Back to the Future? The Consumer of 2030

14/03/2012

What will the consumer look like in 2030? That’s the theme the MBA Marketing Club proposed for IESE’s first annual Marketing Trends Conference. The necessary corollary issue that professionals from the marketing sector also addressed was: What will the world look like in the future?

Gazing into the crystal ball has always been a human hobby, making this a perennially relevant matter for anybody. For those whose jobs depend on projecting consumer trends in order to plan marketing strategy, it’s essential.

What’s new about today’s forecast of tomorrow, however, is the advent of the digital age, a technological revolution that has society evolving in leaps and bounds.

It’s into these uncharted waters that panelists from Telefónica, Facebook, TNS Digital and Unilever ventured during the first session of the conference. At the heart of the digital marketing debate, moderated by IESE Prof. Jorge González, was the more philosophical question: Are we shaping the digital world, or is “digital” shaping us?

Plus ça change

Digital Marketing Manager at Unilever Raquel Valverde argued that digital “only amplifies what has always happened,” echoing the French proverb, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” From the company’s point of view, she said, the customer has always been, and will remain, the focal point of marketing strategy.

If anything has changed, it’s that digital has fragmented today’s audience, she said. More than ever, therefore, companies need to concentrate their resources on understanding the person behind the consumer, even if that means giving up a Twitter account or two in the process.

Jordi Ferrer, Global Head at TNS Digital, and Kim Faura, CEO of Telefónica in Catalonia, also championed the consumer as priority, but for different reasons. In the spirit of King Solomon’s “to everything there is a season,” they made the case that digital has definitely turned the wheel, making the consumer the clear focus.

Ferrer pointed out that online access to what others think means customers are now the most important source of information about products, ahead of the brands themselves.

For Faura, they’re also increasingly becoming the agents of control and judges of content. Even a minority can have great influence through social networks, as in the case of the Arab Spring protests. Another example he cited was the rise and fall of Nokia and Myspace: in both these instances, the consumers were the ones who dictated the success of the companies.

The times, they are a-changin’

At the other end of the spectrum, panelist Jordi Fornies, Ad Operations Manager at Facebook, said it’s imperative that companies do marketing through the prism of the digital era. As a side note he remarked that “Myspace is back, by the way,” which also served him as proof that not only has digital forever changed society, it’s here to stay.

Fornies said that we now have a greater opportunity for dialogue online, which means that people no longer accept a one-way “Buy our brand!” message. Instead, they want to talk about the brand with others.

Another concept that has changed is our idea of intrusiveness, which will only continue to progress as time goes by, said Fornies. As a closing example, he pointed out that we’ve already changed our concept of privacy, in specific reference to what we allow others to see on our Facebook page.

“My nephew, who has grown up in this digital age, doesn’t have the same understanding of privacy as I do,” he confirmed.