Everywhere I look I see a move towards a consumerism founded on ethical awareness, economic sustainability, corporate responsibility and healthy lifestyles. Combine these values with a desire for higher-quality, greater choice, and lower prices and we have a fascinating, contradictory message from consumers.
A recent study by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC): Mapping Your Future Growth - Five Game-Changing Consumer Trends, puts forward some interesting ideas.
There's Nowhere To Hide
The worldwide web, the Internet, social media, the sheer level of consumer connectedness, is affecting the way we decide what, where and when to buy. I see people in stores, heck I've done it myself, price-checking on their Smartphone. We all do it. If we're not checking prices we're reading customer reviews. The scary thing for us as small businesses? If we're not managing our online presence - and make no mistake, we all have one - then we have no idea, or control over, what people are saying or reading about us.
The retail world is shrinking; our customers can just as easily check prices in Ontario and Hong Kong, as they can with our competitor next door. This trend is in full flood. Most of us have a website, but today that's like riding a Tsunami wave on a Boogie board.
To be competitive we need to be in touch with customers on multiple levels through social media. Larger corporations are already reaching out, making connections, offering discount coupons, building loyalty. How are they doing this? Through Smartphones, tablets, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Foursquare and dozens of other social media portals - wherever their potential customers interact online. If your business is not connected wirelessly to your market, you are losing ground fast. The BDC study says 84 per cent of the population is connected to the Internet and on average they own 2.6 devices. Two-thirds of those on the Internet use social media and 41 per cent buy products and services online. Of course that's still a minority - a heck of a big one though!
If your online presence doesn't permeate all levels of social media, you are slipping behind your larger competitors. The level of intimacy they have with your customers is almost embarrassing in its depth and accuracy. Don't panic just yet though. Until recently it was expensive to have IT professionals collect, monitor and analyze this data; now there are many companies that will help you catch up with the big boys in no time, and at minimal cost - check out Diggit for a local service (www.diggit.com).
The Health Kick
Health and wellness products and services are hot right now. We're in the age of the baby boomer. Recent population projections show that by 2015, for the first time ever, there will be more elderly people than children. And that's a strong market - maintaining a healthy lifestyle is very much de rigueur for the 60 plus demographic.
It's not just the older market looking for products that will keep them healthier, fitter, and living longer; consumers of all ages are very active in this trend. The spa market is big, and getting bigger; health drinks are booming while pop sales are starting to weaken; and anything to do with weight management, especially meal replacements (a $35 million market) is growing. Many of us are looking for healthier foods, reducing our consumption of processed food and eating more fresh produce. Natural, organic, and local, are huge selling points. If you promote the health benefits of your product or service, or move toward making what you offer healthier and more natural, you will win new customers.
Local Is Good
Increasingly people want to purchase goods made closer to home; it's green, and economically and socially responsible. The BDC report states, " ... close to six out of ten Canadians consider themselves ethical consumers." It goes on to report, 97 per cent of Canadians buy local to support the local economy, 96 per cent to support local farmers, 93 per cent to create local jobs and 87 per cent because they feel it is better for the environment.
The marketing take-away here - with close to a third of all consumers willing to pay 15 per cent more for locally made products – is wherever possible, promote the local quality of what you sell.
I Want It My Way
This is what I call the Starbucks trend. If you've ever stood behind me in line at a coffee shop, you'll know what I mean. My brew is a grande, long shot, non-fat, extra hot, Americano Misto. This ability to have things tailored to our every desire is huge, with almost one-third of consumers wanting personalized products and services. It's a complicated marketing strategy though. Some companies have made the mistake of addressing this need by introducing a wider product range and are subsequently left with the inevitable slow sellers. Offering a level of customization however, allows you to learn a lot about your customers and allows you to compete with the bigger guys. Allowing this freedom increases loyalty and a sense of ownership.
The 2008 Echo
Salaries have stagnated over the last ten years and we are all using debt to replace non-existent wage increases. The average Canadian owes around $28,000 excluding mortgages. Rather than cutting back on buying however, consumers are looking for bargains. Take Groupon – with 40 million active customers, people pounce on its daily offers before they sell out. As mentioned earlier, it's easier than ever to shop around - people are looking for better value, higher quality and lower prices. Brand loyalty is being usurped by value/quality. I went into a local wine store recently where a $14.99 B.C. wine was on sale for $10.99, with a further 5 per cent case discount; it seemed as if every shopper had a case in their cart. The marketing opportunity here is to focus on the value/quality paradigm when competing against more established brands.
Trend watching is not only fascinating, but it can help keep your marketing strategy on point during a time when data is flying around quicker than clichés on a chat show. Ensure you monitor your customers' online chatter, and analyze it thoroughly - you need to know what they are saying about you, what you sell, and your competitors. Interact with your customers online - create a dialogue - get them to share their thoughts and opinions - find out what they want now and deliver it. Big box stores are experts at this; to compete, move up to a professional surfboard and ride the waves with the big guys!