The Omni Sense of Place

The digital age and omnichannel marketplace have blurred the traditional definitions of location. Our sense of physical place is affected by the digital ecosystem. Today’s householder has the ability to connect and engage socially and to peruse and purchase goods and services, while almost anywhere. Marketers have the opportunity and challenge to capitalize on the limitless aspects of this always-on marketplace.

The digital age has not phased—and arguably has helped drive—more people to abandon small towns and settle in big cities. The importance of vicinity to the workplace, shopping, entertainment, public transportation, and other services is highly ingrained in Millennials and is spanning a growing reach onto other generations.

Let’s look back to a sense of place to gain a perspective on these trends. A sense of place is broadly defined as one’s surroundings and the emotional response and levels of attachment made with that surrounding. The natural and manufactured elements of those surroundings and their cultural relevance are all part of a sense of place. Factors such as aspects of the digital age and psychographic differences between generations have affected the sense of place for the American householder.

The place we live maybe a hobby farm beyond the city or a chic apartment in a revitalized downtown neighborhood. Each may provide equal footing as a home, office or place to connect and shop for household goods. And despite earlier predictions to the contrary, location matters today more than ever.

The proof is in the numbers. According to the new SFW Householder study, key factors of importance in sense of place vary significantly among generations, with some factors are two and three times more important to Millennials than Baby Boomers.

Importance factors of a sense of place on where one calls home show dramatic differences.

  • Living close to work:
    • Millennials: 45%
    • Generation X: 37%
    • Baby Boomers: 19%
  • Living close to entertainment
    • Millennials: 22%
    • Generation X: 17%
    • Baby Boomers: 11%

Connection with living surroundings varies, as does the sense of permanence of one’s living space.

  • Outdoor living spaces are important:
    • Millennials: 33%
    • Generation X: 40%
    • Baby Boomers: 43%
  • Where I live is temporary:
    • Millennials: 16%
    • Generation X: 9%
    • Baby Boomers: 4%

Finally, living arrangements also vary greatly by generation.

  • Own home (instead of rent):
    • Millennials: 48%
    • Generation X: 72%
    • Baby Boomers: 87%
  • Live in a single-family, stand-alone home (instead of apartment, townhouse or condo):
    • Millennials: 66%
    • Generation X: 78%
    • Baby Boomers: 83%

The SFW Householder study demonstrates the demographic and psychographic differences that drive a sense of place among generations. But Millennials are not the only generation who seek proximity. Recent data from the Census and a study released by the National Association of Retailers show Baby Boomers migrating to cities where Millennials have notoriously settled. Urban centers are the epicenter of the new demand-based sharing economy. Meanwhile, the reports show maturing Millennials—who have delayed the average age to own a first home by nearly a decade—beginning to flock to the suburbs to seek more living space.

What defines a sense of place is more complex than ever, giving rise to new challenges and opportunities for commerce. The importance of omnichannel marketing is in part a response to the blurred lines in sense of place. Consumers choose to hop in and out of retail shopping experiences by way of a 15-minute car ride, a short city-block walk, or while sitting under a tree in their backyard. It’s their choice. While brand experiences within those various interfaces should inarguably be consistent, the marketing tactics relative to the generation of your target audience, and their physical sense of place have to be considered.