Blog: Dave LeggettLooking into the future

Dave Leggett | 13 November 2003

Much consumer market research I’ve read is relentless in its use of demographic categories and data based on things like social class categories, household formation and age cohorts. The market researchers come up with demographic characteristics and then project forward to get an idea of how the market for particular consumer products – washing machines, cell phones, cars, whatever - will evolve. Marketing strategies are then overlaid on to that framework. It’s relatively formulaic stuff.

At the other end of the spectrum there are futurologists who pretty much eschew all forms of data, preferring to analyse shifting societal patterns and social trends in more abstract or conceptual terms. That’s when it gets interesting in my book. History shows how important these social megatrends can be. Cast your mind back to the mid-1980s. The stand-alone desktop PC was really taking off, it was the era of Gordon Gecko and ‘greed is good’, power dressing and overt status symbols. Personal performance was all. That went for your wheels as much as your double-breasted suit and braces. The Golf GTI enjoyed its heyday then and spawned many ‘me too’ products. If you could have a Porsche 911, even better.

Then came a recession in the early 1990s. People started to talk more about the environment. Being ‘green’ (or, at least, taking empty bottles to the recycling centre) became a mainstream thing rather than cranky. Volkswagen developed clean diesels. Touchy-feely and a caring, sharing mentality gradually replaced the more selfish ‘outta-my-way’ approach that Gordon Gecko symbolised so well in the movie ‘Wall Street’. The 1980s receded further into history. The performance ethos gave way to concepts like sustainability, whole-life and being environment friendly. ‘Global warming’ entered our vocabulary and the Internet emerged in the late 1990s. Electronic communication on a global scale took over. Online communities in every sphere of human life rapidly emerged.

The new millennium brought a positive but short-lived one-world zeitgeist that was horribly eclipsed by the horror of 9/11. The world is still waiting for the aftermath of that to clear I think. What will it ultimately mean for the forces of globalisation and international relations? Too early to say, but the consumer psyche has certainly been profoundly affected and remains vulnerable. We’re still travelling less than before and maybe focussed more on our local communities than we used to be.

How society changes and consumer trends and tastes change with it is something that I find personally fascinating. Not too many people address these issues in a meaningful way but I’ve just seen some research by a company called style-vision that at least makes you think. They lean to the more conceptual approach in analysing the development of markets and it is intriguing. Their research is quite complex but basically looks at consumption based around moods and themes. So for marketing, targeting people is no longer about age, sex or other demographic data but more fashion, inner beliefs and social attitudes. Where will we be in the future? Marketing bods may find style-vision’s ‘future trend concepts’ useful in trying to anticipate these broader trends and what they mean for their future products (eg cars). I’ve not seen anything quite like it before. One thing's for sure: consumer trends are constantly changing and anything that helps us to understand the underlying dynamics at work can't be a bad thing.


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