoid potential price increases and last-minute shipping delays. These early birds plan to strategically spread their purchases over the entire holiday season to help reduce feelings of overwhelm and keep the budget.
  2. Spending Sentiments: The robust start to the holiday shopping season may not last. Dollar sales growth is projected to slow from 6% last year to 3.3% this year, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Our survey corroborates this trend and shows that:
    • Planned gift spending is waning: This year's average planned expenditure on gifts is $433, a noteworthy dip from $506 in 2018.
    • Gift-giving opt-outs are rising: Nearly 20% of respondents are opting out of gift-giving altogether this season.
    • Interest-free loans are gaining traction: 30% of respondents plan to leverage interest-free installment loan services like Pay in 4, AfterPay or Klarna.
  3. Spheres of Influence: Multicultural consumers rely heavily on their social circles for holiday gift ideas. When shopping for holiday gifts, family and friends remain the top source of inspiration for consumers, followed by in-store displays, with Hispanic consumers particularly receptive to the latter.
  4. Digital-First Shopping: More than half of consumers plan to make holiday purchases online this year, with e-commerce giants like Amazon, eBay, and Temu leading the way. Most online purchases will be made via smartphones, highlighting the growing role of mobile devices in the shopping experience. Asian consumers are most likely to shop online, while Millennials are most likely to use mobile apps.
  5. Top Gift Categories: Clothing, gift cards, and toys/games emerge as the frontrunners in this year's holiday gift categories. Gift cards are most popular with Baby Boomers, while Millennials are most likely to buy a voice-controlled product like Google Home or Amazon Alexa.

Implications for Businesses

The changing consumer landscape presents challenges and opportunities during the holiday season. Our findings suggest that businesses should focus on the following strategies to engage multicultural consumers during this time to build goodwill that could spill over to other peak spending seasons:

  • Embrace cultural nuances. Multicultural consumers are a growing and influential segment of the U.S. population, and spending habits differ by ethnicity. For example, 41% of Asian consumers planned to start their shopping on Black Friday compared to the 27% Total Market Average. Over 40% of Hispanics (most commonly foreign-born and Spanish-dominant) plan to celebrate Three Kings' Day on January 6, extending the holiday shopping season into the new year. This presents a unique opportunity to engage these consumers with targeted campaigns and promotions.
  • Prioritize e-commerce and omnichannel experiences. Online shopping soared during the COVID-19 pandemic and has continued to grow, but consumers are also enjoying the ability to gather in person again. Businesses must optimize their e-commerce platforms and mobile app experiences to cater to the growing mobile-first consumer base while offering seamless integration between online and offline experiences, like in-store pickup.
  • Offer competitive prices and promotions. Inflation woes and government shutdown rumors have made consumers more price-sensitive – they are actively seeking deals and discounts. Use data-driven insights to tailor offers and discounts to specific cultural groups based on their preferences. Offer flexible payment solutions like installments or buy-now-pay-later options to cater to various financial situations.
  • Provide exceptional customer service. Good customer service is always important, but it is especially critical during the stress of the holiday season. Train employees on cultural sensitivity and offer multilingual customer service options to make it easy for customers to communicate in their preferred language. Most importantly, respond promptly to inquiries and concerns and demonstrate empathy and understanding.

Conclusion

The 2023 holiday shopping season is starting strong, with several key trends emerging. Early birds are taking advantage of extra discounts and promotions, while spending sentiments are mixed due to economic uncertainties. Online shopping continues to dominate the landscape, with over half of consumers planning to purchase online. This presents a unique opportunity for businesses catering to multicultural consumers who are expected to drive significant growth during the holiday season.

Download the full report here for a deep dive into the findings and more cultural insights.

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How Race, Age and Gender Shape Attitudes Towards Mental Health

Mental health has been in the news quite a bit lately. Dozens of U.S. states are currently suing Meta for contributing to the youth mental health crisis by inserting addictive features into their products, while the U.S. Surgeon General is touring the nation to bring awareness to the growing epidemic of loneliness and isolation. The country has endured periods of low national morale, such as in the 1970s when high inflation and the energy crisis worsened public sentiment following the Vietnam War. The current mood, however, feels different. Gallup recently reported that national mental health is at an all-time low, with few bright spots to lift spirits.

To better understand how Americans are feeling and their attitudes towards mental health in general, ThinkNow conducted a nationally representative quantitative survey of 1,500 respondents and found some interesting differences among ethnic, age and gender groups.

Download the report here.

Technology

For example, 52% agree that technology and social media have a negative impact on mental health, but when broken out by race, 61% of Whites felt technology had a negative effect, and only 48% of Hispanics thought it did.

While technology has helped us keep in touch with friends and family in faraway places, it appears to have degraded our ability to connect in person. Staying connected online is a double-edged sword since the same news feed that brings us pictures of the grandkids and fluffy kittens also feeds us news about the wars in Israel and Ukraine, the dysfunction in Washington, the latest mass shooting and the climate crisis. 

Hispanics may have a built-in defense against the isolation technology breeds, owing to their large, multigenerational households, strong social support systems, and tendency to use social media to stay connected with relatives abroad.

Age and Gender

When asked how individuals rate their mental health, men rate it higher than women by 11 percentage points, and Baby Boomers rank it highest at 83%, saying it’s good or excellent vs. 57% of Gen Z saying the same.

Gen Z spends the most amount of time on social media, so the notion that social media negatively affects mental health appears to be correlated. Unfortunately, Gen Z is also the generation that’s least comfortable discussing mental health concerns with healthcare professionals. Only 40% of them state they’re comfortable discussing their issues with a professional compared to 60% of Millennials and 65% of Boomers.

Race Affects Attitudes

As seen in previous research conducted by ThinkNow, Asian Americans lag other groups when it comes to awareness of mental health issues. Twenty-four percent of Asian Americans believe that having a mental health issue is a sign of weakness compared to the 16% average for all groups. Asians are also considerably less likely to be aware of mental health services in their communities (42% vs. 55%) and most likely to seek out information on social media (51% vs. 35%).

Black Americans, however, are the most likely to engage in self-help (68% vs 58% on average) and more likely to be aware of resources. Black women, in particular, are good role models when it comes to mental health awareness. According to The Black Consumer Project, 63% of Black women believe that mental health is an essential part of overall health compared to 50% of non-Blacks.

The Role of Medication

Opinions on the role medication plays in the treatment of mental health vary considerably by age. When asked whether medication is the best treatment for mental health issues, the most significant difference we saw was the split between Millennials where 40% think medication is the best treatment, and Boomers, where only 13% believe medication is best.

We also saw differences by race with Asians being the least likely to think medication was best (20% vs. 30% for non-Hispanic Whites) and gender, with men being more likely than women to believe in medication (13% vs 8%). Thirty-two percent of men, however, think you can “snap out of” mental health problems vs. only 20% of women who agree. Men are more likely than women to believe that most mental health problems can be easily fixed (37% vs 22%), so their higher support for medicine may be masking other attitudes.

What’s next for mental health in America?

America faces diverse and interconnected mental health challenges influenced by technology, age, ethnicity and external factors. Understanding these differences can help when developing messaging and services that reach individuals most in need of assistance. While our society is starting to normalize talking about mental health, we still lack supportive environments and services are often difficult to access. Technology like social media can harm our mental health if not managed, but technological innovations like telemedicine and wellness apps can guide and support us in improving our outlook. A holistic and inclusive approach with open dialogue, support systems, and awareness is vital in navigating towards a healthier, more mentally resilient society.

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Inclusive Beauty: Navigating Consumer Diversity and Shifting Preferences

The beauty industry has transformed in recent years driven by consumer demands for products that align with their cultural values and personal beliefs. While the top cosmetic brands continue to be L’Oreal and Estee Lauder, they are being challenged by younger, edgier brands like Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty, Rihanna’s Fenty and e.l.f. Cosmetics. Consumer opinion, however, is not homogeneous. There are significant differences in preferences based on ethnicity, age, income and gender. ThinkNow uncovered some of those differences in our recent Inclusive Beauty Report based on a nationally representative online survey of 2,800 respondents.

Download the full results of the survey here.

The Rise of Conscious Consumerism

The era of conscious consumerism has brought about a major shift in the beauty industry. Increasingly, consumers seek products that align with their values, whether minimizing harm to animals, supporting sustainable practices, or promoting inclusivity. This has led to a growing demand for cosmetics and beauty products that are cruelty-free, meaning they are not tested on animals and that are considered inclusive.

Interestingly, while nearly half of cosmetic consumers want cruelty-free brands, 88% of them are still not cruelty-free. However, the fastest growing brands like e.l.f. and Rare Beauty are both cruelty-free and vegan. Legacy companies that want to compete in today’s market are being pushed to adopt these practices in their formulations and testing processes.

Cultural Insights and Multicultural Consumer Preferences

While the market as-a-whole is trending towards conscious consumerism, there are significant multicultural differences. For example, the demand for all-vegan cosmetics appears to be driven by non-Hispanic White consumers.

Additionally, since non-Hispanic Whites are, on average, ten years older than multicultural Americans, 42% of them choose brands based on how they address age-related needs vs. 30% of Hispanics who value age-related needs. Asians value products that offer solutions for different skin tones (37%) vs products that are endorsed by celebrities (15%) while Black and non-Hispanic White consumers are more likely to value brands that have a variety of price points. Understanding and addressing these specific preferences, as supported by cultural consumer insights, is crucial for building a loyal customer base.

Age and Income Drive Preferences

One might assume that younger consumers would be most interested in conscious consumerism. Gen Z however, is much less likely to seek out vegan cosmetic brands (19%) than Millennials (33%) or Gen X (31%). Gen X is more likely to seek out organic/natural ingredients (41%) than the 36% average for other age groups.

Income, however, is one of the factors that most affect cosmetic product preferences. For example, those earning more than $80K a year are significantly more likely to choose brands that are cruelty-free (53%) and vegan (42%) than those earning less than $40K annually (39%) and 21%), respectively. This insight-driven approach doesn't just enhance product offerings; it also builds trust and loyalty among diverse consumer groups.

The Impact of Inclusive Beauty

The beauty industry's shift towards cruelty-free, vegan, and inclusive beauty products aligns with trends observed in multicultural consumer insights. Younger generations are the most statistically diverse in history and wield the power to affect change. They are communicating their expectations to brands or starting their own and challenging heteronormative stereotypes of “beauty.” Companies willing to adapt to these culture shifts will stay relevant as consumer tastes change and contribute to a more compassionate and diverse world.

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What is Delaying Our Electric Vehicle Adoption?

100% electric vehicles are fantastic. They’re zippy, require less maintenance, save money on gas and are generally pretty cool. Given these attributes, it might seem logical to assume that every new car buyer would opt for an electric vehicle (EV). Yet only 5.8% of vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2022 were electric, and 94.2% of brand-new cars sold last year were not. Why?

As part of our Sustainability Study released in April 2023, ThinkNow conducted a nationally representative quantitative survey of 2,050 Americans and probed their reasons for buying or rejecting EVs. Here is what we found:

Cost Is the Main Barrier to Electric Vehicle Adoption

Cost is the single largest barrier to EV adoption. The lowest cost internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle currently on the market has an MSRP of $17,650. Over two dozen ICE vehicles are available for under $25,000. Meanwhile, General Motors announced that it was discontinuing the lowest-cost EV on the market, the Chevy Bolt (MSRP $25,600), in favor of producing higher profit-margin pickup trucks. Tax credits for EV purchases help, but they're limited to U.S. produced vehicles, and the low-cost options on that list are scarce. For EV adoption to take off, it has to be accessible to all car buyers, not just high-earning early adopters.

Inadequate Charging Infrastructure Limits Accessibility

After price, charging is the next big barrier to purchasing EVs. Thirty-four percent of respondents said they wouldn't purchase an EV because they do not have charging available at home or work. This aligns with the 36% of American households living in rental properties less likely to have on-site charging than single-family homes. Public charging is part of the solution, but the availability of public charging varies considerably by city and state. Even in states with relatively high levels of EV penetration, like California, there are cities without a single non-Tesla public charging station (I'm looking at you Mammoth Lakes, CA). The U.S. currently has 56,256 charging stations with around 147,700 individual charging ports. Still, McKinsey & Company estimates that if the U.S. wants to reach the goal outlined in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act recommending that 50% of all vehicles sold yearly be zero-emission by 2030, it will likely need 1.2 million public and 28 million private EV charging stations. It's important to note that this number falls short of what is required for achieving 100% EV adoption.

Lack of Information Perpetuates Misinformation

The following three barriers to EV adoption in our survey were "I don't know enough about them," "They take too long to charge" and "I don't think they're good for the environment." These three issues can be countered by better communicating the benefits. EV owners spend a lot less time charging their vehicles than people spend at gas stations. Most non-EV owners don't realize EVs typically charge overnight 2-3 times a week. Plugging and unplugging an EV takes less than 30 seconds. So EV owners spend fewer weekly minutes physically charging than ICE vehicle owners spend standing in front of gas pumps.

EVs are also unequivocally better for the environment than gas-powered vehicles. Most arguments suggesting otherwise are premised on faulty assumptions. One argument states that the electricity produced to charge EVs is worse for the environment than gasoline. While coal is still responsible for about 20% of U.S. power production, it is rapidly being replaced by wind and solar. Even accounting for current coal and natural gas-powered electricity emissions, research shows that an EV is typically responsible for lower levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs) than an average new gasoline car. Battery manufacturing is also frequently cited as being bad for the environment because it takes energy to mine Lithium and manufacture batteries. Here's a comparison of a typical gas-powered car's lifetime greenhouse gas emissions and a 300-mile range EV.

Perceptions of EVs also vary by generation and ethnicity. Communication campaigns must address knowledge gaps within multicultural segments to ensure the successful adoption of electric vehicles (EVs). These communities may have limited exposure to information about EVs compared to other racial groups. For instance, our multicultural research indicates that Asian Americans, in particular, are more prone to experiencing range anxiety compared to other groups which may make them less likely to adopt EVs.

EVs Drive Green Transportation

Making EVs more affordable and expanding charging infrastructure will help accelerate the transition to a greener transportation system. Clear and accurate communication about EV charging times and their environmental benefits is also essential in dispelling misconceptions and encouraging broader acceptance.

Policies must consider that renters and people of all income levels and ethnicities buy cars. EVs can't be playthings for the well-to-do and pipe dreams for everyone else. Addressing these challenges and promoting EV adoption is crucial for achieving the sustainable and environmentally friendly transportation system the U.S. and the world needs.

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The Mechanics of Effectively Engaging Asian American Survey Panelists

Implementing a multicultural marketing strategy is one of the most impactful ways brands can tap into the new mainstream. The U.S. consumer market is speeding toward a multicultural majority. Marketers are tasked with gaining a deeper understanding of these diverse consumer segments and crafting messaging that appeals to them and motivates them to action. Hispanics comprise the largest ethnic group, while Asian Americans account for about 7% of the U.S. population. Among them, Chinese, Asian Indian, Filipino, Vietnamese and Korean are the largest groups.

But marketing to Asian American consumers can be challenging for some marketers, as two-thirds of this group are foreign-born. This demographic difference means their motivations, preferences, and purchasing behavior may differ significantly from their U.S.-born counterparts. Similarly, researchers must be mindful of these differences when conducting consumer surveys and providing insights to marketers, as insights that apply to U.S.-born Asian Americans may not apply to foreign-born Asians.

In general, online sample providers have not kept pace with the consumer market's changing dynamics to the same extent as they have done to reduce fraud in the industry. Many researchers recruit survey respondents in English only from the general market, resulting in a lack of representation of diverse consumers on panels and low incidence rates.

On this episode of The New Mainstream podcast, Iris Yim, Principal and Chief Strategist at Sparkle Insights and Board Member and Vice President of the Asian American Advertising Federation, delves into the mechanics of effectively engaging Asian American survey respondents and the impact it has on multicultural marketing.

Meet Iris Yim:

Iris is a seasoned researcher well versed in both qualitative and quantitative research methodologies. Her experience in research across different industries and cultural segments makes her a versatile researcher that approaches research in a holistic and innovative way to solve clients’ business problems and uncover insights.

The types of studies Iris have conducted include market opportunity assessments, customer satisfaction, attitude and awareness, ad testing, positioning, segmentation and new product development. She has experience in a wide range of industries including CPG, travel and leisure, financial services, automotive, and healthcare.

Iris is the Research Chair of the Asian American Advertising Federation and serves on the Supplier Diversity Committee of the Alliance for Inclusive and Multicultural Marketing, affiliated with Association of National Advertisers. She is an alumna of the RIVA Training Institute and holds an MBA from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in public relations from the University of Southern California.

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Beyond the Hype: Genuine Commitment to DEI in the Beauty Industry

The racial reckoning of 2020 brought diversity, equity, and inclusion to the forefront, although the concept itself is not new. Unfortunately, many brands have taken advantage of this movement for their benefit, resulting in broken promises and hollow commitments that have undermined their reputation. However, for brands like LVMH, there is an urgent need to approach DEI with genuine commitment and intentionality, actively embracing cultural differences to enhance the employee experience and drive business results.

For Benefit Cosmetics, an LVMH brand, DEI expands beyond human resources to developing inclusive products and other elements that impact all facets of the organization. This culture shift is important as the U.S. consumer market becomes increasingly diverse, blurring the lines between DEI and multicultural marketing.

Implementing DEI is not only the right thing to do from a moral standpoint but is also a savvy business move. Brands that fail to tap into the purchasing power of diverse communities, particularly Black and Hispanic consumers, are missing out on a significant opportunity.

Yet, the beauty industry still lacks a broad spectrum of cosmetics that cater to the diversity within these groups. It's essential to look beyond race and gender and start meaningful conversations around other dimensions of diversity, such as ability and sexual orientation. Brands have a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the barriers that underrepresented groups face and use their privilege to empower them.

Mia Talavera, Director of Global Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at Benefit Cosmetics (LVMH), stops by The New Mainstream podcast to share her insights on the urgent need for genuine commitment and intentionality concerning DEI at the organizational and product levels.

Meet Our Guest:

Mia Talavera is a high-performing Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader passionate about inspiring positive culture change by designing and driving global DE&I strategies to promote and advance inclusion in the workplace. Mia has advised and consulted organizational leaders across various industries on leveraging innovative DEI initiatives, most recently driving real change within the beauty sector with Benefit Cosmetics.

Mia is the Director of Global Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Benefit Cosmetics (LVMH). She is also a certified Unconscious Bias Facilitator and earned a Bachelor's Business Degree and D&I certification from Yale Business School of Management.

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