1 March 2019

The 8 key traits of changemakers in 2019 

The Akin co-founder Sarah Johnson on what her research taught her about changemakers in 2019

A Changemaker has many names: early adopter, progressive consumer, and sometimes, (incorrectly) hipster. They are the elusive consumer group that drives global change and adoption, and also the most difficult demographic for brands to understand, as they evolve constantly.

We recently released our annual Changemaker Report as part of our ongoing drive to better understand and pin down these most influential of consumers. To create the report, we surveyed 1,800 Changemakers* across nine global markets (UK, Brazil, Sweden, Germany, Russia, China, Nigeria, US, and India) and identified eight fundamental attitudes driving their decisions, from a growing desire to better understand context and emotional intelligence in the era of fake news, to surprising expressions of vulnerability and romanticism. We believe they will affect behaviours for the next 18 months across all industries and businesses.

* The Akin worked with Opinium Research to conduct this survey and identified the 1,800 Changemakers through a screening process comprising questions on life goals, values, behaviours and attitudes towards brands.


92% of Changemakers say flexibility is important to them. 
68% think their identity is made up of experiencing different cultures than their own. 

People are seeing the importance of being flexible in their beliefs to navigate disputatious times. For Changemakers, this behaviour is now prevalent not just in their lifestyles, but also in their opinions and attitudes. Many have mixed feelings and contradictory ideas, becoming walking idiosyncrasies and, therefore, living in a permanent state of ‘Ambi'. This is a positive and progressive stance: by being flexible in their beliefs and so much more open to change, this group are blurring the divisions and populating the grey middle areas that will help shape the future.

This refreshing state of openness was reflected in the street-wear brand Advisory Board Crystals collaboration with Wikipedia: an $85 T-shirt with all proceeds donated to the Wikimedia Foundation in a bid to ‘keep knowledge free’.


85% of Changemakers would switch brands based on their material uses and manufacturing processes.

People are seeking sustainability and stability that they can relate to and invest in, and they are increasingly attempting to put as much into society as they take out by creating ‘net positive’ strategies. Changemakers are leading the commitment to make a lasting impact on the planet’s future, not just with small changes or well-meaning products and campaigns, but by exploring philosophical and social ideologies such as circular and closed loop systems. Brands and campaigns that tap this mindset on a deep level will catch the Changemaker’s eye.
Etat Libre D’Orange’s 2018 ‘I Am Trash’ fragrance was made using an up-cycled extract process that distills oils from used organic material. The perfume condemns the waste luxury perfumes create and its creation was driven by asking: how can we reuse the exorbitant amount of waste left over from the industry’s process of fabricating perfume?


52% of Changemakers struggle to differentiate between fact and opinion  
82% state they regularly ask for more context

People have a greater need for context in the age of pseudo-news and misinformation. Changemakers especially have realised the importance of having multiple viewpoints and gazes on subjects, shown in the rise of review culture, which provides a spectrum of narratives and experiences rather than a restrictive binary choice. They are also bored with ‘insta filters’ and portrayals of perfect lives (Instagram versus reality is a growing movement, check out @celebface on Instagram). Brands that try to hide information or divert attention to reduce context risk being condemned in an age of transparency.

Physical context is also growing in importance. In September, Canada Goose opened a new store in Short Hills, New Jersey, where they debuted their Cold Room concept where shoppers could test how the brand’s jackets keep them warm by stepping into a room with a temperature of -25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit).


87% of social media users would consider quitting, mainly to connect with people in real life, to spend time on more valuable things, and to feel more present. 

We live in a perpetual thirst trap. Our notifications cause a distraction, blue light keeps our addicted eyes on bright screens. We struggle to disconnect and focus. Changemakers have realised the danger in this, with digital detoxes being commonplace in their weekend or holiday plans. Trying to be more physically connected to the world around us, as well as one another, can be done through both digital and physical strategies. Changemakers are looking for allies to help them inhabit the moment. A Swedish insurance company, Länsförsäkringar, known for its work with social sustainability and digital health, wants to help people regain life in the real world by creating the Skärmfri Lamp. Designed by Stendahls, the Skärmfri limits daily screen time and turns red when users have been online for 30 minutes. 


71% of changemakers feel we are losing our humanness 
90% are trying to improve their emotional intelligence 
85% say the more advanced technology becomes, the more they want to interact with real people  

Today, our reality has changed beyond what many would have imagined just 40 years ago. We now live in two worlds: the physical and the digital. Society has taken to technology and science to make huge leaps but at a cost. Changemakers feel that we are losing our humanness. Whether that is our ability to be empathetic, to receive and give acts of kindness, or to identify weaknesses. As automation continues to replace skills, jobs and even thoughtfulness, there has never been a greater need for human connection and community. Brands that work to increase human connection will win winners with Changemakers.

Google’s Neighbourly app allows India’s rapidly urbanising consumers to connect with others nearby, so they can crowdsource hyper-local information, and forge new communities – and new roots – close to home in the process. Interestingly, our Changemakers in India were among those who felt the most strongly that we are losing our humanness.


52% of Changemakers believe that freedom is a luxury  
68% want to use their privilege for good. 

People are starting to understand that real luxury is freedom and the privilege of making a change. Your politics, bank, social media accounts and underwear brand really do matter, not just for common currency but for the fate of capitalism and our wider society. Changemakers are at a watershed moment, where many are realising their power but also the responsibility their advantages bring. They are using that privilege to invest in values and constructs, not just products or labels.

Making Money Make Change is a weekend retreat that taps into young adults’ desire to do more with their wealth, uniting affluent twentysomethings to ‘generate visions of a future in which wealth, land and power are equitably shared’. Considerate spending and the pursuit of goods and services that illustrate a greater awareness of people, the planet and social causes. 


65% of changemakers claim they are romantic  
50% believe that we are losing the art of romance 

In the past few months alone, The Atlantic, Vice and Refinery29 have all reported the decline of, and the nostalgia for, romance, fuelled by a decade of swiping left or right. While online networks are changing how people meet and flirt, over 25% of the adult world are single by choice. With this cohort having aspirations beyond 2.4 children, many brand messages miss the mark. Whether single, partnered up or polyamorous, romance is still needed. Changemakers realise this doesn’t have to mean a love affair in the traditional sense. The online dating space is beginning to change, with platforms such as Instagram overtaking the likes of Tinder because they offer more self-expression and an ability to learn more about a potential partner. 
Room 301
is the new project from The Kimpton Everly Hotel. Described as a social experiment, Room 301 explores the human connection with interactive elements that allow guests to share their experiences with previous and future occupants. Guests can leave notes, share personal Spotify playlists and even pay forward rewards points for the hotel.


55% believe loneliness is one of our generation's most significant problems 
70% think we should work harder to make people feel connected and supported 
41% say they have felt lonely in the last week. 

People are getting high off notifications, but remain desperate for company. Changemakers are recognising their vulnerability and utilising a series of coping mechanisms to combat loneliness, whether that means getting a weighted blanket or going to a hug café. They are beginning to see the difference between being physically and digitally connected, and between lonely and alone.  
Refinery29 launched ‘Lonely Girls Club’ for women who feel isolated due to health conditions, bad relationships, their age, motherhood or the adverse effects of social media. The project is looking at how to tackle the loneliness epidemic by using technology to connect people in more authentic and lasting ways and by introducing them to the networks and organisations “IRL" through book clubs, sports teams, or over food and cocktails.



While we know Changemakers morph radically and rapidly, these traits will trickle down and inform a longer lasting trail of broader consumer behaviour throughout 2019 and beyond. Considering these characteristics and stances will be essential for brands who want to thrive. The strategy should be to take all of these points on board and work out what nuances of them to incorporate into your brand messaging, products and campaigns.


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