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A TCI Book Review

The Future Consumer

Frank Feather
Warwick Publishing Co., Toronto, 1994


Futurist Frank Feather describes the consumer of tomorrow in this book, and outlines the various strategies that forward-thinking companies will have to put in place in order to respond to their needs. His basic contention is that the old notion of a 'mass market' no longer holds - what we have traditionally thought of as a homogenous mass of more-or-less equivalent consumers has actually disintegrated into innumerable small segments that demand products and services tailored to their highly specific needs. All this is made possible by technology that allows the production of goods and services in small quantities cost effectively, virtually anywhere, at any time.

Feather is an advocate of glocal marketing strategy. No, this is not a typo - 'glocal' (a term invented by Akio Morita, founder and chairman of Sony) means "to market locally in the context of a global village economy". Coke, for example, competes in the global marketplace, yet tailors its product to meet local needs (different recipes are used to meet regional tastes) and sells the stuff by means of advertising that picks up on local place names, personalities and references. Increasingly, technology will facilitate the tailoring of products and services to meet the needs of small 'local' market segments - be they defined geographically, demographically, psychographically, or according to lifestyle choices or leisure preferences. As the coiner of the phrase "Thinking Globally, Acting Locally" back in the heyday of the environmental movement in the late 70s, this philosophy comes naturally to Feather and he embraces it enthusiastically.

He outlines in the book a five-stage plan for an organization to adopt in developing a glocal marketing strategy. These five stages are:

  1. Forecast market trends
  2. Predict consumer behavior
  3. Master core competencies
  4. Create info-network culture
  5. Re-vamp the marketing mix

Not rocket science, you say. Well, maybe not, but Feather does have some interesting things to say at each stage.

He adopts four perspectives at each of the five stages (thus making for an interesting 4-by-5 matrix of possibilities to talk about - see the chart below). These four angles are a social view, a technological one, an economic view, and a political one. Certain points, outlined in the chart, are important to bear in mind as a company goes through the strategic planning process of re-aligning its products and services to meet future market requirements. The chart can thus serve as a useful checklist of factors to consider.

Feather is particularly interesting in his identification of market characteristics and factors. He maintains that the coming global era will be radically different from anything we have known in the past in terms of how we regard the market. Social change is fragmenting the marketplace, making market segments ever smaller and more focused, right down to the level of the smallest possible target market segment, the individual. Consumer behavior, he says, is "...driven by each person's unique biographical subculture which is largely determined by three general yet personally-diverse elements:

  • ethnic identity
  • generational identity
  • gender identity."

Dismissing the myth of the 'melting pot' Feather holds that root culture lasts for generations, and that ethnic and cultural identification is a continuing and pervasive market force that must be reckoned with by marketers.

"In the past, when cultures made contact, the stronger usually controlled or swallowed up the weaker. Strong cultures still impose on weaker ones, but, today, each culture is both the source and adopter of different values, ideas, and innovations. Culture is a product of social mixing - and we are mixing like never before. The global flows of people and information into local markets are forming a multi-ethnic glocal smorgasbord."

Regarding generational identity, Feather puts forth an interesting theory (without any attribution as to where it came from) that suggests there are "...discernible 16-17 year birth cycles of about one generation in length. Most people survive into their fifth generation but they can best be defined in terms of their activity during childhood, young adulthood and mid-life - that time of life when they grew up, raised their own children, and became socially mature....Each generation shares a collegial identity and a collective mind set that governs its behavior. In turn, each generation believes its experience is the norm for everyone, and we expect others to behave like us. Every society has felt this 'generation gap' for centuries."

This theory holds that there is a generation of 'repressed conformists', followed by one of 'overconfident idealists', then by one of 'angry reactives'. Then the cycle begins anew. Each generation spawns the next one, thus 'angry reactives' (who tend to come into their adult years during a time of economic recession) raise a group of conformists who rebuild social institutions and technology. These individuals become 'repressed conformists' who in turn raise a generation of 'overconfident idealists' who redefine social values and culture. Overconfident idealists in their turn raise a lost generation of angry reactives, and so it goes.

The current baby boom generation falls into the 'overconfident idealists' stage of the sequence, and their positive attitudes and aspirations as they come into their peak earning periods will be a major influence on the consumer patterns of tomorrow.

The third marketing factor identified by Feather is gender identity. Marketers to tomorrow's consumers had better wake up to the fact that 52% of the marketplace is comprised of women, whose economic power and social influence continues to grow.

As the background to these changing demographics, Feather predicts a 25-year 'super-boom' in the economy, fueled by three factors:

  1. global free trade, which will open up new markets to an unprecedented extent;
  2. tele-computer productivity gains which will greatly enhance productivity and the quality of output; and
  3. an era of low inflation, brought about by a higher savings rate in the developed countries, in response to the recent 'mini-depression'.

Thus the future that Feather predicts is a rosy one, with lots of economic growth featuring products and services tailored to our individual needs. The book presents a road map for companies who might want to restructure themselves to jump onto this bandwagon. Despite some skepticism at this perhaps overly optimistic (dare we say simplistic) view of the future, Feather's book is very rich in insights and examples of how companies are adopting this approach.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

THE 'GLOCAL' MARKETING MODEL - from Frank Feather, The Future Consumer, Warwick Publishing Inc., Toronto, 1994.

 
Social Perspective Technical Perspective Economic Perspective Political Perspective
1. Forecast Market Trends socio-cultural divergence: markets are fragmenting as people seek out their own identities to a much greater extent telecommunications technologies are converging, making distance and place far less important a 25-year economic 'super boom', fueled by global free trade, telecommunications, and a high savings rate in the past, is coming the political agenda will become increasingly issue-driven, particularly with respect to environmentalism and economic sustainability
2. Predict Consumer Behavior multicultural society reinforces culture-driven buying behavior consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their use of technology, and expecting more in terms of service delivery and product attributes as a reaction to the recent 'mini-depression', consumers are increasingly focused on value for money people are more interested in pursuing ecologically sound and socially responsible lifestyles
3. Master Core Competencies companies are encouraging their employees to act entrepreneurially in serving customers companies are developing unique product and service features (made possible by developing technology) to offer to the marketplace companies must become information-driven, and provide value by responding in real time (i.e. instantaneously) to customer needs companies will increasingly adopt socially-responsive stances on issues of community concern, relating to their own lines of business
4. Create Info-Network Culture companies create self-directed teams to identify new ways of providing better service to customers increasingly, information networks are developed that are responsive to the customer, very quickly added value to the customer is created by forging supplier networks and strategic alliances companies demonstrate societal commitment in ways that are meaningful to their customers
5. Re-Vamp the Marketing Mix companies are tailoring products and services to individual buyers, contrary to the myth of global homogenization companies are restructuring operations, with the aid of technology, to be able to service buyers, in any place at any time companies are gearing costs to local market situations, not simply 'discount pricing' increasingly, product and service information is being tailored to individuals ('1 to 1' product positioning)

 

 

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