Why brands must tackle the blurring boundaries between work and life

In the era of the 'fourth space', where home and work are becoming ever-more amalgamated, brands need to rethink their strategies, writes Nicola Kemp.

First Coca-Cola's Jonathan Mildenhall coined the term 'work-life integration'; now Facebook executive Emily White has waxed lyrical on the 'work-life merge'. The inescapable fact is that technology not only enables, but also encourages us to be always available; the boundaries between work and life have blurred.

This shift is bad news for Starbucks - the coffee-shop chain that aspired to become the 'third space' in consumers' lives, after home and work.

Brands must now get to grips with the reality of the 'fourth space', where consumers are increasingly unable, or unwilling, to segment their work and personal domains.

For an industry that historically has targeted consumers by segmenting their state of mind, the repercussions of this shift are significant. The mental step-change that marketers have long counted on, that 'me time' in which consumers switch off, is becoming more elusive.

The blurring of work and personal space has affected where, when and how people are making decisions.

In the @Work State of Mind research project, Rick Segal, worldwide president and chief practice officer at Gyro, explains: 'Productivity-enhancing technology has not served to increase the amount of leisure time we enjoy - quite the contrary. It's caused work to spill over its banks, flooding more hours of the day and more days of the week - curiously, as a matter of people's own behaviour and choices.'

With people juggling so many competing demands on their time, brands must work harder than ever to offer products and services to suit consumers' more diverse and ever-more muddled lives.

The shading of the delineation between work and life has changed our lives for better and for worse. If the recession has taught us anything, though, it is that, in the confines of the workplace at least, every one of us is disposable.

Technology has brought with it previously unfathomable freedoms, but the freedom to switch off is perhaps the most important of all.

THE UPSHOT

What brands should know about the 'fourth space'

Work as a state of mind

'Just as the boundaries of the physical and digital worlds are blurring with the rapidly increasing penetration of smartphones, tablets, Facebook and location-based apps like Shopkick and Foursquare, so are the boundaries between work and home,' says Nathan Estruth, vice-president, Procter & Gamble FutureWorks NDB. 'Increasingly, work is no longer constrained by space or even by time of day, but rather by an individual's personal preferences and state of mind at any given moment.'

From hobbies to portfolio careers

Consumers have a growing number of channels to share their passions. A wealth of start-ups have been conceived by marketers who remain committed to making time for the things that matter to them.

Mind the merge: the end of 'having it all'

In the rush of executives falling over themselves to declare how they have successfully merged their work and personal lives, it's easy to ignore an important market shift. For Generation Y, the concept of success is defined more outside the traditional corporate hierarchy; those brought up with the promise of having it all are rejecting it in the pursuit of balance.

Nicola Kemp is Marketing's head of features. Follow her on Twitter: @nickykc.

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