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Speak language of consumers currently 'living the trend'

August 19, 2012

Henry Mason, global head of research of trendwatching.com, speaks at a seminar in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Aug. 13. At the event, nearly 500 marketers, advertising executives and global innovation leaders, among others, gathered to hear the company's presentation on some of the biggest trends that will impact their business. The Korea Times and the company jointly will hold a seminar on consumer trends Friday at the W Seoul Walkerhill.

This Friday, global trend forecasting firm trendwatching.com will make Seoul the fourth stop on its 2012 Consumer Trend Seminar tour.

The company kicked off the series with a sold-out event in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Aug. 13, where almost 500 marketers, advertising executives and global innovation leaders among others gathered to hear the company's Global Head of Research Henry Mason offer a presentation on some of the biggest trends to impact business over the next 12-18 months.

As we prepare to welcome the trendwatching.com team to Seoul, we sat down with Mason to get some insight on what attendees can look to expect at next week.

Korea Times: What can attendees expect at this year's Consumer Trends Seminar?

Henry Mason: Our Seoul trend seminars will showcase a host of consumer insights, innovations and global best practices, to help leading Korean brands and business professionals to be inspired by, adapt and incorporate them into their own products and services. Over the course of half a day, attendees will receive a full 'download' of the key consumer trends, along with insight on notable brand innovations and campaigns that have met consumer needs and demands. Tara Hirebet, our head of the Asia-Pacific region, will look at the top Asia-Pacific consumer trends, including key examples of innovations from Korean brands. After getting this global and local perspective, we will have an interactive workshop where attendees can share and discuss methods and tips on how to move from insights based on consumer trends to successful innovations.

KT: What was your criteria in selecting the cities that are included in this year's tour? Why Seoul?

HM: Since we launched in 2002, trendwatching.com has grown tremendously in key markets all over the world. While there are many cities that we wish we were able to include, this year we selected those where we have the highest concentration of subscribers, clients and overall readership. It's no coincidence that these cities are some of the most influential locations in the world when it comes to trends and innovation. Seoul is certainly no exception. The Korean consumer market is so well developed: we are seeing an ever-increasing amount of high-quality innovations from Korean brands, both domestically and in the global marketplace. So we would be remiss not to make this a stop on our 2012 tour.

KT: People often make the mistake of confusing fads with trends. What is the fundamental difference between the two?

HM: People often look at products or innovations and think those are the trends or fads they have to respond to (or ignore). Products and services are merely manifestations of broader macro or consumer trends. So step one is to not fall for that one when assessing 'trends'. Also because at the core of how we think about trends is to start with deep or basic human needs and wants, these don't change that rapidly (if at all). What changes is that these basic needs and wants can be unlocked or serviced in new ways. The 'unlockers' can be anything from changes in societal norms and values, to a breakthrough in technology, to a rise in prosperity. So one thing to focus on when launching any new business, products, services or campaigns is which basic human needs or motivations are you tapping into, and how are you catering to them?

KT: Earlier this year, trendwatching.com published a list of 12 Crucial Consumer Trends for 2012. As we enter into the fourth quarter, have you noticed any surprises, or trends that have resonated more or less than others?

HM: FLAWSOME is one trend that has really resonated with people. FLAWSOME is the idea that consumers don't expect brands to be flawless. In fact, consumers will embrace brands that are 'FLAWSOME': brands that are loved despite having flaws; indeed even being flawed (and being open about it) can be awesome. Brands that show some empathy, generosity, humility, flexibility, maturity, humor, and (dare we say it) some character and humanity.

A recent example we saw of this was McDonald's in Canada producing a video explaining why the burgers you buy don't look exactly like the ones in the photos (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oSd0keSj2W8). But having this level of honesty is a very powerful way to show that you respect your customers and trust them to understand why things are the way they are.

KT: As you travel to different countries, what are some of the similarities that you have noticed between the business leaders who have signed up to attend the seminars? Do they have similar needs/concerns? Are some more or less globally focused than others?

HM: Certain similarities definitely emerge. Successful brands and entrepreneurs are often those who have an open mind, and take what they see happening elsewhere in the world, adapt and apply it to their own businesses. This is consistent across the board, whether in Seoul, Sao Paulo, San Francisco or Shanghai. True global business leaders have to have the ability to look ahead in an effort to keep up with today's fast pace consumer environment. Much of this means looking outside of local borders or vertical industries to pull inspiration from multiple sources. That is what we provide, so for that, our audiences are somewhat similar.

KT: Through all of the research that you have conducted on brand innovations and campaigns around the world, are there any particular innovations out of Seoul that really stood out for you? Why?

HM: The obvious one that jumps out is the Tesco Home plus QR code subway store (now extended to bus shelters of course). That was such a great example of how a great innovation, that was rooted in a number of trends (the desire for convenience and the integration of online and offline), captured people's Other online brands who have deployed the stores include eBay in both London and New York, PayPal in Singapore, luxury fashion retailer Net-a-Porter, and online grocery store Ocado. Traditional retailers such as Toys"R"Us, Sears and Kmart, as well as manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble have also deployed the 'stores.'

With their winning combination of novelty, convenience and low set-up costs, shopping walls could be one retail innovation that runs and runs, and is a great example of how Korean innovation can set the global agenda.

KT: What impact has technology had in making trends more global?

HM: There is no question that consumers have been affected by the rise in technology, which in a large part has played a role in globalization. Just as business people can access information from around the world, so too can consumers. This means that consumers are now living in an EXPECTATION ECONOMY. Experienced, well-informed consumers all over the globe have a long list of high expectations that they apply to all goods, services and experiences on offer. Faced with so much choice, and with limitless information, consumers today expect, even demand, the best of whatever they are looking for in a purchase, whether that be the cheapest, the newest, the most fun, the most luxurious, the most authentic, or simply the best value. Therefore, any brand in any industry that falls short of super-brands like Apple, Zappo's or Singapore Airlines will be at risk. Perform or perish.

KT: What can businesses gain by looking at trends outside of their respective industries? For instance, if I work in the automotive industry, should I also be informed on what is happening in fashion?

HM: Looking outside of your industry can be a rich source of inspiration. Especially as innovative or ground-breaking customer experiences may well be happening in industries other than your own. Sticking with your own industry will not only severely limit your sources of inspiration. And also consumers think cross-industry, and therefore so should you. For example, someone getting into a Lexus won't just compare the in-car entertainment system to a BMW, but to an iPhone. Why is it not as well designed and easy to use? As a business professional, constantly comparing yourself to the best of the best will ensure that your products & services keep up with consumer expectations.

KT: How can companies actually apply the trends that they read about on your site or hear about at your seminars? What tips can you give to a business executive who is trying to figure out what to do with so much information?

HM: For us there apply trends is all about creating new products, services, experiences or campaigns. We suggest you ask yourself if the trend you've spotted has the potential to:

1) influence or shape your company's vision,

2) come up with a new business concept, new venture or brand,

3) launch a new product or service, or

4) speak the language of consumers currently "living the trend".

This way you'll have a better idea of where you're going with the information that you've gathered.

The trendwatching.com 2012 Consumer Trend Seminar will take place August 24th at W Seoul Walkerhill, featuring insight on over 30 global and local consumer trends. Simultaneous Korean translation will be available. For more information, visit http://trendwatching.com/seminars/seoul.

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