Digital nomads demand changes to societal norms

The COVID-19 pandemic opened the eyes of millions to the joys of remote working and untethering oneself from a physical workplace, but for digital nomads, this has long been a way of life.

It's estimated that there are around 17 million digital nomads in the United States alone, with this number growing rapidly in recent years as countries around the world have begun offering digital nomad visas in an attempt to attract these knowledge workers.

People in rich countries are starting to ditch the idea of the "good life" their parents had. The environment is in trouble, jobs are harder to get and keep, and basic things like houses, education, and living costs are getting more expensive. Many now think that owning a home and working 9-to-5 aren't doable or desirable anymore. Instead, some are choosing to be digital nomads, skipping the hassles of big mortgages and material possesions and making more money by living in places where it's cheaper.

Changing the global marketplace

Research from King's College London explores how the rise of nomadism is changing the global marketplace. They find that there are three major changes in consumer behavior being driven by this trend:

For instance, people once aimed for a stable life, collecting things and settling down – what the researchers call the "solid" way of living in our studies. But now, that solid lifestyle is slipping away, especially since the pandemic hit, leaving many feeling uncertain.

Millennials and Gen Zs, in particular, find it tough to buy homes and even struggle with rent in many cities. As a response, people are rethinking their desire for a solid life and leaning towards flexibility – the ability to be flexible, move around easily, and not be tied down to things or places.

New infrastructure

The digital nomad lifestyle is often painted as carefree and full of adventure while working on a laptop. In reality, living without a fixed home takes effort, involving tasks like finding short-term housing, work, healthcare, financial services, and education for nomadic families. Interestingly, these challenges also present business opportunities.

For instance, working remotely requires a reliable internet connection, limiting the places suitable for digital nomads. They tend to choose destinations with robust internet infrastructure, prompting companies to invest in creating appealing hubs for digital nomads, like Bali and Bulgaria, which are popular in this regard.

More broadly, digital nomads are shedding light on how brands are struggling to keep up with the needs of modern, globally mobile consumers.

Changing values and goals

The third trend underpinning the rise of nomadism is the general shift in people's values and goals. No longer do we feel the need to remain in soulless offices chasing an American Dream that’s ever more elusive.

These significant changes in our lifestyle and work patterns have elevated nomadic living as a liberating alternative to the conventional way of life. Free from the constraints of a fixed office space and material possessions, participants in the study expressed feeling more in control of their life journeys and better equipped to adjust to the evolving realities of modern living.

One of the respondents revealed that the nomadic lifestyle allowed people to live for themselves as they rethink their life values and get off of the traditional treadmill that forces us to sacrifice those values for things we may not even really want or need.

Breaking norms

In various cultures, nomadic living often challenges conventional norms, breaking away from established traditions. Startups like Plumia are introducing products that normalize and support global mobility as a lifestyle choice through visa options, policy discussions, and community building. Brands can actively contribute to reshaping this discourse and contribute to destigmatizing less "solid" lifestyles.

In marketing, it's widely recognized that the marketplace plays a pivotal role in shaping ideological discussions and addressing collective anxieties during times of rapid social change.

The researchers cite examples from Nike and Dove to highlight the importance of cultural resonance in brand strategy. Marketers who grasp evolving trends are better positioned to gain credibility with customers, not only by offering unique benefits but also by staying attuned to the value systems and ideologies governing how people navigate daily life and find their place in the world.

The research outlines the changing nomadic logic of lifestyle and consumption, with consumers seeking more flexible and adaptable ways of living. As the allure of "solid" living diminishes, brands have an opportunity to stay relevant by leading in this ideological shift. While many consumers may no longer aspire to permanently own more things, they continue to rely on the marketplace to shape their daily lives, albeit in more "liquid" ways.

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