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NextGen Magazine


Marketing Professors: Rise of Digital Nomadism Signals Cultural Shift

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Feb 9, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to digital nomadism, a way of life that allows remote workers to live more affordably in other countries. But its implications go beyond the work environment and suggest a major cultural shift, two marketing professors wrote in the Harvard Business Review.

Digital nomadism is “a lifestyle where one leverages remote work to travel and live in varying, often affordable locations around the world,” and it has been rising in popularity, wrote Giana M. Eckhardt of King’s Business School, King’s College London, and Aleksandrina Atanasova of Bayes Business School (formerly Cass), City University of London.

The authors’ research identified three major trends that are reshaping consumer behavior and that present significant opportunities for brands: the end of rootedness and need for flexibility; the need for new infrastructures and services that cater to nomadic living; and the possibility of shaping the discourse around new values and lifestyles.

More than 17 million American workers identified as digital nomads, an increase of 131 percent from 2019, one survey found, helped somewhat by digital nomad visas—permits that allow people to work remotely in a foreign country.

“Whereas most digital nomads are from the West, the expansion of this lifestyle affects markets around the world, as local economies transform to cater to the influx of remote workers,” they wrote.

In the past, consumers were focused on rooted attainment, such as accumulating possessions and settling down—a “solid” way of life, as the authors put it. Since the pandemic, however, many have found that a solid way of living is becoming out of reach. The high cost of  housing is one reason why. In response, consumers are turning toward flexibility, or the ability to be agile, mobile and untethered from things and places—what the others refer to as a “liquid” way of life.

An “increasing demand for access rather than ownership” is a manifestation of this trend. Startup ByRotation, a peer-to-peer fashion rental platform, allows consumers to reinvent themselves by renting fashion from others and offers them opportunities to use their wardrobe as a revenue stream. Property developers in New York have begun to include “Common Goods” rooms or vending machines stocked with household items, such as vacuum cleaners, bikes, picnic coolers, tents, and printers, that residents can access for free or for a rental fee.

As consumers shift toward "strategic curation of owned objects and temporary access to just about everything else," this more liquid way of living offers opportunities for brands to “be valuable partners in facilitating consumers’ growing preference for access rather than ownership,” the authors wrote. “This is a call to action for brands to rethink existing business and product models to enable this level of flexibility.”

As working remotely requires access to stable and reliable internet service, which can limit the number of places for digital nomads to be located, digital nomads often prioritize destinations with strong internet infrastructure. In so doing, they call attention to the many ways brands are lagging behind the needs of modern, globally mobile consumers.

Some brands in the banking sector offer flexible currency accounts and credit services that can be managed entirely online and have no international transaction fees. Some governments—notably Estonia and Bermuda—issue digital nomad visas to attract globally mobile consumers and offer programs to help them with issues such as taxation, The Wall Street Journal reported.

With the increase in digital nomadism, new services have arisen. Japan Airlines launched a wardrobe rental service that allows travelers to rent destination-appropriate clothes to be delivered to them upon arrival, eliminating the need to carry luggage. Some companies are abandoning the concept of the 12-month lease in favor of membership-based renting, in which consumers can rent move-in-ready apartments for any length of stay in hundreds of cities.

One startup, Plumia, offers products that promote global mobility as a lifestyle choice through visa options, policy discussions, community building, and other services. Such brands “contribute toward the de-stigmatization of less-“solid” lifestyles,” they wrote.

“As the appeal of 'solid' living is waning, brands have the opportunity to maintain relevance by being at the forefront of this ideological shift,” Eckhardt and Atanasova wrote in conclusion. “While many consumers may no longer want to own more things permanently, they still turn to the marketplace to mediate their everyday lives, albeit in more 'liquid' ways.”