Spot Trends Win Customers

October 25, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The online revolution has only just begun and the Internet already has more than 800 million "addicted" devotees. It's "online oxygen" for the masses. It's a lifeline that many people now consider an absolute necessity in their daily lives.

The online revolution is just one of many consumer trends going on globally, according to Reinier Evers, a trend spotter by profession and founder of trendwatching.com Web site.

"Do you know anyone under the age of 25 who doesn't go online? We don't. For younger people being without Internet access is like being without oxygen," he told a group of 600 gathered at DeVos Place for Fifth Third Bank's annual Business Outlook luncheon Wednesday.

Trends inspire consumers and consumers drive trends, Evers said. Consumers don't need many of the products they buy. They just buy them because they want them, he said.

When people hear the word "innovation" they typically think in terms of technology. But there's also such a thing as "value" innovation, Evers observed.

"Anything you can come up with that creates value for a customer, that puts something of value in the hand of a customer, is a value innovation."

Globalization is accelerating, and the "Mass Class" is the new middle class, Evers said. The Mass Class consists of hundreds of millions global consumers who are "unified in their quest for the best deals" on a global scale. Mass Class "tastes" include IKEA, Nokia, Starbucks and Virgin brands, among others.

They're looking for "exclusive" and "limited edition" types of products that will help them stand out, Evers explained, because in the Mass Class world of abundance where everybody has everything, the only thing left is to seek status through products.

An absolute "must have" is a cell phone.

"The moment you show your cell phone, you are instantly being judged," he said.

According to Evers, these days a new cell phone generates the same kind of excitement a new car used to. Young people are buying camera phones, too, "like there's no tomorrow," Evers noted. Cell phones represent freedom, mobility, identity and independence, and the phone model and its customized features "define" its owner, he said.

"Choice is massive. Competition is global. Anticipation is enormous," Evers said

In street interviews, young people in Europe and Brazil said if they had to choose between their cell phone and their car, they'd keep their cell phones.

Now consumers are calling for "extreme wireless." Hewlett Packard and BMW, in fact, are teaming up to introduce wireless LAN in vehicles, he pointed out. By 2007 one third of all airlines are expected to offer in-flight WiFi.

As he put it: "He who consumes most and best has status and recognition."

Another trend is that the world is moving to a more creative society. Architects, designers, engineers, scientists, writers and artists are all part of the creative class, Evers said.

"Creativity used to be something you couldn't make money on. That's changed."

He urged companies to tap into the "collective intellectual capital" of their customer base. What do they want? Paying attention to consumer trends will help answer that question, as will asking for customer feedback.

"Involve customers in your process. Listen to them. It's not too late to get started."

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