The New Customer Agenda … What are the new drivers of consumer behaviours, brands and innovation, and their evolving value equations?

January 6, 2020

How will you drive future strategy, innovation and change?  How will you reinvent your business models, brands and experiences to embrace rapidly changing needs, behaviours and aspirations of consumers?

As digital experiences drive a hunger for humanity, as sustainability becomes purposeful and mainstream, and as relevance and meaning are in demand everywhere, what are the real drivers of consumers, and their evolving value equations in 2020?

Here are some of the most interesting 2020 trend reports just published:

Back in 2008 Tesla launched its Roadster, a $100k electric supercar. In 2016 Adidas partnered with Parley for the Oceans to produce a limited-edition line of sneakers made from recycled ocean plastic; only 50 pairs are made. Also in 2016, NYC’s Momofuku Nishi became the first restaurant in the world to offer the Impossible Burger.

Fast-forward to 2019, and Tesla’s Model 3 is a mainstream favourite, the third best-selling car in the UK. Adidas made 11 million pairs of ocean plastic sneakers in 2019. And Impossible Burger is available at over 7,000 Burger King outlets across the USA, demonstrating that plant-based alternatives can taste even better than the ‘real’ thing.

With a little help from some of my trend watching friends,  below is a compilation of some of the most interesting innovations of the last 12 months, collectively demonstrating the fusion and application of the many diverse consumer trends:

Automotive

The automotive industry is facing its most profound change in 100 years. Autonomous vehicles, new models of ownership, connected ecosystems and more:

  • Volvo: Remember when faster was better? When driving was freedom? Volvo’s driver-facing sensors will soon detect and even prevent intoxicated or distracted driving. A divisive but bold statement of brand intent. More
  • Tencent: Apple and Amazon aren’t the only tech auto shows in town. Thanks to a partnership with 19 automakers, WeChat (with its 1 billion users!) is now accessible to Chinese drivers. Digital superpowers, freed from the screen. More
  • Toyota: The Tokyo 2020 Olympics will see the Japanese manufacturer showcase its new vehicles. 90% are electric and athletes will be ferried around by an autonomous shuttle. More
  • Busbot: Getting around an Australian retirement village is much easier. Limited rollouts avoid many of the challenges of full open-road autonomy, while also bringing affordable mobility to groups who are currently under-served. More

Beauty

Consumers want it all. Personalization. Intimate connection with trusted influencers. Activism. Empowerment. Scientific breakthroughs. All-natural, eco-friendly products. New technologies.

  • L’Oreal: This act of self-disruption from an industry giant ticks so many trend boxes, mixing D2C, personalization, live chat and the gig economy: More
  • Sephora: The French brand looked to escape influencer fraud and fatigue by creating its #SephoraSquad, a year-long partnership with 24 diverse micro-influencers. More
  • Shiseido: The company’s new office in Hangzhou (next to Alibaba’s HQ) will enable the beauty brand to access data and accelerate development of products better suited to local tastes. More
  • Rohto: The Japanese brand’s sunscreen’s selfie-friendly reverse print packaging taps into a very modern customer pain point. Maybe not the most profound innovation, but lots of empathy: More

Electronics

As personal technology reaches a plateau in terms of raw power and basic form, consumers will seek devices with very different benefits: environmental, inclusive, and empowering.

  • Arçelik: A washing machine with a filter to stop microplastic pollution? And they gave away the technology as an open source solution. More
  • Zappos:  Inspired by an employee, the US shoe brand partnered with Not Impossible Labs to create a portable ‘sonic localizer’ system to help a visually impaired skateboarder. More
  • Sony: This crowdfunded wearable air conditioning device might seem slightly crazy, but if it gets warm (!) reviews from spectators at the Tokyo Olympics it might just be the next big thing to hit warming streets around the globe. More
  • Vice: Q is an artificially-synthesised, ‘genderless’ virtual assistant designed to challenge existing stereotypes perpetuated by existing offerings such as Alexa. More
  • Conalep: Mexico’s National Institute of Technical Education is now offering courses in drone piloting, in order to help create future-proofed job opportunities. More

Fashion

2019 felt like a watershed moment when fashionistas woke up to the need to drastically reduce their environmental impact. New materials, business models, data, technologies and most importantly new consumer expectations:

  • Vollebak: This t-shirt is made from sustainably-certified wood pulp, printed with ink made from algae, and will decompose in 12 weeks if composted. More
  • thredUP: The fashion resale website launched its Resale-as-a-Service platform to other retailers. Will this platform play be the trigger that propels the recommerce trend firmly into the mainstream? More
  • Nike: The Nike Fit app enables customers to measure their feet using augmented reality. It’s been a hell of a wait, but finally we’re seeing AR being used in ways that are actually…useful?! More
  • Google x Stella McCartney: The British eco-pioneer is deploying Google Cloud’s data analytics to give its designers a more detailed view into the impact of materials in its supply chain. Big data, meet sustainable fashion. More
  • Unspun: The Hong-Kong based startup makes custom-made jeans for people based on a 20-second Fit3D body scan. Perfect fit combined with zero inventory (and so zero waste!). More

Finance

Fintech disruption is still big, but where previously long-serving incumbents struggled to compete, 2019 saw their decade-long drive to embrace both digital and cultural transformation start bearing fruit. Customers are increasingly able to enjoy convenient, practical, and empathetic customer experiences:

  • Alice:  This app connects to users’ bank accounts and simplifies deducting allowable taxable expenses. Elite employee benefits to lower-paid and poorly-served hourly wage earners.  More
  • Barclays: The UK bank enables customers to block certain spending categories, such as gambling, alcohol. Fintech-style self-disruption and true customer-centricity from an incumbent. More
  • RHB: This Malaysian bank addressed both a younger generation and inter-generational family dynamics through its Chinese New Year campaign championing a professional esports gamer. More
  • Free Trial Surfing: This clever app enables people to sign up to free trials with ‘burner’ card details so they don’t need to remember to cancel them to avoid charges. More
  • Mastercard: Customers will soon be able to display their chosen names on their payment cards, regardless of their birth gender. A ‘small’ but very relevant step on the road to inclusion and acceptance. More

Food and drink

This is one of the most dynamic sectors, with relatively low costs of innovation and high expectations of consumers. New ingredients, new channels, sustainable sourcing and the circular economy, and more.

  • Nestlé: The confectionery giant’s new 70% dark chocolate product contains no refined sugar. Instead it is sweetened with previously-discarded cacao pulp. More
  • Lettuce: This Austin-based startup installs low maintenance grow beds in members’ homes, matching owners with willing local gardeners and collecting surplus produce for its zero-waste, hyperlocal subscription meal kits. More
  • Solar Foods: The Finnish startup will soon launch Solein, a high protein wheat flour-like powder made from CO2 extracted from the air and combined with water, nutrients, and vitamins. More
  • Returnr: The Australian  startup makes it easier to avoid single-use food packaging by enabling customers to ‘rent’ reusable stainless steel bowls and outsource cleaning to the restaurant. More
  • Perennial: This vitamin-enriched plant-based milk supports the brain health and bone strength of its 50 year old and over audience. More

Healthcare

The consumerisation of healthcare — behaviorally, technologically, culturally — remains the biggest industry trend. People  still want world-class ‘traditional’ reactive medical care in an emergency. But innovations that empower people to engage with their health in new ways will bring huge benefits to both individuals and over-stretched healthcare systems.

  • Seed: The D2C probiotics company launched an Instagram Stories-based ‘certification’ to train influencers in the science behind its products and FTC regulations. More
  • University of Washington: Researchers launched an app that can detect fluid behind the eardrum using a paper funnel attached to a standard smartphone. More
  • AXA Insurance: Hong Kong-based patients with social anxiety can access a six-week therapy program. The twist? The sessions are delivered in virtual reality. More
  • Life Kitchen: Medical treatment is just a small slice of healthcare. This cooking school for cancer patients offers those going through chemotherapy an experience filled with empathy and humanity. More
  • United State of Women: The Womanikin is a breast attachment for CPR mannequins, designed so that first aid givers can get familiar with giving chest compressions to female bodies. More

Home

Who wants a domestic life that is safer, more sustainable, healthier and more socially connected?. Here are five innovations that give a glimpse of what domestic bliss:

  • IKEA: Growing awareness is making air pollution the next frontier for wellness. IKEA’s pollution-fighting curtains will push the issue even further into the mainstream. More
  • Kartell: The furniture brand partnered with software firm Autodesk and designer Philippe Starck to create the world’s first AI-designed chair. More
  • Wutopia Lab: This Chinese design studio created Blue Heart a ‘shared living room’ for residents in ultra-dense housing. New ‘third place’ opportunities. More
  • Student.com & Sheffcare: This initiative pairs up students with residents of an elderly care home, because loneliness — like most trends — doesn’t discriminate by demographic. More
  • Sonny: Will this crowdfunded portable bidet — with its sleek, Apple-esque design — bring bidets to the US market? Perhaps not, but it does signal that every item in the home is ripe for an eco-upgrade. More

Luxury

What starts out in the luxury sector quickly ripples out into the mass-market. High-end aspirations become mainstream expectations. Here are five early warning signals to have on your radar:

  • Omega: All-natural as the ultimate luxury? The world’s first synthetic ‘spider silk’ watch strap turns that assumption on its head. More
  • Dapper Labs: Luxury is about scarcity. Which excludes all things digital. Or it did, until the auction of the world’s first piece of blockchain-based ‘digital haute couture’ gave us a glimpse of a new era of digital luxuries. More
  • Prada: Prada’s launch of its Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council is a step in the right direction for an industry that’s taken far too many wrong ones. More
  • Shangri-La: The luxury hotel chain opened a restaurant in Singapore’s Changi airport, showcasing a key part of its offering to a new audience. Which adjacent lanes could you move into? More
  • BMW: Second hand doesn’t mean second-class. BMW embraced this trend by recycling clips from old ads to promote its pre-owned vehicle offering. More

Media

People now spend near-insane amounts of their daily lives immersed in media. Frivolous yet meaningful; mindless yet self-improving:

  • Mattel: The maker of Barbie released a line of gender inclusive dolls. Each doll comes with both ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ hair and outfits which children are able to combine in various ways. More
  • BASE Hologram: An Evening With Whitney will see the late singer ‘perform’ a holographic tour in 2020. Another signal that, increasingly, there’s no such thing as impossible. More
  • ckbk: This Spotify-like subscription service disaggregates cookbooks into their component recipes. Which new business models could you import from adjacent sectors? More
  • Warner Music: The entertainment giant signed a distribution deal for algorithmically-generated music. Another day, another (creative) job being done by a machine. More
  • Blizzard: To celebrate the re-release (after 15 years!) of World of Warcraft Classic, the studio helped players find members of their original in-game ‘guilds’.  More

Non-profits

The line between businesses and nonprofits is increasingly blurred, thanks to the purpose ‘trend’. And working together can create challenges for nonprofits, but it also drives big ambitions, big budgets and big opportunities on offer, too:

  • Amber Alerts: Selected Dutch ATMs will show pictures of missing children and encourage citizens to sign up to mobile alerts. Omnichannel relevance meets brand purpose. More
  • Donate Life: Californian police issued motorists pulled over for minor traffic violations with a ‘Second Chance’ warning ticket. But only if they were registered organ donors. More
  • McDonald’s: The fast food chain turned to aging nonprofit AARP to help recruit 250,000 new workers in the US, shattering many long-held demographic assumptions in the process. More
  • Lesswalk: This Singapore-based nonprofit is giving 10,000 bicycles — bought and recycled from failed bike-sharing startups ofo and oBike — to children living in rural Myanmar. More
  • Lego: Its new Braille Bricks help visually impaired children (and their families and friends) learn braille while playing. Inclusive design at its best. More

Retail

Retailers get obsessed about digital and physical, omni-channel concepts. Consumers just want best-in-class choice, convenience and meaningful experiences.

  • Hanwha Galleria: The exterior walls of this South Korean mall literally change colour in response to the air pollution: green when low, red when high, showing the power of data and sustainability. More
  • Starbucks: The coffee chain continues to raise the bar when it comes to employee benefits, which now include various elements covering mental health. Culture drives your brand. More
  • 7-Eleven: Not at home but still want — no, need! — some food or drinks delivered? 7Now Pins are delivery locations in public places, such as parks and malls. On-demand expectations. More
  • Taobao: The farmers’ market gets a digital makeover. 1,000 rural farmers are now livestreaming to Chinese urbanites hungry for compelling provenance stories about the food they buy. More
  • Walmart: Smart retailers will find creative ways to celebrate the customer-facing benefits of new technology, as Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab did. More

Transport

If ‘mobile’ in the last decade has been primarily about smartphones, in the 2020s it will be about new ways to move physical atoms (i.e. people and goods) around more efficiently, cheaply and cleanly.

  • Optimus Ride: Moving (crawling?!) at 15 mph, a one-mile distance limit, two human safety supervisors…the Optimus Ride shuttles are no joyride. 16,000+ monthly riders now love autonomous vehicles. More
  • SBS Transit: Grass roofs are moving from the hippest of eco-dwellings…to buses! Ten buses in Singapore were equipped with living roofs in an eco-conscious, air conditioning cost-cutting move. More
  • Cyclo: This packable bike helmet makes it convenient for consumers to put safety first. And it’s made from recycled ocean plastic. No wonder it exceeded its Indiegogo funding goal in five days. More
  • Clear Channel: Stockholm’s Emotional Art Gallery’s algorithm scanned social media and local data to estimate commuters’ emotions, while digital subway billboards displayed real-time art More
  • Bird: The scooter company is raising the eco-bar by extending its carbon offset beyond the impact of an individual ride, and including delivery and charging. More

Travel 

The travel industry is about dreams and identity, but also faces an epic tension between rhetoric and reality, especially when it comes to purpose and authenticity.

  • KLM: Reminiscent of Patagonia’s ‘Don’t Buy this Jacket Campaign’, the Dutch airline asked its passengers to consider if they really needed to fly, or whether they could take a train or meet via video conference.  More 
  • Marriott: Brands touting ‘positive impact’ will look especially hollow if their own establishments play host to human suffering. Marriott trained half a million employees to spot trafficking at its hotels. More
  • Faroe Islands: The island nation closed to tourists for a weekend, while selected ‘voluntourists’ worked to conserve and restore popular locations. More
  • Sidekick: Choice saturation. Fake reviews. This South Korean platform lets travelers text a local for real-time recommendations. More
  • The Moxy: The New York hotel tapped into the popular YouTube phenomenon to give guests a ‘drug-free mental massage’ via free, in-room, celebrity-performed ASMR videos. More