finweek logo's consumer crunch

August 21, 2012

You can now buy a Mozzarella-making kit from Amazon and brag to your friends over dinner how your cheese-making skills are taking shape. KLM Airlines allows you to link your check-in to your LinkedIn account so passengers can choose who sits in the seat next to them. Consumer-facing business innovations are going global. And South African business can reap the benefits, according to Henry Mason, one of the speakers at the's Johannesburg Trend Seminar held in Melrose Arch last week.

"It's never been easier for South African brands to look at insights, innovations and best practices from the rest of the world, to be inspired by them, and to adapt and incorporate them into their own products and services," says Mason. "But secondly, and most importantly, we're witnessing an increasing 'democratisation of creativity', with SA brands and entrepreneurs launching new products, services and campaigns that we think that the rest of the world can learn from."

Mason uses the example of Bos Ice Tea's Twitter vending machine, which dispensed free cans when customers tweeted using a specified hashtag.

The summit focused on the main consumer trends, then moved on to how these trends are manifesting in South Africa. Some of these include "Status Stories, Skills and Smarts" - consumers achieve social status by having a story to tell about their purchase (as in the Mozzarella example above), from knowing about secret sales or stores or obtaining skills along with purchases (an example would be cooking classes from kitchen supplies stores).

"Entrepreneurs are hardwired to try new things. Innovation is a powerful weapon for the entrepreneur. Because of that, start-ups are more equipped to try new things. Larger companies are less likely to push themselves to fail. Especially in South Africa we have a fear of failure and because of that management is not incentivised to try new things. Problem. So entrepreneurs are allowed free rein when it comes to implementing and trying out the new business trends that are sweeping the world, says Jonathan Cherry, Director - Cherryflava Media, in an interview with Cherry was also a speaker at the summit.

According to Cherry, marketing to consumers needs a drastic change: it needs to be non-invasive and delight people. Cherry names FNB, Capitec, Famous Brands, Apple, Levi's and smaller South African brands like Brewers & Union, Yuppiechef and Darling as companies that are making their mark in terms of innovation.

Other examples that delighted the audience at the conference include:

Trend: Crowdsourcing. Example: Make your own skincare kits; Kaiser Chiefs (the band) allowed their fans to create a custom album (with a choice of new songs) and the most popular album would receive ongoing revenue from their compilations.

Trend: Flawsome, where brands are open about being flawed. Example: The Four Seasons New York hotel's website incorporates reviews from Tripadvisor.

Trend: DIY health: novel apps and devices will increasingly let consumers discreetly track and manage their health by themselves.

Trend: Bottom of the pyramid. Example: Driven by extreme urbanisation, consumers who don't have middle-class incomes to spend will demand innovation tailored to their unique circumstances, like the Pillar ATM, which harnesses biometric technologies, making it suitable for use by illiterate and semi-literate populations.

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