Is ‘groundedness’ the antidote trend to digital whiplash?
The combination of digitization and globalization has made lives increasingly virtual, fast-paced, and mobile, ultimately driving countless trends in the marketplace. According to a university study, these influences also led to a wide range of opposing trends, defined by the researchers as “groundedness.”
“We believe that many consumers have a need to feel grounded — which we define as a feeling of emotional rootedness,” researchers from Vienna University of Economics and Business and Cornell University wrote. “This feeling emanates from connections to one’s physical, social and historic environment, and provides a sense of strength, safety and stability.”
Although the concept “has received scant attention in prior marketing, consumer behavior, or social psychology research,” groundedness purportedly explains a wide range of trends from farmers markets to hand-cut soap, artisanal bread, the locavore movement and the return to familiar grocery brands during the pandemic, according to the study.
Generally, products provide consumers with the feeling of groundedness by connecting to places (locally made or from an identifiable place), people (made by artisans, individuals or identifiable groups), and past (traditional roots or tangible history).
Marketers can strategically leverage the need for groundedness through products, for example by emphasizing local origin or by choosing traditional product designs.
Brands can also target consumers identified with a higher need for groundedness, a quality often found in consumers who perform a lot of desktop work at their computer, who have a higher socio-economic status, who more strongly perceive COVID-19 to have significantly disrupted their lives and who live in big cities. Such consumers were found in the study to be more interested in products that “connect them to their place, people and past.”
A feeling of groundedness can be provided to consumers through product designs, distribution channels and marketing communications.
Researchers wrote in the study, “Taken together, we argue that groundedness is a powerful concept providing a comprehensive explanation for a variety of consumer trends, including the popularity of local, artisanal and nostalgic products. It seems that in times of digitization, urbanization and global challenges, the need to feel grounded has become particularly acute.”
- Connecting to Place, People, and Past: How Products Make Us Feel Grounded – American Marketing Association (AMA)
- EXPRESS: Connecting to Place, People, and Past: How Products Can Make Us Feel Grounded and Why Marketers Should Care – Journal of Marketing
- Want to stop buying junk? Understand the psychology behind this marketing tactic. In the age of COVID, consumers are craving connections to people, places, and the past. Marketers know this. – Fast Company
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is groundedness an awkward mishmash of diverse trends or an unsung underlying mega-trend? What advice would you have to marketers or retailers about leveraging groundedness?