The accelerating pace of innovation in the consumer arena means everyone is now at times, if not constantly, a VIRGIN CONSUMER – unfamiliar with many of the products, services, apps, experiences or brands they encounter every day. However, far from being coy, VIRGIN CONSUMERS lust after, try out, and experiment with all these new brands, products, services and experiences more than ever. As long as brands make them effortlessly simple, intuitive, and yes, fun.
The fundamental driver behind the VIRGIN CONSUMER trend? NEWISM.
Today, consumers from Dubai to Canada can order pizza via a fridge magnet, 3D print their own homeware, and visit a virtual grocery store on a train station platform. They live in a world of Chinese luxury fashion brands, social credit cards, and ultra-transparent sushi kitchens.
They must navigate through the insane levels of choice offered by the 19,000 new apps that Apple says are added to their store every month, the 18,000 projects on Kickstarter that were successfully crowdfunded in 2012, the 1.2 million patents for innovations granted in China alone, or the 480,000 companies registered in the UK in 2012... We could go on (and on).
(Sources: Company statements; Chinese State Intellectual Property Office; Startup Britain, all January 2013)
That’s NEWISM for you: thanks to the usual suspects like connectivity, globalization, the demolition of barriers to entry and the democratization of design and manufacturing, the pace and volume of consumer-facing innovation has never been higher. Which means an explosion in VIRGIN CONSUMERS: consumers who, no matter how experienced, are inevitably (and endlessly) encountering tons of products and brands for the first-time.
Now, on to two things to keep in mind when thinking about (and if you're a B2C brand or agency, catering to) these VIRGIN CONSUMERS:
NEWISM is not only about the accelerating pace of innovation, it's also about fueling consumer appetite for the new, which has never been higher.
Mainly, hyper-competition has led to the ‘new’ no longer being seen as a tired marketing ploy from old brands. Instead, new products and services ARE now actually often more surprising, more convenient, more intuitive – and thus better – than established alternatives, if there are alternatives to begin with. And the ongoing megatrend towards consumers demanding brand honesty too – which new brands unencumbered by legacy can embrace more quickly and effectively than anyone – means that new brands are often more trusted or even respected than their familiar, historied counterparts. On top of that, the usual risk associated with trying the new is now close to zero, thanks to F-FACTOR recommendations and the TRANSPARENCY TRIUMPH of countless reviews.
All that means more consumers than ever are convinced that the ‘new’ will help them improve every aspect of their lives, and thus the rising numbers of eager VIRGIN CONSUMERS, who want to dive in to, try out, experience and experiment with the new products and services being launched on a daily if not hourly basis.
Just look at the tech sector (the ultimate NEWISM poster child): in mid-2012, the Ouya games console raised USD 1.2 million less than 24 hours after its launch on Kickstarter. Meanwhile, in November, the new iPad 4 and iPad Mini sold 3 million units in three days. But that was a whole three months ago: gadget-blogs are now abuzz with news of Panasonic’s Ultra-HD 4K tablet, announced at CES in January 2013. Or Samsung’s prototype smartphone with a flexible screen. Or the Huawei Ascend Mate 6.1-inch phablet. And on and on it goes.
Even the 'Virgin' space tourists will still expect a smooth ride ;-)
While VIRGIN CONSUMERS might be unfamiliar with a specific new product, brand or sector, they aren’t clueless or naïve. Au contraire: years of immersion in consumer societies means that even VIRGIN CONSUMERS are well versed in consumerism at large*.
That means previous Trend Briefings relating to changing consumer expectations and attitudes still apply: VIRGINS know good service – or even better, SERVILE BRANDS – when they see them. And it should go without saying that they expect FULL FRONTAL transparency – on ethics, business process, even financials – from brands, and will embrace a GENERATION G(ENEROSITY) approach to giving back to society.
* The exception is some VIRGIN CONSUMERS in emerging markets, who may be truly new (or nearly new) to many aspects of consumerism. According to Ernst & Young, 1 billion people in emerging market cities are set to join the global consuming class – defined as those with a disposable income of USD 3,600 a year – by 2025.
We could (and will!) dedicate a whole Trend Briefing to these EMERGING VIRGINS: in the meantime there will be much more about them in our upcoming Asia-Pacific Trend Report and South & Central America Trend Report.
Seducing a VIRGIN means adopting a VIRGIN mindset (enough innuendo yet?
Anyone can do it, but it obviously comes easier to VIRGIN BRANDS: start-ups unencumbered by the weight of old ways. But of course even established brands* can always think like a VIRGIN.
* As with every trend, think in terms of ‘as well’ rather than ‘all’. Are all consumers VIRGINS, all of the time? Of course not. Will brands need to constantly adopt a virgin mindset? No. The inevitable counter-trend means there will forever be a time and a place for established brands that deliver the same heritage product.
Cast off industry convention and (if you’re an established brand) previous product iterations, and reimagine your product from the ground up, so that it makes sense for the way consumers live now, and is intuitive to use right out of the box. See how VIRGIN BRANDS Lytro made photography effortlessly simple for VIRGINS by releasing a camera that could focus after taking the shots. Or learn from Nest, who made thermostats intuitive, sexy and sustainable. 2012 saw big brands thinking like VIRGINS, too: witness the Nike+ Fuelband, an end-to-end service – including wearable device and online platform – that finally made tracking activity through the day easy. While for Microsoft, ripping up two decades of user experience and pivoting to a touch-led tile interface in Windows 8, meant creating an interface that caters to VIRGIN CONSUMERS.
Think campaigns that answer foundational questions: who are you? What makes you different? What does your brand say about those consumers who choose it? This is a must for VIRGIN BRANDS, who are new to all consumers: see how new Welsh jeans brand Hiut Denim, launched in March 2012, used the ‘Story’ section of its website – and its ‘Our town is making jeans again’ message – to link itself to the history and heritage of jeans making in Cardigan, Wales. Brand explaining is of course crucial for established brands looking to EMERGING VIRGINS, too: see how Volkswagen connected with VIRGINS in China with no prior experience of the VW brand, with a website for its Phaeton luxury vehicle that explained VW’s manufacturing heritage and its ties to the Saxony region of Germany.
Where once VIRGINS may have wanted a long-term relationship, now many would prefer a one-night stand ;-) Indulge the joy VIRGINS take in playing the field by streaming and renting them products instead of selling. Learn from examples such as designer fashion rental platform thesixosix, or established brands like BMW’s DriveNow short-term car rental initiative, and think in terms of how to give VIRGINS access to your product, rather than just selling it to them.
In short, whether you’re a startup or a heritage brand, remember: as NEWISM pushes consumerism to light speed, you simply have to start mirroring the VIRGIN mindset in your own thinking if you want to stand a chance with many consumers.
But however you cater to VIRGIN CONSUMERS, remember: make it special. It’s their first time ;-) And if it's your first time reading our Trend Briefings, please make sure you subscribe.