grass roots

ConsumerLoop #9, February 2001

Time and Tide……………. 

Five years ago when we last wrote about how consumers looked at time, it was clear that we were in the process of moving to a new paradigm. We identified early signals in the growth of the 24/7 economy, the use of all kinds of hand-held mobile devices and the collapse of space and time by the Internet. Consumer insight showed many people were feeling increasingly pressurised, seizing fragments of time and searching for new mechanisms of control. Stress was becoming the new mantra. From 1995 onwards, consumers have been  experiencing a very new journey due to the magnitude of change especially in developed markets. It is therefore interesting to re-open the debate about the way we look at time, coping strategies, target groups and the companies and brands using time as a differentiator. Time is one of Through the Loop’s forces of change in our Knowledge Development Programme.

There seem to be three specific target groups with different relationships to the concept of time. These are the time-poor, time-rich and an emerging group, which we are calling time-slippers.

It is therefore not surprising that consumers are now trying to “win” time by adopting new strategies. The coping strategies that we observe include the following:

  • Voluntary simplification to make a complex life easier.

  • Searching for new mechanisms to give a greater feel of empowerment and control. Some of these solutions will be technological.

  • Using captive time more productively when travelling or commuting. Mobile technologies can help here.

  • Actively finding pursuits which allow precious time to be enjoyed. A good analogy is the difference between savouring and enjoying a coffee versus gulping it.

  • Multi-tasking

Understanding both the target groups and their coping strategies mean that brands can better target consumers with different time perceptions and communicate using new cues and sometimes, new media options.


To date, there has been considerable focus on the group perceived to be time-poor. This group are assumed to be time-poor usually because of disadvantageous working patterns. They are most likely to be working in the 24/7 service economy and are usually contactable anytime and anywhere. These people look for control mechanisms to reassert order into their lives. They have short attention spans and one writer talks about appealing to this group through liquid culture. There is also a gender issue here because more women than men claim time poverty due to the element of unpaid work around the home. In the future, time poverty may become a more intermittent rather than permanent strategy because of changes in the employment market. The Yankelovich Group sees some of these time-poor consumers pulling back from the market-place in the US. They may even trade-off pay to get a little more free time to do all the things that matter.


The conventional assumption has been that those who were time-rich were thought to be older and less affluent than the first group. The simplicity of this perception needs to change as we move towards a more flexible employment market with more temporary and contract work. Some people may be time-rich for periods of time. For many, time-richness is an odd phenomena out of kilter with a rushed world, they do not acclimatise easily. This segment may need to be helped through the maze. For others, time-richness is associated with what we currently call retirement. In the future, the retirement process  is also expected to change.

A New Group of Time-Slippers

The third group is very interesting in that they found ways of slipping and savouring time. These consumers are experientialists and are looking for new paths in  entertainment and enjoyment. They are looking for layers of fun and experience in everything that they consume. This is the group that go to Starbucks because it has genuinely transformed coffee to a more emotional experience. This is the group that eats in the first of the new theme restaurants. The retail environment can reach a different level when it takes on new layers of enjoyment and becomes a leisure activity. There is even now a Slow Food Movement which has as its clarion call, “the defence and the right to pleasure.” This is the group that will buy “devices” to put into their smart home to change room mood and atmosphere. Some of them will go to day spas to pamper themselves. This group are willing to try new products and services which offer the potential of greater enjoyment. Appealing to their senses is very important. Design plays a huge role for this group and forms part of the brand experience through a number of different guises. Variety of design will become more important.

An Hour Can Seem Like a Minute

It could be argued that the third group has a different perception and experience about time. The way we think about time determines the way in which we experience it. As Albert Einstein said:

“If you are sitting on a hot stove, a minute seems like an hour, but if you are doing something pleasurable, an hour can seem like a minute.”

Building loyalty in the third group is a real challenge without offering product and service innovation to build levels of experience.

We foresee that the structured day will give way to different forms for the three groups. The time-poor group will shift to some form of 24 hour cycle. Even sleep as a solid block of time may disappear for this group. Catnaps will become more common and homes and workplaces will be structured to accommodate this. Time will have a fragmented and discontinuous appeal. The time-rich may be expected to keep to a more conventionally structured day. The time-slippers will vary enormously and expect to experience when they want.


In the future, we expect brand strategies to be more finely attuned to the needs of these three target groups or segments. For the first time-poor group, brand strategies will need to be optimized to appeal to short fragments of time and communications to short attention spans. The second segment who are either temporarily or permanently time-rich, will fall at the other end of the spectrum. Imagine marketing new learning experiences to this group. In many ways, the third group is the most eclectic and they may be the new early adopters for new products and services. Innovation will be critical to appeal.

Through the Loop believes that these are global groups, even though they may appear at different levels of intensity.

Action Points

There needs to be true understanding of the three main target groups, time-poor, time-rich and time slippers and their coping strategies.

  • Brands, products and services need to be reviewed to see where they fit in terms of time sensitivity.

  • New markets will be created. These include home and office environments, smarter forms of both to encourage mood, diverse forms of lighting and aroma.

  • Examine the sensory appeal of your product or service to see how to add layers of fun and experience.

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