Mike Walsh Interview: Future Consumers

Our leading futurist speaker, Mike Walsh, was interviewed by Carte Blanche on his insights on the Future Consumers.

Watch the full interview of Mike or read the transcript from Carte Blanche here:

Mike Walsh: ‘If your kids ran your company, what would they do differently? We need to think anthropology, not technology.’Mike Walsh – Hong Kong based futurist and author of ‘Futuretainment’ – literally blew delegates away at the Shopping Centre Congress last week in Cape Town with his take on retail trends.

Mike: ‘At the heart, most companies are trying to answer a very difficult question, which is: how are consumers in the future going to change the way that they behave? And, really, at the heart of that question is, what is going on with generations? Anyone born after 1994 has essentially grown up in a world only knowing the Web. So, their worldview is completely different to you and [I]. And the way they see brands, the way they see media, and even the way they think about things like shopping, is radically different. I like to think of them as the ‘naturals’ or the ‘Internet generation’.’

Annika Larsen (Carte Blanche Consumer presenter): ‘Mike believes the way we shop is going to change radically – and the naturals are leading the way.’

Mike: ‘When the Internet first came in a lot of people were saying that it’s the end of ‘normal’ shopping. And what we forgot was that we’re human beings and we’re very social and we like entertainment. So I don’t think you’ll see the death of shopping malls or retail outlets. But what you will need in those physical spaces is a sense of entertainment.’

Some luxury international brands are trying out some novel new ideas.

Mike: ‘One of the coolest things I have seen recently was in Madrid. Diesel has actually started experimenting with social media mirrors. So when you’re trying on clothes that you’re thinking about buying, you can stand in front of this mirror, which actually is a video camera which connects you to Facebook. So you literally show the clothes you’re about to buy to all your friends on Facebook and get their instant approval. And it is brilliant because, not only do you fall under peer pressure to actually buy something – how many teenage girls are going to actually say, ‘Don’t buy it’? – you actually potentially influence thousands of other people.’

Another phenomenal runaway success has been the Tokyo Girls Collection in Japan.

Mike: ‘What makes these shows interesting is that on average they’ll see about US$700 000 worth of merchandise, but they haven’t actually sold it because people have gone into stores later or even bought it on the Internet. What has happened is that literally, as the clothes are walking past on the stage, these screaming teenage girls are holding up their phones and the phones recognise the dress as it walks past and they click ‘buy’ and the goods get shipped automatically from the warehouse. And the cost of the dress gets deducted from their mobile phone bill.’

Other retailers embraced and encouraged the marketing of their brands through teenage YouTube hall bloggers.

Mike: ‘Basically, young teenage girls who go out shopping… and then they go back in front of their camera, in front of YouTube, and they basically pull out all of the things that they’ve bought out of their bag and show the world. Now you ask yourself: who would watch something like this? It turns out, millions of people. It’s got to the point that Macys and some of the big retailers in the United States have actually cut deals with these teenage hall bloggers to give them free products because they’re having more influence on young girls’ spending habits than catalogues and TV Commercials.’

Annika: ‘Social networking sites have evolved from being for fun and friendship to serious marketing tools.’

In fact there are some businesses that simply could not exist without social networking sites like Twitter.

Mike: ‘One of the best examples I’ve seen of that is something I saw recently in Los Angeles where the hottest fast food at the moment is – believe it or not – Korean taco. But what’s really crazy about these Kogi barbeque trucks is that the only way you can find them is by following them on Twitter. They’ve got over a hundred thousand people following them and what happens is that they’ll send out a Tweet saying that at 3pm we’ll be on the corner of Hollywood and Vine. There’ll be literally a hundred people on the street waiting for the barbeque truck to arrive. And when the truck arrives, everyone lines up and gets their tacos; they call in a second truck if there [is] too many people there. But then instantly, the trucks leave, they send out another Tweet that they’re going to be in another random location in Los Angeles and people follow on their phones. So it is a fast food flash mob and it is a great example of a business that has not only embraced social media because it’s the interesting thing to do – they couldn’t exist without it.’

That’s taking pop-up stores to a whole new level! One of the biggest Internet marketing successes to date has to be the Old Spice campaign – it’s completely altered the image of the brand.

Mike: ‘In the last six months they have devastatingly proved how you run a social media campaign in 2010. And what they did, of course, was… after the Super Bowl, they set up a very clever campaign of an attractive athletic guy talking about the man that women always wanted that didn’t wear ladies-scented body wash. So it was a very clever, smart piece of creative. And that of course went viral on YouTube.’

[Old Spice campaign] Man 1: ‘But if he stopped using lady-scented body wash and switched to Old Spice he could smell like he is me. Look down, back up. Where are you? You’re on a boat with the man your man could smell like.’

Mike: ‘But what made the campaign clever is what happened next, because they got a team of creatives together who then looked at what people were saying on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter and they set a series of follow-up response videos that directly talked to consumers. So they literally addressed them by their usernames, like prairie_wolf and triphop_4761.’

[Old Spice campaign] Man 1: ‘ping_chat Tweeted, ‘You started something big.’ Yes, I did, ping_chat, yes I did.’

Mike: ‘By doing that, they set up an ongoing conversation with people and it really turned the whole Internet into an echo chamber for the brand, which led not only to a massive viral success but a dramatic increase in product sales.’

With 28 million hits they literally broke open the box in terms of what you can do with social media.

Location marketing sites like Foursquare are also breaking new ground with their cyber mayor wars.

Mike: ‘So if you visit a coffee shop enough, you become the mayor of that coffee shop – the virtual mayor. And Starbucks now will give you discounts if you’re the mayor of that particular coffee shop. In New Zealand, Air New Zealand have actually partnered with Foursquare so that if you check into the lounge you actually get extra frequent flyer points. So the more people share information about their physical location, the more retailers will use that, I think, to start marketing to them and to understand better their behaviour and motivations.’

Annika: ‘Why are we sharing such intimate details with each other? I mean, do we really care whether so-and-so is brushing their teeth or whether someone is wearing pink knickers? It is kind of weird.’

Mike: ‘You underestimate how interested people are in what knickers people are wearing… especially the Japanese. But it’s very weird, you know, I think at the heart of what is going on is the power of networks. We have a natural human desire to connect and, by sharing information, we actually make it easier to find other like-minded people. And so, if you share, for example, that you’re in an airport waiting lounge waiting for a flight to Berlin, you might find five other people that are doing the same and you’ve got a reason to connect. So, in a weird way, we’re overcoming the greatest human fear of all, which is loneliness.’

In the future Mike believes that these networks will become one of our biggest assets.

Mike: ‘So they will actually look at your Facebook networks, or whatever they are, in the future, and work out – are you an influencer? are you someone when you do something other people follow? And that will actually be something that goes into your favour. It’ll be your virtual CV – the strength of your networks and who you can reach, who you can influence.’

And, although the gimmicks and the gadgets will change our shopping experiences, he doubts it will ever replace retail therapy completely.

Mike: ‘I think, as long as we’re all still humans, biology is still more powerful.’