Reaching the Consumer of the Future

What are some of the big issues facing the consumer of tomorrow? How should retailers, lifestyle businesses and fashion brands equip themselves to reach these customers?

Speaking at the recent Asia Fashion Summit, Ruth Marshall-Johnson, Senior Editor of Think Tank at WGSN, highlighted that consumer businesses need to consider five key trends and suggested how these should be addressed as follows:

1) Ever Faster Changing Lifestyles ie How to Respond Effectively to the Speed of Change?

To keep pace with the breathless change in consumer lifestyles, businesses should shift from product design as king to service design as king. Provide the appropriate filters to your business such that you only provide the stuff which your customer truly values. This could include the design of comfortable fitting rooms, sharing of your brand's look and feel on Facebook and Twitter, to one-on-one personalisation to fit customer preferences.

As an example, Gap in the US is redesigning its stores to lend greater focus on the brand's core values while considering customer needs. It is also redesigning its digital presence, working with influential bloggers to provide community features that invite customers to participate in these platforms.

2) Bored and Overstimulated Consumers ie How to Create Psychological Hooks?

With a deluge of information and data, businesses need to market deeply into their consumer's lives. This entail allowing them to intuitively discover your brand (as opposed to pushing it in front of their noses), and to help them to be seen and heard.  Increasingly, brands need to explore their consumers' brand identities, develop apps that provide an extension of one's minds and brains, and leverage on artificial intelligence that enhances who their consumers are.

Friendster, the beleaguered social networking platform, has recently reinvented itself as a social discovery and gaming platform. This is part of its goal to make itself more relevant to its users. Leading sports brand Nike goes one better as featured in the film "Fan Culture - The Evolution of Influence". Here, Nike creates a platform that plays into the lives of its consumers and encourage its fans to talk to each other.

3) Too Many Digital Tools ie Which Digital Retail Development to Invest in Now?

To avoid being overwhelmed by the plethora of platforms, businesses should look at digital developments from a human behavioural standpoint. Invest in digital tools that imbed themselves into everyday lives and can create USEFULNESS for consumers. This could be tools that help to enhance creativity, or come with personalised offers.

Increasingly digital tools are also available on mobile devices that can help to provide the physical experience of being in a retail store, complete with music and media. Mobiles can also function as payment devices. The trick is to look at consumer behaviours outside of the retail environment and to see how apps or channels can be blended with these preferences. An example is - a huge Brazilian social media fashion portal which weaves itself into its users' lifestyles.

4) Balance Between Wonder and Reality ie How to be Useful and Exciting?

To succeed here, brands should collaborate with consumers and be consistent across multiple platforms. If possible, create great experiences in real time while striking the balance between art and commerce. The next steps in retail storytelling is to bring the old ways to new platforms while avoiding being repetitive, blending humanity with technology.

A key idea here is one of consumer curation, whereby customers get a chance to create and produce something which matters to them. An example is Jimmy Choo's Choo 24:7 website which is an interactive fan-based website, and addidas Originals White Space Project which encourage women to re-imagine themselves.

5) Is the Concept of Luxury Still Important? ie What does Luxury Mean Today?

Here, the key is to treat one's customer like a luxury customer regardless of one's price point - a rather tall order I must say! To do so, we're encouraged to create an experience that goes beyond our product and to move from a task driven enabler to a service driven expert guide.

Several examples are applicable here. They include Taiwan's launch of Burberry World Live which includes a 360 degree cinematic experience complete with a digital weather simulation, which allows customers to experience the aesthetics of its stores, and Sneakerpedia by Nike which talks to sneaker fans in their own lingo. Yes, pampering and immersing your customer in your brand is what matters here.

Key Takeaways

Summing up the presentation, Ruth shared that the key takeaways are that companies should find and develop the best real estate as "store" returns, expand locally, regionally and internationally while growing their creativity and customer orientation, provide shoppers with social experiences in physical retail spaces, collaborate with both employees and customers to innovate for one's brand, and understand that small, useful innovations can result in huge, game changing behaviours. The key is to develop richer human engagement as a priority.

Let me end with a concluding quote from the presentation:

"Today's consumers don't need to be near a store to morph into shoppers. They're just in 'sleep mode' and the right idea can make them buy anywhere."

Special thanks to Geri Kan of Linea Communications for extending the invite to me!

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