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Expert Pinpoints Key Macrotrends

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Expert Pinpoints Key Macrotrends(GIFTBEAT)

Instead of asking what's the next big thing for 2010, Robyn Waters, president of Minnesota-based RW Trend LLC, suggests that retailers ask what's going on in customers' hearts and minds? Former vice president of trend, design and product development at Target, Waters discusses the "macro marketplace," key macrotrends for 2010 and more.

Q. What does the phrase "environmental scan of the macro marketplace" mean?

A. "Environmental scan of the macro marketplace" simply refers to "the big picture." My [trend] presentations seek to provide a strategic 30,000-foot-level overview of the real world. Macrotrends are broad, major factors that are influencing the way we live our lives. They are NOT styling or fashion or design trends, per se. My approach is very different from other trend gurus, futurists and "coolhunters." They are all looking for "the next big thing." I don't believe that that exists. My position is that there are many different "next big things" and that oftentimes they are completely contradictory. In fact, I believe that for every trend there is a countertrend.

I've been fascinated by paradoxes since my high school years. Psychologists say that [one of] the two most basic of human desires [is] to fit in, to belong, to be part of something. The second and equally important desire is that we all want to be recognized as unique individuals. F. Scott Fitzgerald said "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Customers are contradictory. How many order a salad and a glass of water and then guiltlessly order a molten lava cake for dessert?

Marketers and product developers that rely exclusively on demographics to put customers into understandable segments are in for a shock. More than ever, each customer needs to be treated as a unique individual. The tough economy and uncertainties in the marketplace are forcing customers to choose more carefully. Many are examining their lifestyles and questioning choices of the past. Brands are fighting to remain relevant in the face of rising acceptance of private labels. Things that used to be deemed a "necessity" are now being looked at as perhaps not that important after all. Everything is being re-evaluated.

Q. Why is it important to tap into the hearts and minds of customers?

A. [Since] "what's next" is always changing, "what's important" is about deeply rooted values that remain constant. Values drive purchase decisions even more than budgets. That's why I turned the trend proposition "inside out." Of course it's important to look outside, to the marketplace, and utilize data and statistics to determine major indicators—that's a no-brainer. But I believe it's even more important to look INSIDE…inside the heart and mind of the customer, to determine "what's important," not just "what's next."

When I was with Target, I created my 3-H Design Theory to motivate my designers to create unique products that touched people's hearts and emotions. I explained that there are three reasons why someone would come to Target to buy something. The HEAD, the HANDBAG and the HEART. The head is about need. "I'm out of toothpaste—better run into Target to buy some." The handbag is about value. "It's on sale—time to stock up." The heart is about desire. "Wow! I've never seen that before, but I love it, I want it. I have to have it." The essence of this is what helped turn Target into "Tarzhay."

Utilize design as your secret weapon to connect the trends in the market to the values of your customers, in order to create unique and differentiated WOW! products that inspire desire and help create peace of mind. Reframe your marketing messages, reinvigorate your corporate mission [and] re-examine your service philosophy. Make sure everything you do is designed to connect to the hearts and minds of your customers.

Q. How can retailers successfully reach into customers' hearts and minds with their product mix?

A. I believe the best thing retailers can do is offer well-selected products that resonate deeply with their customers’ values. I had a mantra at Target: “Edit. Focus. Maximize.” Edit to the best assortment. Focus on your customer’s needs. Maximize the opportunity with great marketing and presentation.

Psychologists refer to the “paradox of choice.” If we have too many choices to select from, our natural human response is to freeze. Very often, we decide not to decide—because we're afraid to make the WRONG choice.

If you're a small store, you can't carry everything the big stores do. The "secret formula" in the trend room at Target was "TMI-E = Toxic, or "too much information without editing is toxic." [When you're buying at a trade show], go see everything you can in one day. Then ask yourself, "What are the 10 best things I saw today?" Then ask, "What are the three biggest ideas or patterns within those 10 best things?" They could all be related to peace of mind or making customers' lives easier. Finally, decide what the really big picture is or what to "hang your hat on" for your marketing program.

Q. What are some of the key macrotrends for 2010?

A. Everything old is new again. This is about our need to embrace the future and keep up with technology while we seek ways to capture the essence of "the good old days," a time when things were simpler. It's as much about how those things make us "feel" as it is about what they "do for us."

Luxurious commodities. [These are] inexpensive, well-designed products that inspire desire, not just meet a functional need. For retailers, it's not just about the product choices you will make. It's how you talk about them and market them. It's reframing in the best sense of the word.

Everybody wants value, so of course you will put up sales signs. It’s critical for retailers to frame their marketing message in a big picture kind of way. And anything that message can do to enhance a sense of peace of mind is a major advantage. Here’s a simple example: The "Calgon moment" wasn't about getting yourself clean. Calgon did research and found that for busy women, the private moment they valued most was a few minutes alone in the bathtub. Calgon translated that time into an "ahhhhh moment"—a dash of peace of mind.

Mass customization. Technology has enabled manufacturers to design products for mass production that satisfy very individual needs and desires. A trend used to be defined as something that everyone wanted, all at the same time. Today, it’s important to find a way to customize a product specifically for an individual customer, a la the Mini Cooper, Nike ID (I Design) sneakers or ordering your coffee or burger exactly the way YOU want it.

Less is more. In recent years, the trend in housing has been toward McMansions. But that’s changing—quickly. People are realizing that less CAN be more. In her book The Not So Big House, author Sarah Susanka put her finger on the pulse of early baby boomers and people just starting out [in a home]. She says you can downsize a house without downsizing your dreams. You can still have nice things, quality materials and a beautiful house that fulfills your dreams, but it's a smaller footprint, one that’s easier to care for and better for the environment. This is a perfect example of what plays into the hearts and minds of customers.

Extreme relaxation. We work hard. We play hard. Now it's time to relax hard. Products that heal and deliver peace of mind are the new gold standards. That can translate into a tall latte at Starbucks that becomes a 10-minute vacation.

Counterfeit authenticity. Sometimes faux or fake is better than the real thing. Some prefer to visit Las Vegas and partake of Paris, the Pyramids and Pirates, rather than flying to France, Egypt or the Caribbean. It's time- and cost-effective, fun and much more accessible. [Translated into product offerings, this can be] a beautiful Plexiglas item that is faux, but looks real. It's consciously made to say, "This isn't a real item, but it can be better." It's also seen in a lot of modern materials like plastics and resins. There's usually a little whimsy, like a vase made of vinyl for holding flowers. [This macrotrend] is driven by functional materials and whimsy, wit and cleverness—anything that will make customers smile and create a big, "ahh" moment.

Social capitalism. Even in these tough times, companies can and should find ways to do good—and make money. Customers vote with their pocketbooks, but more and more, they are also voting their values. They are making decisions based on what's important to them and to their lives.

Q. What will customers "desire" in the coming year?

A. Given the state of the economy, basic needs will come first. Housing, food, education and healthcare. These are at the top of everyone's list.

Beyond that, I think that products that heal, that deliver and/or contribute to peace of mind will be the winners. Peace of mind can be portrayed as anything that makes a house feel more like a home, allows us to nurture our families, products that help us take better care of ourselves and help us prepare for a better future.

Small indulgences can contribute to peace of mind. A wonderful bottle of Caldrea all-natural, aroma-therapeutic dish soap liquid can make a household chore feel like a meditative experience. A novel sippy cup that makes a little girl "feel like a princess" helps us nurture our family. A well-deserved massage can help restore our energy perhaps more than a new wardrobe. The ultimate payback equals peace of mind.

[When it comes to events that relate to peace of mind], have an event that focuses on how to entertain inexpensively but elegantly. Tell customers "Here's how to set a table that's simple and beautiful, using materials you already have and adding to them." People are hungry for cleverness. [This type of event] is a way for a woman to bring that entertaining element to her home or a party.

Q. In 2010, will there be a difference in macrotrends among generations of consumers?

A. While there are definitely differences between the generations, I believe it's best to look beyond the demographics to the psychographics of consumers. All generations are struggling now. All are in need of help, ideas, encouragement and, more than anything else, HOPE. Any way that your products or marketing message can address those fundamental human desires—instead of only trying to key into marketplace design trends—is going to be an advantage.

Note: To sign up for Waters' free newsletter or purchase her books, "The Hummer and the Mini" and "The Trendmaster's Guide," visit www.rwtrend.com.

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