We Breaking Bluers are big on extra-curricular activities. When we aren’t cycling from Glasgow to Battersea, supporting our company charities or … supporting our local pubs … we like nothing more than a natter about the broader issues that affect the work we do. A few months ago, we hit on the idea of ‘home,’ suspecting that what it means is changing, and that brands should show consumers they understand.
Of course, the social and cultural context that retailers and brands are operating in is always changing. But it seemed to us that – for younger generations especially – the meaning of ‘home’ is changing significantly.
To explore this in depth, we carried out a couple of informal focus groups with millennials (early 20s and late 20s) in London, did some desk research, and carried out a semiotic review of ‘home’ in popular culture. You can see it all summed up in an infographic here.
So, do brands and retailers need to recalibrate the way they think and talk about ‘home’?
Yes they do. Here’s why, and here’s how.
Home’s about ‘a space for me,’ and more strongly associated with independence than ever before
Living at home with parents for longer than previous generations did, and having to share a home you rent with others (who are often initially strangers) makes ‘home’ even more about being independent and creating your own space. Whether it’s a flat-share, university hall of residence, or somewhere you’ve bought, having ‘a place of my own’ is about being able to choose who you spend your time with, and doing things the way you want to, without having anyone to answer to.
Products and services that enable personalisation and play on the idea of independence can tap into this.
Key concepts: functional and decorative items that can be reconfigured, change colour, upgraded by purchasing peripherals
Verbal and visual cues: outdoors, freedom, summer, light, nature, rebellion, adventure
Home’s a place young adults create wherever they are
When I were a lass (OK, when I was in my early 20s, so about 15 years ago) renting was easy. There were loads of rooms and properties to choose from, and we moved house because we wanted to. More and more, I hear my younger colleagues share their tales of the 10 other people who went to look at the room they were interested in, the landlord who announced 2 weeks after they moved in that he/ she was selling the flat, the landlord who refuses to do anything about the broken boiler. Maybe I was insanely lucky, but none of this ever happened to me.
Anyway, the millennials in our groups described moving from one London rental to another pretty regularly. And a pattern emerged in what they described as their coping strategies: increasingly, they depend on a few significant objects that symbolise and signify ‘home.’ Small, personal, transportable belongings (sorry, not fridge freezers) that can be moved from one place to another: plants, framed photos, lamps, rugs. A few of these, and home can be created, wherever you are.
Key concepts: Robust! Trusty and hardwearing. Compact and portable. Visual-neutral – can sit happily among most colour schemes, from bare bricks to busy wallpaper.
Verbal and visual cues: metallics, wood, natural fibres. Clearly washable (instructions included), and clearly easy to disassemble and reassemble (again, instructions included or so intuitive as to be unnecessary).
Home’s about self-actualisation, not convention; belonging, not owning
Spoiler alert: the traditional ‘order’ of marriage, house, baby, no longer stands. Buying your first home doesn’t necessarily happen around the time you get married – nor might it ever happen. It’s not the milestone it used to be. So it’s not tied to finding ‘the one’ or starting a family.
What’s stayed the same though, is the idea that home means happiness, whatever form that happiness comes in. I mean, who doesn’t want a happy home, right?
But erase the default image of the happy home as containing a-husband-a-wife-two-kids. Have you seen the Lloyds Bank ad featuring the bloke and the strapline ‘He said yes’? The ‘coming out and everything’s OK’ narrative isn’t novel anymore; nor is it enough of a line for brands to toe. Semiotic analysis told us that at the same time as showing us joy and excitement, Lloyds is conveying the conventional aspects of LGBTQ+ relationships (another spoiler: some of us who are in them also like being happy and having somewhere permanent to live) and including one here in a way that wins the consumer over. You can’t not wish this guy and his partner all the best.
And while we’re debunking the two point four children thing, the qual gave us a salutary reminder that for many in ‘generation rent’ home ownership isn’t actually an aspiration. Owning a home feels so out of reach to some, that speaking of it as a given feels alien and frustrates them. They speak a little defensively, a little resignedly, of having found other hopes and dreams. A semiotic reading of many of the home insurance and home services ads out there indicates that plenty of brands don’t know this, and risk shutting out their next generation of customers.
Home still means happiness and belonging – but it increasingly doesn’t mean convention or ownership.
Key concepts: Belonging not owning (‘being at home’ vs ‘owning a home’). Normalisation of postmodern/ non-nuclear family structures. Buying financial products (including mortgages) unrelated to change in marital/ parental status. Self-acceptance and celebration of diversity in all forms.
Verbal and visual cues: The diverse/ unconventional presented as typical; not remarkable
It’s about emotional attachment to a local area, as well as the building you live in
As we’ve seen, for renters, and millennial renters in particular, the physical space of the home (our ‘four walls’) is less secure than it has been for generations. In fact, we observed many of the focus group participants talking about the sense of home that they now forge in public places. For them, home’s become about specific areas of a town or city, as opposed to a specific building. It’s about the ‘feel’ of the local area, the people, the attractions – a specific local café or pub – and the memories made in them. These ‘homes from home’ can be available even if the building we call ‘home’ changes.
Key concepts: Community, communality, contribution
Verbal and visual cues: Hardcopy photos and other mementoes, loyalty schemes, local issues
Home is a new paradox
Stability, security, roots … versus independence, individuality, change and diversity. While it’s not a clear-cut swap from one set of values to the other, we can’t deny that there are new rules in play.
From product design to media strategy, brands need to acknowledge that the meaning of ‘home’ is changing in important ways, and we can’t represent or talk about home the same way anymore.