In both popular culture and business conversations, time is often referred to transactionally.
Some common expressions we use are: time waits for no one, time is money, beat the clock and time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.
Time and one’s personal relationship with it can become either a source of anxiety, where it stands in the way between the individual and their aspirations, thus a need to resolve or it drives meaningful engagement with the things that matter in life, thus a need to reframe mindsets.
It is useful for brands to understand the cultural underpinnings in attitudes towards time and move towards aligning product value propositions to play a role in helping consumers build meaningful relationships with time.
Varying attitudes to time Attitudes towards time are shaped by cultural beliefs and norms. Broadly, there are two attitudes towards time. One is characterised by Monochronic cultures where time is fixed and constrains our choices. People have to work within the constraints and work around it to fit schedules and timelines.
Time can be measured with the metric system commonly used in modern societies. There is a limited amount of time available, and people in monochronic cultures generally like to do one thing at a time, structuring routines and their day in an orderly manner. There is an appropriate time and place for everything. In this thought system, time is linear, and emphasises management and control.
The focus is to plan ahead, thinking about future results when organising and scheduling activities today.
The other attitude is reflective of Polychronic cultures. Time is considered a servant. A tool. People make adjustments to their time to suit their needs. There is always time available, in that it is considered fluid and expansive. People in polychronic cultures generally like to do multiple things at a time, without necessarily having a clear or fixed timeline for when the various tasks might be completed.
Value is placed on interpersonal relationships. The focus is on being immersed in the present, time is non-linear and the emphasis is on experience and relations.
This typology represents extremes and in reality for any society, it is very much a mix of the two attitudes. Nonetheless, we are able to at least characterise a dominant mode of how consumers relate to time in modern society.
Modern industrial societies are built on the legacy of Scientific Management theories, influencing our perception and interaction with time. The focus is on optimising, fully maximising every unit of time and labour to achieve the highest productivity and generate the most efficient output as possible.
Life in general is also a linear trajectory of milestones to be clocked in, with age a big factor dictating expectations and limitations in imagining what is possible and what is not. You grow up, receive an education, start work, set up a family, retire and gradually prepare for end of life. In this aspect, it is skewed towards the Monochronic cultural model.
Translated into everyday life for both personal and work domains, this can be extremely pressurising for consumers. Modern work cultures drive workers to weigh every activity, engagement, and demand on their time with its expected results and benefits. Life becomes a routine organised around performance and productivity, even for personal lifestyle interests, passions and connections. In times like Covid, this model of life and attitude towards time has created more problems as the boundaries blur between work and personal time and space.
An opportunity for brands to reframe and reimagine our relationships with time
Consumer Tension reflecting Monochronic Cultures
The anxiety in this framing is one of losing or wasting time. Time is a commodity, a transaction, and consumers are constantly engaged in a mentality of cost-benefit analysis; is this activity or relationship worth investing my time in? What are my returns? How can I minimise loss of time and maximise gains? How can I make better trade-offs that help me achieve more? There is only so much time but so many things to do and accomplish. The fear in this mentality is one of a LOSS OF CONTROL, which might lead to failed dreams and goals.
“I wish I could do so much more but it always feels like I am running out of time.”
For brands, this means developing products and communications targeted at helping consumers save as much time as possible or help them manage their time better to optimise productivity.
VISA’s Tap/Wave to Pay product helps consumers to save invaluable time with quicker payments and shorter queues making daily routines more productive and efficient.
Consumer Tension reflecting Polychronic Cultures Consumer trends today are shifting towards experience and pleasure. Leading a life where everything needs to be planned with intense future orientation can be highly stressful and alienating. Consumers start to question the meaning and purpose of life in such an ‘always on’ mode, with routines packed to the brim so as not to lose any minute or second in the day, lest you fall behind or miss out on opportunities.
Consumers today are paying more attention to achieving a balance between achievements and enjoyment and productivity and pleasure. Life is more than pursuing a pot of gold, it is an adventure to be experienced, it is about friendships and connections that matter. The anxiety is one of missing out as well, but not material achievements and economic opportunities, rather, it is the fear of missing out on what a good life has to offer – the present moment with all its beauty and flaws. Consumers want to reimagine and reframe their perception of time in everyday life but don’t necessarily know how to.
“I wish to have a better relationship with time, but I don’t know how to start, and I feel guilty for slowing down to focus on experiences and enjoyment.”
For brands, this means an opportunity to play the role of a coach or a friend who encourages the consumer to reframe and reimagine their relationship with time, to focus on building meaningful experiences with their time. To reassure them it is permissible and legitimate to be fully present or even to indulge in past memories, because these things matter and strengthen the connection we have with ourselves and others.
Brands can help consumers do one of three things:
1. Appreciate time Help consumers stay in the present, see it as fluid and not fixed, slow down and allow yourself space to relax and do “nothing”. Slow shopping has been a trend targeted at encouraging consumers to stay in the store longer and appreciate the retail experience, in contrast and response to the efficiency and speed offered by growing e-commerce. Retail stores, from skincare (such as Origins) to groceries (such as Wegmans) to home living (think Ikea) to fashion (Selfridges in 2013), are redesigning their physical stores to provide an immersive experience to make it easier for the consumer to stay longer, appreciate the items they are browsing, deliberate over those choices, enjoy the restaurant or bar, or even a quiet room to truly relax.
2. Celebrate time Help consumers indulge in both past memories and present shared experiences, see time as a gift to friends and those who matter. Laugh, cry, go crazy, and don’t feel guilty. Ferrero Rocher is not all about premium snacking or gifting. It has rooted itself in communicating “Celebrate The Moment”, encouraging consumers to celebrate the moment with loved ones and the people they care about, because that is what life’s golden pleasures are all about.
3. Enhance time Brands can help consumers double the pleasure, double the enjoyment. Help add new experiences, make them even more memorable and joyous. Coke has rooted itself in standing for “Open Happiness” for some time now, encouraging consumers to embrace positivity and joy, with the product experience promising to enhance pleasurable connections with others.
Key takeaway tasks for brands?
Know how target consumer segments understand and relate to time, including cultural nuances and contexts
Design product propositions targeted at helping consumers to either save and batter manage time—a nod to the monochronic cultures and the emphasis on performance and productivity. Or recentre and create time for meaningful experiences—a move towards polychronic cultures and prioritising presence and relationships
Design strategies and campaigns that align to help consumers appreciate, celebrate and enhance time in everyday life.