The Transformational Consumer

Fuel a Lifelong Love Affair with Your Customers by Helping Them Get Healthier, Wealthier, and Wiser

Tara-Nicholle Nelson (Author)

Publication date: 03/01/2017

The Transformational Consumer
The Transformational Consumer

They are the most valuable, least understood customers of our time. They buy over $4 trillion in life-improving products and services every year. If you serve their deeply human need to continually improve their lives, they will eagerly engage with your brand at a time when most people are tuning out corporate messages.

They are Transformational Consumers, and no one knows them like Tara-Nicholle Nelson. Her Transformational Consumer insights powered her work at MyFitnessPal, which grew from 40 million to 100 million users in her time there.

Nelson takes readers on a hero's journey to connecting with customers in ways both profitable and transformational. After going inside the brains, emotions, and behaviors of Transformational Consumers, Tara issues a call to adventure: a rallying cry to leaders to shift their focus from simply making products to solving their customers' problems.

Nelson uses stories and cases studies from every industry to guide readers through this journey in five stages, shedding light on how to rethink their customers, their products and services, their marketing, their competition, and even their culture.

The key to growing a business today is not building an app or getting new social media followers. The key is engaging people over and over again by triggering their deep, human desire for growth and transformation.

When a company reorients every initiative to serve Transformational Consumers, it kick-starts a lifelong love affair with its customers—a love affair that results in unprecedented revenue growth, product innovation, and employee engagement.

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Overview

The Transformational Consumer

They are the most valuable, least understood customers of our time. They buy over $4 trillion in life-improving products and services every year. If you serve their deeply human need to continually improve their lives, they will eagerly engage with your brand at a time when most people are tuning out corporate messages.

They are Transformational Consumers, and no one knows them like Tara-Nicholle Nelson. Her Transformational Consumer insights powered her work at MyFitnessPal, which grew from 40 million to 100 million users in her time there.

Nelson takes readers on a hero's journey to connecting with customers in ways both profitable and transformational. After going inside the brains, emotions, and behaviors of Transformational Consumers, Tara issues a call to adventure: a rallying cry to leaders to shift their focus from simply making products to solving their customers' problems.

Nelson uses stories and cases studies from every industry to guide readers through this journey in five stages, shedding light on how to rethink their customers, their products and services, their marketing, their competition, and even their culture.

The key to growing a business today is not building an app or getting new social media followers. The key is engaging people over and over again by triggering their deep, human desire for growth and transformation.

When a company reorients every initiative to serve Transformational Consumers, it kick-starts a lifelong love affair with its customers—a love affair that results in unprecedented revenue growth, product innovation, and employee engagement.

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Meet the Author


Visit Author Page - Tara-Nicholle Nelson

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is the founder and CEO of Transformational Consumer Insights. She is the former vice president of marketing for MyFitnessPal, now part of Under Armour, where her teams covered brand, growth, engagement, content and digital/social media, and media relations. She holds a master s degree in psychology and a juris doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley, and is the board president of City Slicker Farms, a nonprofit food justice organization in West Oakland.

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Excerpt

The Transformational Consumer

CHAPTER ONE
Meet the Transformational Consumer

You see, technically, chemistry is the study of matter, but I prefer to see it as the study of change: Electrons change their energy levels. Molecules change their bonds. Elements combine and change into compounds. But that’s all of life, right? It’s the constant, it’s the cycle. It’s solution, dissolution. Just over and over and over. It is growth, then decay, then transformation. It’s fascinating really. It’s a shame so many of us never take time to consider its implications.

—WALTER WHITE, BREAKING BAD, SEASON 1, EPISODE 1

A friend of mine goes by the name of Coach Stevo. Stevo is a sports psychologist and an expert in habit formation. But he got his start as a regular old personal trainer. In fact, in the very earliest days of his career, he was a trainer with a serious niche: people preparing to take the Marine Corps physical exam. He himself had gone from fat to fit in preparation for the Marine physical, and he wanted to pass on what he’d learned. The way he tells it, he would give these cadet hopefuls a program to follow and tell them what to do, and they’d do it.

Done and done.

And then one day, into Stevo’s gym walked a woman we’ll call Sister Mary Catherine, a retired Irish Catholic nun. It would be foolhardy to let Sister Mary Catherine’s soft middle distract you from what would turn out to be her razor-sharp tongue. But Stevo was up for the challenge—he started telling her what to do, giving her exercises and a workout plan to follow, but things didn’t quite go as predictably as they had with hisuber-motivated clients in the past. She struggled to make progress.

At one point, Sister Mary Catherine called out a big problem she’d seen, something she felt posed the danger of setting her relationship with Stevo up for failure.

She decided to clear things up for her intrepid trainer. “I know what to do,” she declared. “I need you to help me make myself do it.”

Sister Mary Catherine was what you might call a character. And like all characters, she presented at least one of the elemental characteristics that make up the archetype (that archetype being “Transformational Consumer”). Once we understand an archetype, engaging with the individual characters that spring out of the archetype is a much more vivid, much richer, more real experience. Understand “gangster,” and “Don Corleone” is a different, more nuanced being.

Sister Mary Catherine’s comment—“I can’t make myself do the things I want or need to do”—is the essence of what I call the Personal Disruption Conundrum. The Personal Disruption Conundrum is the number-one limiting factor of people who invest a great deal of their time and money into projects to get healthier, wealthier, or wiser: Transformational Consumers.

Let’s explore the core characteristics of the archetype: Transformational Consumers’ minds, beliefs, and consumer patterns. This is the first step to engaging with the real Transformational Consumers, the real people, the real characters in your customer base or audience. It’s also the fi rst step to helping them take this limit off themselves— and unlimiting your business in the process.

The Defining Characteristics of a Transformational Consumer

Transformational Consumers are the citizens of the world and the web who view life as a continual series of personal disruption campaigns: behavior-change projects to live healthier, wealthier, wiser lives.

They gladly, excitedly invest their time and money on the products, services, and content that can help them solve the Personal Disruption Conundrum.

They are early adopters of new products and technologies that they believe might be able to further their transformational aspirations. They are also highly influential: they influence the buying behavior of everyone around them.

Transformational Consumers engage in joyful, two-way love affairs with the brands that change their lives: using them over and over again, devouring their content, and telling everyone they know about the brands and products that have transformed their lives.

There are five core characteristics of Transformational Consumers. I find them easier to remember with the acronym HUMAN.

H—Focus on joyful prosperity: healthier, wealthier, and wiser

U—See life as an unending series of personal disruption campaigns

M—Have an extreme growth (versus fixed) mindset

A—Have innate or learned bias toward action

N—Engage in a never-ending search to find products, services, and content that support their behavior-change goals

I have worked from this list of characteristics for years, just on the basis of my own observations and insights doing the work of engaging Transformational Consumers. But as I was working on this book, my company, Transformational Consumer Insights (TCI), partnered with the research technology platform Qualtrics to survey 2,000 U.S. consumers. The objective? To quantify how mainstream this Transformational Consumer phenomenon has become since those days at my parents’ racquet club.

The answer we found was undeniable: very mainstream. In this survey, the Inaugural Transformational Consumer Insights Study, 1 a full 50% of respondents said they use digital or real-world products at least several times a week in an effort to achieve any of a number of health, financial, career, or personal-development aims.

I repeat for emphasis: 50% of U.S. consumers are Transformational Consumers. This is not a niche.

Keep in mind, as we learn more about these people, that the last characteristic—consumers’ never-ending hunt for products and services and content that support their transformational aspirations—is the single thing that qualifies people as Transformational Consumers.

This tells us what these people do, in terms of their consumer behavior.

So what are the other four characteristics? They help flesh out the framework in a critical way. They add meaningful, human insight that explains why these people do the things they do, why their consumer behavior is so influenced by their desire to make these core life changes. Th ese instinctive insights were validated when the data showed that people who qualified as Transformational Consumers were more likely to possess all of the other four characteristics than non-Transformational Consumers were, to a statistically signifi cant degree.

Now, let’s take the characteristics, one by one.

H—Focus on Joyful Prosperity: Healthier, Wealthier, and Wiser

The content, the substance, of Transformational Consumers’ aspirations that power their consumer behavior is that they simply want to be healthier, wealthier, and wiser. They want to live healthier, wealthier, wiser lives.

I call this desire the pursuit of joyful prosperity. From now on, we’ll call healthy, wealthy, and wise, collectively, the Aspirations, with a capital A, or refer to them as HWW. 2

In our seminal Transformational Consumer study, we listed a dozen common goals that people set around their HWW Aspirations. We then asked respondents to identify any of these goals that they were currently taking any action—anything—to pursue.

Transformational Consumers overindexed on every single goal, meaning they were more likely than the average to be working on every one of the health, wealth, or wisdom goals specified. When compared against non-Transformational Consumers, Transformational Consumers were anywhere from two to four times as likely to be working on a given HWW goal (see table 1).

Table 1 Comparing the Percentage of Transformational, non-Transformational, and Overall Consumers Actively Trying to Reach Various Goals

Q: I am currently doing something to try to reach the following goals:

Image

Image

Here’s a point you’ll hear me make over and over: it does not matter how you or I might define which life experiences and subject matters fall within or outside the boundaries of healthy, wealthy, or wise.

What matters is how the Transformational Consumers view, experience, or define healthy, wealthy, and wise.

And they experience them broadly. Table 2 depicts just some of the areas of life (and spending) that Transformational Consumers often group within each of the three Aspirations. (Note the overlap. Humans and the way we think about our lives are simply not cut and dry.)

Wise, in particular, can be a little nebulous. It includes anything Transformational Consumers might do in the effort to become a better person, to become self-actualized, or to fulfill their potential in the world.

Transformational Consumers experience the Aspirations as similar, related, and overlapping, in a few different ways.

The first common thread running through the Aspirations is this: that healthy, wealthy, and wise are universally viewed as necessary cornerstones of the good life. You can debate how each of them is defined, but no one really argues that some level of physical and emotional wellness, some level of material provision for needs, and some level of personal development or self-actualization are components of a life well lived.

Table 2 How Transformational Consumers Experience Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Broadly

Image

Transformational Consumers almost always orient their thoughts and actions on each HWW goal in one of three different ways:

Image   They crave to fix, or heal, dysfunction.

Image   They seek to maintain what is functional.

Image   They aim to optimize functioning.

Healing dysfunction. When Transformational Consumers set goals and orient a given Aspiration around fixing dysfunction, they want to come from a state of dysfunction to a state of basic functionality: healing what’s unhealthy, fixing what’s broken, freeing themselves from the constraints and limitations that result from malfunctions. They tend to think about these objectives as freedom from the friction, pain, or limitation resulting from the malfunction. They just want to be “normal” or “healthy”—the latter term being one they use for solid functioning without impairment in any Aspiration, not just for health.

Common Transformational Consumer goals oriented around fixing dysfunction include the following:

Image   Losing weight

Image   Getting out of debt

Image   Getting out of physical pain

Image   No longer being depressed or anxious

Image   Quitting a terrible day job or “firing” a horrible boss

Maintaining a baseline. On some goals and Aspirations, Transformational Consumer might simply want to maintain a state of healthy, baseline functionality.

Maintaining a healthy baseline is a common motivating factor for the repeat HWW purchases of the Transformational Consumer. Most of the transformational spending people will do in their lifetime will go toward buying supplies that help them maintain baselines, trying to make better choices as they carry out various routines:

Image   Cleaning house (Healthy)

Image   Feeding themselves and their children (Healthy)

Image   Preventive health—fitness and wellness, early detection, health maintenance (Healthy)

Image   Saving and investing (Wealthy)

Image   Continuing career education (Wealthy)

Image   Home maintenance and improvement (Wealthy)

Image   Attending worship services (Wise)

Image   Meditation, yoga, and other regular stress-management practices (Healthy/Wise)

Image   Hobbies, workshops, and classes they see as cultivating personal development (Healthy/Wise).

Optimization. The third way Transformational Consumers orient their goals and Aspirations is by aiming to achieve extraordinary performance in one or more areas of their lives.

The life of a Transformational Consumer is a vision quest, powered by optimism and belief in possibilities that many of them have seen only in the lives of people they look up to or in their own minds’ eyes. A stunning 82% of Transformational Consumers believe they can get healthier, even as they age, something only 58% of non-Transformational Consumers said they believed.

This visionary optimism and belief among Transformational Consumers that they can live an optimized life is a fundamental, powerful motivator for them. This “optimization” orientation shows up in the form of goals such as the following:

Image   Start a business

Image   Work at the job of my dreams

Image   Be a superfit marathoner/cyclist/yogi/dancer

Image   Have financial freedom

Image   Be able to travel the world and do the work I want

Image   Live a long life

Image   Feel and function better, physically, the older I get

Image   Max out my potential, mastering my professional field or area of expertise

Image   Write a book

“I have a vision for what I want my life to be like.”
Non-Transformational Consumers 62%

Transformational Consumers 87%

These optimization-oriented goals are less common than the other orientations. But they are powerful differentiators between Transformational and non-Transformational Consumers. They also surface innovation opportunities for higher-priced business products that Transformational Consumers will view as a deep investment in their future, such as B2B and enterprise software, eCourses, and certification programs.

Twice as many Transformational Consumers surveyed (54%) are actively working to level up their income and earn more money than non-Transformational Consumers (27%). More than three times as many are working on learning a new skill (35% of Transformational vs. 11% of non-Transformational). And over four times as many Transformational Consumers (17%) are currently working toward the goal of earning a certificate, license, or degree as non-Transformational Consumers (4%).

Remember, our job is to think about the Aspirations of the Transformational Consumer the same way they do: broadly and with bold, visionary optimism about what’s possible.

Blame it on the dopamine. The second common thread among the Aspirations is this: it’s hard to make good habits and hard to break bad habits in the same way, across all of the Aspirations. I blame this on two things: Resistance, which we’ll cover in chapter 2, and the neurotransmitter dopamine.

When stimulated by dopamine release, our brains’ reward centers shower down an intense, delicious rush of addiction-forming pleasure. We are wired to go to great lengths to trigger this pleasure. This pleasure shows up in multiple forms, including the rush of orgasm, the high of cocaine, and the emotional release of opiates.

The same exact brain centers activate, sending out that same flood of pleasure, when we do things that are considered bad HWW habits. That’s where we feel the “comfort” of binging on salty, sugary, and fattily delectable food. It’s where we get the hit of gratification from overspending (hence the term “retail therapy”). It’s where the alcoholic’s relaxed buzz comes from and also where we experience the sweetly numb, hard-to-break mental haze of staring at the screen of our television, laptop, or Facebook feed.

So dopamine fuels and feeds our bad habits across the aspirations. And people find dopamine very, very difficult to overrule across the Aspirations, which one must do in order to build good HWW habits, such as sticking to a budget or eating your vegetables.

U—See Life as an Unending Series of Personal Disruption Campaigns

This characteristic has two important parts: (1) the worldview of life as a constant, rolling, overlapping series of projects, and (2) the personally disruptive nature of these projects.

To Transformational Consumers, everything about life is always on the table, always subject to change. They almost always have some sort of life-improvement campaign under way, whether small scale or sweeping.

Seventy-eight percent of Transformational Consumers said they “set goals all the time,” compared with 41% of non-Transformational Consumers. And 82% of Transformational Consumers said they feel it’s important to reach their full potential before they die. (Contrast this with only 54% of non-Transformational Consumers.)

In fact, it is very common for Transformational Consumers to carry out multiple behavior-change campaigns in their lives simultaneously. In our survey, 90% of Transformational Consumers said that they were in the process of working on at least two health, financial, or personal-development goals, compared with 62% of non-Transformational Consumers. Eighty-two percent of Transformational Consumers were working on three or more goals (vs. 47% of non-Transformational Consumers), and a whopping

70% said they were working on four or more HWW goals (vs. only 33% of non-Transformational Consumers).

These are rolling, ongoing changes. The goals themselves, and what Transformational Consumers do in an effort to reach them, shift, evolve, multiply, and shrink throughout life. What’s important is that, in the life of a Transformational Consumer, there is some behavior change goal or goals under way nearly all the time.

I call these rolling, behavior-change projects of the Transformational Consumer personal disruption projects, campaigns, or initiatives.

The Harvard professor Clayton Christensen originally reclaimed the term “disruption” to describe companies that violently transform an industry, because existing industry giants are unwilling or unable to change with the times. A few years later, his colleague Whitney Johnson used the phrase “personal disruption” in talking about individual people building what she described as “disruptive skill sets” and dreaming about how their careers and lives might be different.

The way we use “personal disruption” in the context of the Transformational Consumer is even broader still. These are efforts to change your own behavior with the specific intention to level up your life in any way, to make anything about your life different and better. What’s violent about it is that behavior change is hard to do. Really hard, in fact.

Who is a hero? He who conquers his own urges.
THE TALMUD

Hundreds, maybe even thousands of influences impact whether a given person succeeds at a given personal disruption campaign or whether one is “good” at managing one’s own behavior in general. Nature, nurture, personal experiences of trauma and learning, belief systems, skills, resources, current environment, and social set: all of these factors and many more influence a given individual’s ability to make desired behavior changes.

To paraphrase Sister Mary Catherine, most people want to make these changes and have a good sense for what it will take. Of course, some personal disruption campaigns involve an initial stage of information gathering, knowledge building, or education. But often people actually know from the very beginning, in a general way, what they need to do:

Image   They want to stop doing something dysfunctional, such as overspending.

Image   They want to start doing something, such as exercising.

Image   They want to accomplish a finite project, such as getting a CPA license or learning a language.

Image   They want to keep doing something they view as beneficial, such as eating a generally healthful diet.

The hard part is for people to actually make themselves do it—to make the change and stick with it. Sticking with your eating plan when you’re constantly confronted with pizza at kids’ parties and donuts at work is not easy.

And Transformational Consumers know this. Eighty-seven percent said they know that if they can manage their own behavior and habits, they can change their lives, contrasted with only 66% of non-Transformational Consumers who were aware that the Personal Disruption Conundrum is such a powerful limiting factor.

This is a battle royal against a force that encompasses and is somehow even greater than all of the influences and factors I listed earlier, an antiforce that arises in the face of almost any effort to make a life change or behavior change for the healthier, wealthier, and wiser. This is the force of Resistance, with a capital R, and it is the root of the Personal Disruption Conundrum. We’ll explore it much more in chapter 2, as we see how it plays out in real life.

M—Have an Extreme Growth (versus Fixed) Mindset

The Stanford researcher Carol Dweck says that there are two ways people perceive themselves and what is possible for their lives. She says most people have either a growth mindset or a fixed mindset. 3

People who have a fixed mindset believe that they are who they are, when it comes to their basic qualities, such as intelligence and talent, from the day they are born. They believe these things are fixed, and there’s nothing they can do about it. They are just playing the cards life has dealt them, for better or for worse.

People with growth mindsets, on the other hand, believe that their most essential qualities are subject to change. They believe that they can learn, get better, become smarter, and build new skills and talents. And this is key: they understand that the way they can access new levels of possibility for themselves and their lives is through persistence, work, and development, versus inborn talent or “smarts.” People with a growth mindset even view their failures as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Transformational Consumers are extreme growth-mindset people. They believe that everything about themselves and their lives is subject to change for the better, at all times. Eighty-one percent of the Transformational Consumers we surveyed said they believe they can change almost anything about their lives that they want to. Only 55% of non-Transformational Consumers said the same.

Transformational Consumers might not know exactly how to make a specific change, but they believe that change is possible in every area of their lives. They believe their lives are especially changeable for the healthier, wealthier, or wiser: areas in which their own behavior has a clear impact on their outcomes.

They see themselves as people who believe in change and believe in the possible. They view and tell their own life stories through this lens. And they get excited about helping others change their lot in life, as well.

They are very vocal about their goals and about the services that helped them succeed, online and off. In fact, when they succeed at making a major life transformation, Transformational Consumers tend to trigger the fixed-mindset people around them into wondering whether their lives might really have more growth potential for themselves than they generally believed.

This partly explains why Transformational Consumers are so influential: people like to be around people who are inspirational. In our survey, 58% of Transformational Consumers said that people often seek their advice on how to improve their lives, compared with only 21% of non-Transformational Consumers.

Growth mindset is contagious. Think of the Transformational Consumers in your audience as the outbreak monkeys of this critically important form of social contagion: they help others believe that hard personal disruption can really, truly happen.

A—Possess an Innate or Learned Bias toward Action

The truth is, most people would like to be healthier, wealthier, and wiser. But all of those people don’t believe they actually can be. And many aren’t willing to invest their time and money into a constant series of efforts to make it happen. While “normal” consumers might talk about doing something to improve their HWW, Transformational Consumers exhibit a bias toward doing something about it. I call this a bias toward action.

Eighty-nine percent of Transformational Consumers said that when they are not happy with something in their life, they usually try to do something about it. Compare this with only 70% of non-Transformational Consumers who said the same thing.

Think of it this way: Transformational Consumers don’t like to stay stuck.

Now, the action that a specific Transformational Consumer will take to pursue a HWW goal will look different for different individuals and even for the same individual in different areas of his or her life. One might start doing research, while another might hire a coach or trainer. One might set a goal in writing, and yet another might enroll in a workshop.

Some might be stronger at accomplishing health goals than financial goals. They might flounder. They might not do the exact right thing. But they tend not to sit long in situations they are unhappy with without trying to do something.

That said, Transformational Consumers can and do get stuck like everyone else. In fact, our data show that they are more intimidated by challenges (42%) than average (36%) and non-Transformational Consumers (31%). They experience setbacks, decision traps, and quit points, just like everyone else. They struggle with procrastination, focus, habit making and breaking, and willpower more than most, possibly because they are more likely than others to be trying to make a change at any point in time.

This struggle is precisely why they look for products, tools, and content to help them make changes. It’s why they are willing to experiment with things that might help them make progress, why they are early adopters. These sticking points create some of the richest opportunities for Transformer companies to reach and engage Transformational Consumers.

N—Engage in a Never-Ending Search to Find Products, Services, and Content That Support Their Behavior-Change Goals

Image   Transformational Consumers want health, wealth, and wisdom.

Image   They know that it’ll take self-management to get there—and stay there.

Image   They believe that this sort of behavior change is possible but have found it to be hard.

Image   So they consistently look to brands and businesses for the help they need in making those changes.

– They come looking for products and services.

– They come for coaching and training.

– They come for collaboration.

– They come for inspiration.

– They come for illumination.

– They come looking for ease, joy, and beauty.

– They come for nuts-and-bolts tools, apps, events, content, opportunities.

– They come to get in motion. To interrupt their inertia or bad habits. To stay in motion.

And they come looking for these things to every single sector of the marketplace, from advisory services to educational institutions, to travel, leisure, luxury, and personal development, to retail, to food, to consumer packaged goods, and definitely to tech.

In our survey, Transformational Consumers overindexed on using products and content to get healthier, wealthier, and wiser in every way we asked about. And get this: Transformational Consumers were anywhere from five to ten times more likely to engage in Aspiration-driven use of products and content than were non-Transformational Consumers.

Table 3 Comparing the Transformational Product Usage and Consumption Behavior of Transformational, non-Transformational, and Overall Consumers

Q: I use digital products (like apps or websites) or real-world, physical products to help me do the following things, a few times a week or more often:

Image

Table 4 Comparing the Transformational Content Consumption Behavior of Transformational, non-Transformational, and Overall Consumers

Q: I read blogs, articles, newsletters, or books to help me learn about the following things, a few times a week or more often:

Image

Remember, this is the only characteristic that someone must possess to qualify as a Transformational Consumer. It breaks down into three elements:

1. The Transformational Consumer’s motivation for seeking transformational help from the marketplace

2. The marketplace-seeking behavior itself

3. The implications of that behavior

What qualifies a purchase or other engagement as transformational is one thing and one thing only: the consumer’s motivation for making that purchase or interacting with the brand.

The product itself doesn’t necessarily have to be a health or financial product. If consumers are engaging with the brand as part of an effort to make their life healthier, wealthier, or wiser or if they are choosing to buy one brand over another because they think it’s a healthier, wealthier, or wiser choice, we count it as transformational spending or brand engagement.

TCI has developed a Transformational Spending Index, which tracks annual consumer spending across 72 categories. Consumers’ likely motivation for making a given type of purchase is what qualifies a particular purchase category for inclusion in the index, which means that this index will never be able to capture 100% of actual transformational spending. Think about it: some portion of people who use, say, dating apps probably do so motivated at least in part by a desire to live a healthier, wealthier, wiser life. Many others probably are motivated by, um, other reasons. So we don’t include dating apps and services, even though there’s an argument for doing so.

We include in the index only categories of consumer spending, purchases, and sectors that our research or common sense indicates the overwhelming majority of people make based on HWW motivations. And we’re okay with the idea that we will always underestimate the levels of transformational spending that are taking place.

Our first Transformational Spending Index estimates that consumers spent $4.1 trillion on transformational spending in the United States in 2015 (download the index in full at TransformationalConsumer.com).

I repeat: this is not a niche. A full 60% of U.S. consumer spending reflects transformational spending, and that is calculated very conservatively.

One more thing: many products you would not think of as transformational can be. And on the other hand, not every purchase can or should be marketed as transformational or “health washed” in an effort to appeal to Transformational Consumers. Whether a purchase is transformational is determined entirely by whether the customer’s motivation for buying it was driven by an HWW goal or Aspiration.

Let’s take two different products within the category of household products: soap and garbage bags.

Many soap purchases are not transformational. But some are. Unilever, for example, has been selling soap for years in developing countries, with content marketing focused on delivering the message that hand washing prevents disease and saves lives. 4 When customers in these countries buy soap with the motivation of keeping their families healthy and well, those purchases are transformational.

Even in industrialized countries, when people buy one soap versus another because it is natural or nontoxic, their motivation is health, and that’s a transformational purchase, too.

But not all soap purchase decisions are.

Contrast the case of soap with that of garbage bags. Very, very few people are motivated by their health when they buy garbage bags. There’s a tiny sliver of customers who think about the health of the planet or are buying compostable bags, but to call this product category transformational would strain credibility. So we don’t.

How to Think Like a Transformational Consumer

Tech, Tuna, and Toys That Transform

When people first learn about the Transformational Consumer, they very commonly assume that the conversation is limited to health products or financial brands. Not so. The aim of the framework is to get us to start thinking about our customers and their lives and the role we can play in them the same way they do.

They think much more broadly and much more flexibly about how products help them achieve their goals.

The only qualifier on whether a brand could become transformational is (a) whether people buy it in an effort to live healthier, wealthier, or wiser or (b) whether people choose it over another, competing product because it furthers their health, wealth, and wisdom goals. Through this lens, you will find transformation in surprising places:

Image   Tech. Obviously, health tech, EdTech, and FinTech companies are often transformational. But so are collaborative-consumption companies like Airbnb and Lyft, which empower people to use their homes and vehicles to make money and change their finances (pay off bills, start a business, etc.).

Lyft’s CMO, Kira Wampler, once told me that almost 60% of Lyft drivers in Los Angeles are actually musicians, actors, and artists who say they are able to keep at their creative endeavors because they can make income by driving. Airbnb’s head of product, Joe Zadeh, said he sees both the company’s hosts and its guests as Transformational Consumers: the guests because they want noncommercial travel experiences that help them develop as people and the hosts because they are putting their real estate resources to their best and highest use. 5

Most business and consumer office software, such as operating systems, aims to make people more productive at work and manage their time more efficiently, both of which fall under “wealthy” and “wise.” And the tech giants are also taking a transformational bent. Google’s “Goals” features allows people to dedicate time to their aspirations on their calendars, 6 and Apple has invested billions in reaching Transformational Consumers with the Apple Watch. 7

Image   Tuna. A friend of mine once challenged me about a photo of a woman buying tuna on the TCI website, asking me, “How is tuna helping her achieve her goals?” He was surprised when I shared the survey results that over 35% of Transformational Consumers specify “high-protein” as a guideline for how they try to eat. (Only 17% of non-Transformational Consumers say the same.) Buying a can of tuna may even help a Transformational Consumer achieve such goals as “save money by taking a lunch to work” or “eat better by cooking more at home.”

Image   Toys. Many parents pick and purchase toys on the basis of educational and developmental features, facilitating their children’s developmental health and, arguably, wisdom as well. Both Lego 8 and Disney 9 have deep, secondary businesses that provide education and training for businesspeople, helping them become wealthier and wiser—Google “Lego Serious Play Method” and “Disney Institute.”

As business leaders, we often think about what’s possible for our businesses by sector and industry, by whether we’re a start-up or an incumbent, by whether we operate a brick-and-mortar or are fully online. But Transformational Consumers look at products through the lens of the changes they are trying to make and whether our products can help make them. That’s it. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to reach and engage billions of people worldwide because of your own limited thinking about your business.

From Consumer to Character

The archetypal Transformational Consumer is constantly looking for brands that will help them change their behavior and lives for the healthier, wealthier, and wiser. And when they find those brands, magic happens. Transformational Consumers will be the protagonists of the great company-customer love stories of our time.

But love stories aren’t written about archetypes. They are written about characters with rich, nuanced interior and exterior lives.

As characters, Transformational Consumers are real, living, breathing people, with unique visions, skills, and challenges. They are individual human beings, with personal flaws, fears, and dreams.

Contrary to conventional business wisdom, engaging these Transformational Consumers is not about telling a story of your brand or your company. It’s about crafting an authentic, relatable, warts-and-all before-and-after story about them and delivering products and content that help them progress along their journeys. It’s about telling a tale of the transformation that’s possible in their lives and about telling it in their own natural language. It’s about casting them in the role of hero on their own transformational journey and then providing the resources to make this story come true, over and over, for a lifetime.

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Endorsements

“Tara Nelson describes a key audience for marketers seeking growth: seek customers (actually, humans) seeking growth as well!” - Seth Godin, author of Purple Cow

The Transformational Consumer  offers a new lens on two age-old business problems: how to get customers to care about what you sell, and how to get them to come back over and over again. Tara has created a manual for a new way to do business: by sparking a virtuous cycle of transformation for your company and your customers.”  —Pete Flint, founder and former Chairman and CEO, Trulia
“This is not a book about marketing. It's a vision for how businesses can connect with customers at a deep, human level, becoming a regular stop on their everyday life journeys. It reveals how to take the limits off people's lives and build a business with devoted customers in the process.”
—James White, former Chairman, President, and CEO, Jamba Juice; and board member, Conscious Capitalism “Tara draws upon her vast experience to create a playbook to unlock the power behind the Transformational Consumer to create long-lasting brands and build strong corporate cultures.” —Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer, Procter & Gamble 
“It's easier than ever to get an app, website, and product built. The hard part is getting anyone to care or take notice. Tara completely changes how founders should think about their products and creates a marketing framework that's accessible to all. This is an absolute must-read for anyone in business who wants to create more value for customers. It's changed how I think about my company, from our mission to how we deal with competition."
—Jihan Thompson, former Health Editor, O, The Oprah Magazine, and founder, Swivel Beauty App
“Tara-Nicholle Nelson ups the ante in her new book, 
The Transformational Consumer , arguing that we should be engaging our  customers  in a higher purpose, to help them be more effortful and intentional in how they live their lives, to call on their aspirations rather than their addictions. Luckily, that desire already exists; we just have to be willing to meet it.” - Dylan Schleicher, 800-CEO-READ

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