Change has happened.
Since 2007 an unwelcome predictability has anchored itself in the patterns of how we think and act. We have become defensive, cautious and self-limiting in what we hoped for, and in how we live. Life in Ireland has been harder, we have had to become more pragmatic, more literal and more philosophical in accepting that we were surviving rather than living. 2015 has been a year of awakening for Ireland. 2015 is the year where we have started to come out of the unwelcome predictability in how we think and act which the recession visited upon us. Economically, culturally, socially, privately and as consumers we are beginning to re-discover and re-define who we are collectively and individually.
Economic change has led the way.
2015 has seen many of us begin to exhale again after holding our breath as we survived and dared not to hope and live the way we wanted to. The monotonous predictable grey mood and mantra of survival that had washed over the nation has begun to lift noticeably in the past 12 months. There are a litany of metrics which we could choose to champion and illustrate this point; improvements in GDP, unemployment rate, consumer sentiment, retail sales and many more. The overriding point is however that economically, for the exchequer and national coffers at least, we are certainly in recovery mode. The country has seen a rapid transition from recession to recovery in a relatively short few months. We are as a nation on top the GDP and recovery/growth leader boards with many of our peers looking on with wonder, and envy.
Change wins and losses:
As recovery beds in it is not an immediate switch from bad to good, there are highs and lows, there are wins and losses. We have seen that the nation’s financial recovery has not been the panacea to all ailments in our lives, but has coincided with an ability to start to see some notable wins in different areas of our lives. Many of the areas where we have seen wins are duplicitous, in that for every win there is a counterbalance loss.
- Equality: equality in marriage, yet marginalisation of travelling community.
- Housing: recovery in negative equity for homeowners, yet increase in homelessness and lack of housing for others.
- Health: free GP care for under 6’s, but A&E patient trolley numbers as high as ever and climbing.
Despite the frustrating nature of many seemingly contradicting fortunes in 2015, the fact that we are now starting to see wins to offset the losses is to be welcomed.
The story of our personal recovery is more opaque still and arguably more interesting. Life is about more than just finance and budgets; health, family, friends sense of self identity and being able to choose rather than having to accept a forced choice in all areas of our lives matter greatly to us. As recovery takes hold we want to understand how these more personal areas and ambitions in our own worlds have been impacted.
Emotionally led recovery
With clues of improvement and recovery starting to surround us across 2015, we have responded in kind as a people in how we feel and our outlook. As a collective nation we have seen an emotional recovery start to build momentum and take hold.
The positivity we hear around the nation’s finances and fortunes gives us hope. We have a new found sense of hope in 2015 that individually we too are on the cusp of less austere times. Undoubtedly consumers have begun to spend more. Retail value and volume sales have been growing at a strong rate over 2015, but note that volume growth is still outpacing value growth by approximately 2:1 meaning that retailers are still having to discount heavily to win this increased spend.
We are beginning to spend, but in a very cautious and considered manner, and not all of us are changing our spending patterns in unison. Despite improvements in unemployment (now at 8.9%), much data points to the fact that earning power has not increased notably. Income remains relatively flat, but confidence of better times ahead, combined with a range of government policy incentives to stimulate spending and near zero inflation, encourages those with savings and new found value in their property to begin to loosen the purse strings. Those who do not have these reserves are still under quite a large amount of pressure to keep things above water.
In short, the financial recovery being felt at a national level has not filtered down equally to all parts of society. We have been witnessing and participating in an emotionally led recovery with financial recovery following for some more quickly than for others.
Three tiered recovery
We are observing the emergence of a strong three tiered recovery in 2015. It is certainly good news that recovery is taking hold, but for many people they are treading water, or worse finding it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. The recovery is unequal, and this for many seems and feels quite unfair.
The impact of this three tiered recovery is twofold. Firstly, rather than being of a homogenous survival mind-set, we are seeing a diffusion of needs and wants across different cohorts. We are no longer quite similar – the collegiality of recession gallows humour which bound us is now being diluted rapidly. We are increasingly experiencing a different reality and pursuing different hopes and aspirations as we enter recovery at different paces.
The second key impact we are noticing about the three tiered recovery is the rise in inequality and the fragmentation of society between the haves and the have nots. There are broad reaching social implications of inequality of wealth and opportunity. As recovery takes hold we are seeing that these implications are being amplified and stretched. We are seeing implications which in turn are defining and shaping how we think and behave in very different ways based broadly on which tier of the recovery trajectory people are on.
Differences are to be celebrated and encouraged broadly speaking, but if differences are bound by constraints of inequality in opportunity or status, then these differences can lead to tension and resentment. As a country 2016 will see a more vociferous need to address the outcomes and impacts of inequality in society in all its forms. For marketers it will demand that we understand the changing context of the country and society we live in, and demand that we acknowledge this to in turn tailor how we act and interact with different communities and cohorts.
At Ignite we are continuously having conversations with the people of Ireland across a truly eclectic spectrum of topics. We also have used our own State of The Nation study and Ignite Score among other projects to build a better understanding of what motivates and what matters to Irish people.
As researchers we can’t tell you definitely what will happen, but we can prepare you for the future by having an appreciation of and insight into what matters to Ireland. We thought it timely as the year closes to share some of the key observations and ideas we found most interesting about how Ireland, Irish people, Irish culture and consumerism is changing as we emerge from recession and wrestle with all of the rewards and resentment which this brings.
We hope you enjoy!