What will your costumers want next?


(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2017)

The world – politically, economically, socially, technologically – is in flux. That’s not news, fake or otherwise. But what does this all mean for the future of brands? It is clear that consumer trends will empower people and companies to build brands that matter; products and campaigns people can’t stop talking about. David Mattin leads the global team of trend analysts of TrendWatching and knows what clients all over the world are going to love and why.

David, what kinds of innovations are (re)defining customers’ expectations in 2017?

The secret when it comes to identifying innovations that are reshaping customer expectations is to look for innovations that are serving a basic human need in a new way. So take a simple example: an Indian company called Boltt is working on an ecosystem of wearable devices that will track all kinds of physical metrics, such as physical activity, heart rate, mood, and so on. But in addition, the company is also developing an AI that will crunch all this data and provide personalised fitness and wellness plans for users. Boltt is about using artificial intelligence to drive self-improvement. So that innovation, and others such as the new Google Goals feature in Google Calendar, is serving the basic human need that is self-improvement in a new way – by using AI. And when consumers see these innovations they’ll come to expect this. They’ll start asking, ‘why can’t other brands put AI to work to help me get better? Why can’t my bank let me use AI to manage my finances?’ and so on. This is how innovations that do something new reshape consumer expectations. And that’s why watching innovations and asking, ‘how does this innovation serve a basic human need in a new way’ is such a powerful way to see the new consumer expectations that are coming.

What are the five big consumer trends they represent?

The trend that I talk about above is one we’re calling “Motivated Mindlessness”, and that’s all about the rising expectation that brands put AI to work on supercharging self-improvement for consumers.

Another key digital trend we predict for this year are “Incognito Individuals”, which means that this year and beyond we’ll see rising numbers of people embrace new forms of online anonymity. We all remember the #airbnbwhileblack scandal in 2016, in which we discovered that black users of Airbnb find it harder to get a booking accepted. I think we’re going to see a resurgence of anonymous social networking, in which people will adopt anonymity in order to make sure they are getting a fair deal, or to say what they really believe.

You say that the Experience Economy will gain a new dimension: that of the Virtual Experience Economy. Please tell us more about that.

The iconic technologist Kevin Kelly says we’re moving from an internet in which information was the primary unit of currency, and towards an internet in which experiences are the primary unit of currency. That’s because of the maturation of VR and AR. What he means by this is that people will stop going online primarily to find things out and start going online primarily to experience things. We know that VR and AR technologies are really popular. Look at what happened with Pokemon Go!

So if digital experiences are now going to become part of our lives in the same way that real-world experiences are, that’s a fundamental shift. But what we at TrendWatching would add is a thought about status. We’ve seen the rise of the Experience Economy over the last decade or more: that’s been all about the pursuit of rare, surprising experiences that are a status currency, they are something to tell your friends about: ‘look at what I’ve done!’. And of course all of that has been massively amplified by social media.

So if digital experiences are now going to becomes as real for us as real-world experiences, I think we’ll see the rise of digital experiences as a status currency. That is, digital experiences that are more than just fun, they are really something to tell your friends about and gain status from in the way that real-world experiences have been for a while now. And that’s what the Virtual Experience Economy trend is all about: the rise of digital experiences as a status currency in their own right.

How can you anticipate what customers will want next? 

The heart of trend watching is so simple: it’s just a new way of looking at the world, which is about seeing new consumer expectations as they emerge, and ideally before they arrive at your doorstep. Whenever you see an innovation – a new product, service, campaign, whatever – ask yourself: how will this innovation change consumer expectations? What similar innovations have I seen recently? What will these new expectations mean for me? 

Pretty soon that becomes a habit. And that habit will enable you to spot powerful new trends – meaning new consumer expectations – as they are emerging, so that you have time to respond to them before they become mainstream. 

How important are trends for a successful business?

We live in a whirlwind of innovation. This means consumer expectations change faster than ever. It’s clear then that staying ahead of those expectations is crucial. But it’s not enough simply to spot trends or ‘know’ them. You have to apply them! You have to use them to drive your new ideas, and to make things that your customers will want.

How do you become a meaningful trend-driven Innovator?

If you’re spotting trends as I described above, and you are then using those trends to ideate – to come up with new ideas for your business – then you are a trend-driven innovator!

In your opinion, which modern companies play a pioneering role in setting trends?

There are some obvious examples of innovations that have fuelled massive changes in consumer expectations. For example Uber, and the powerful role it played in the emergence of the expectation of one-touch, on-demand service. But powerful new consumer expectations can come from any innovation. And remember, consumers don’t have to buy or even use an innovation to have their expectations changed – they just have to hear about it! 

Where do you and your global team of trend analysts get your excellent insights from? 

We’re fuelled by the TrendWatching Insight Network, TW:IN. It’s a network of thousands of people all around the world sending us examples of new innovations in their markets. And then the team of analysts that I lead join the dots between those examples, analysing them for the new consumer expectations they create, and spotting trends. In practice, doing that work means holding up these innovations against our Trend Framework – that is, the 16 mega-trends that encapsulate our view of the entire consumer arena – and asking, ‘where does this innovation fit?’

How can you get in touch with TrendWatching?

I’m always happy to talk!

What kind of future do you seek for society and for yourself?

That’s a big question to end on! I hope for a future in which human flourishing is maximised, in which all people are able to realise their full potential. As for me, I will keep looking at the world around me, and trying to make sense of it, and sharing my thoughts with anyone who wants to listen.

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David Mattin leads the global team of trend analysts. A sought-after keynote speaker and widely published thought leader, David speaks regularly at high-profile conferences around the world. He is also the co-author of Trend-Driven Innovation. He started his career at The Times newspaper.

Picture credits © TrendWatching

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