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Consumers Want Brands to Mirror Society

August 24, 2012

trendwatching.com holds global consumer trend seminar in Seoul

A noted global expert on consumer trends and corporate innovations said Friday that reading consumer trends is crucial for businesses to become successful as consumers want brands to mirror changes in society.

At a seminar held at W Seoul Walkerhill in Seoul, Henry Mason, global head of research of London-based trendwatching.com, stressed the importance of knowing consumer trends because it will ultimately help companies become winners.

Hundreds of participants from leading local and foreign firms operating in Korea took part in the forum. The Korea Times and trendwatching.com jointly hosted the seminar.

"You have to be a human brand. It is not scaled, but the power of connecting with a consumer with their very moment of need is important," said Mason.

He said the most important consumer trend is for companies to become "human," and produce "honest brands."

"When there is an abundance of choice, you as a person look for brands that reflect your identity. Online culture is raw and extremely human. Consumers are increasingly aware that there are businesses that are human and not robots."

The things that intensify a consumer's search for value is technological innovation, which will probably ring with greatest resonance here because Korea's information technology (IT) plays a huge part in increasing the national brand across the world.

"(There is an) absolute tech lust with consumers. Technology gives people super powers, gives transparency, gives them more choices. It enables personalization of the online and technology revolution."

Korea has one of the largest Internet connectivity rates in the world with 99 percent of the population having online access. Mason quoted Austrian economist Joseph Alois Schumpeter's "creative destruction," a phenomenon which is intensified when people are always online with multiple channels to access information, like in Korea.

Seoul is the fourth stop of the company's global tour called 2012 Global Consumer Trend Seminar, in which it will visit 13 major, trend setting cities around the world.

Another key trend highlighted was the need to adopt cross-industry analysis. "The key thing is to look outside of your industry. Market innovation will be happening outside of your industry, and your customers will be looking at this. These unlock opportunities."

The presentation opened with a music video clip of pop artist PSY's "Gangnam Style," which has gone viral both at home and overseas.

Mason divided trends into three categories: macro, industry and consumer trends. Consumer trend is a melding of both macro and industry, and obviously the most important. trendwatching.com defines consumer trend as such: "The manifestation of something that has unlocked or newly serviced an existing consumer need, desire, want or value."

"Macro trends frame the environment," the head of research said, giving topics that are likely familiar anywhere in the world, such as "Globalization," "have and the have-nots,""the great convergence" and "electronics data and privacy," which ultimately acts as a foundation where consumer trend are build.

He presented the three largest consumer trends in the current era which he termed as "Statusphere," Infolust" and "Discover and Decide," all of which serve the most basic human desire, the desire to be unique.

"One desire that is getting stronger than any other is the desire to be unique," said Mason. "You want to become different than the Johns and Kims."

Before presenting in detail what Statusphere is, he turned on a video in which trendwatching.com asked residents of Seoul of to say what they thought are consumerist status symbols. Answers varied widely with seemingly no connection between them: Samsung Galaxy S3 smartphone, money, health, big house and personalities. Status is no longer only symbolized by materialistic riches (Mason showed a picture of ancient people bathing in gold, our representative view of what was constituted status in the past), but by more disparate factors, both physical and ideological.

Infolust, is defined as the lust for the "new," a insatiable desire of consumers to get new information on as many diverse subjects as possible for them to "discover" the kinds of products and services they want.

These have been further catalysts for the spread of the Internet and the strong online culture. Consumers have a wider range from which they can "discover and decide."

"This is not just about social media marketing, this is not about marketing at all. Ultimately it is about making products and services people love. In this age, consumers will find what they are looking for, and the question is whether it will be what they want."

"Online culture is THE culture, this is nothing new but we are seeing it more," he said. "Offline is online: Success will be about seamlessly brings those features that consumers love about the online world and bringing them offline."

The advancement of online technology leads to transparency, in which everything from government, businesses and brands are revealed in their entirety to consumers. The need to become trustworthy in the eyes of consumers, which they are willing to "invest" in, is becoming ever more important, he said.

Tara Hirebet, Asia-Pacific head of trendwatching.com based in Singapore, went into details on what kind of trends are becoming popular in Asia

Asia has status seekers and one of the most tiered status-based social structures, said Hirebet. Status is not just defined by luxury, but by education and national celebration (like hallyu, or the Korean wave).

Asian women are a rising consumer base that businesses should not miss out on, according to trendwatching.com. The Asian women market is valued at $20 trillion, more than the total market value of China and India combined.

Some examples of trends by products were: LG Electronics' smart appliances, which are refrigerators that are interconnected with smartphones. Samsung Electronics' smart TVs were also noted for featuring voice and facial recognition. They represented Korea's strong screen culture and innovative, intuitive interfaces.

Korean executives of leading conglomerates are currently under investigation for accounting fraud: Hanwha Group Chairman Kim Seung-youn became the first patriarch of a 'chaebol,' or family managed conglomerates, to be locked up. Perhaps large Korean businesses may need to take this development seriously.

Korea Times President Park Moo-jong was also present at the seminar and gave the opening speech. "It is the role of the media to help our readers learn about global trends. I hope you and your company become a trend setter and not a trend follower (through this seminar," he said. "Trying to read consumer trends is the latest global trend."

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