The keynote this afternoon at the Forum on Customer Based Marketing Strategies was given by Robyn Waters, formerly of Target and now on her own as a hired-gun trendmaster. Her presentation was entitled “Navigating the Contradictions of the New Trend Landscape” and was both informative and entertaining. Unfortunately it was in the basement of the Omni, so instead of liveblogging I’m having to reconstruct from my notes.
Robyn spoke of the power of paradox, and how it explains apparent contradictions of the young guy who shops at Costco yet is a golf enthusiast who uses Callaway clubs. She said the days when marketers could judge people’s buying propensities by their zip codes are gone. And the power of paradoz is why Target became known as the Upscale Discounter with a slogan of: “Expect More. Pay Less.”
Robyn says the schizophrenia of the Hummer and the Mini Cooper both being popular trends (and health conscious-women being injected with botox, which is botulism) arises in a sense from two basic human desires that are contradictory: to “fit in” to the group, and to stand out from the crowd.
Here were her five main points (which I understand are chapters from her new book, The Hummer and the Mini:
Everything Old is New Again – e.g. the Vespa scooter, which you buy in a boutique, not in a dealership, and is aimed at urban hipsters. Other examples include the Mini Cooper, “star of the retro road,” Mont Blanc pens “New since 1924” and Prada perfume with a new crystal bottle but an old-fashioned atomizer.
Mass Customization – “Me, myself and iPod” and TiVo letting you watch or listen to what you want when you want it, Starbucks customized coffee in 19,000 varieties (and to think I thought it was a big deal when I worked at Wendy’s and made hamburgers 256 different ways!), Jones soda which started by being marketed at extreme sports events and also offers custom packs with your photo on the bottle, and Mini Cooper’s YOUNIQUE ads. It seems 90 percent of them are customized, and they take 8-12 weeks for delivery, so the company came up with the “Where’s my baby?” program so customers could use the web to track the progress of their car being built. Toyota, as it is prone to do, improved on that process by letting people customize their Scions , but Toyota sent partially built vehicles to customization centers where the customization could happen much more rapidly. They had positioned this as “a cheap car with audacious accessories for the discriminating body piercer” in an effort to reach a younger demographic, but they found a much broader market. Finally, you can even get personalized postage stamps that feature a photo of you or a loved one. And to think that formerly you had to be dead to get on a postage stamp.
Luxurious Commodities – Caldrea, an all natural, aromatherapeutic dishwashing liquid, made some women stop using dishwashers; the Starck Reality sippy cup (PDF) offered parents and elegant-looking but fully functional spill-preventing cup for their crumb crunchers. Other examples included Haute chocolate and Starbucks, Kleenex ovals, and gourmet ice cubes made from spring water. Who would have thought people would pay three bucks for bottled water when they can get it free from the tap? (And in my hotel room tonight it’s $5, although I’m not buying.)
Extreme Relaxation – We work 350 hours longer per year than our international counterparts, which has led to the Oct 24 Take Back Your Time initiative. OCD (online-compulsive disorder) and the always-on world of Crackberrys leads to adult ADD. What’s the solution? 1-800-CALL WOOD to “power unplug” by calling and listening to the sounds of a mountaintop, and salutes to slowness.
Social Capitalism – Doing well by doing good. Examples included Amazon Rainforest Vodka giving purchasers a certificate that tells them they have protected 5,000 square feet of — you guessed it — Amazon rainforest, and CEO Brad Anderson at Best Buy giving his stock options to front-line employees.
To sum up, Robyn says the keys to current trends are these paradoxes:
The old and the new
Customization for everyone
Commodities made into luxuries
Extreme stress offset with extreme relaxation
Doing good and making money
Expense control and creativity