8 ways to reach the Future Consumer

I’m lucky enough to be asked to speak regularly at business conferences, here and abroad. As a consumer futurist, my talks typically explore how customers are changing, and how brands should target this ‘new consumer’. The question my audiences most frequently ask is: ‘which companies are targeting them best right now?’ Below are some examples of brands whose innovative, consumer-driven marketing campaigns prove that, as customers become savvier, strategic marketing success today is less about big budgets and more about big insights. And it’s increasingly about building trust and community.

Non-traditional media

As consumers’ media use fragments, mainstream channels are proving less cost-effective. Several food brands have found innovative ways to reach new, not-for-sale media. Wendys created a Hip Hop mixtape called ‘We Beefin’?’ featuring original tracks like ‘Rest In Grease’. KFC curated a mixtape of 50 Hip Hop tracks that mention KFC in their lyrics, both of which were made available on Spotify: a better place to reach fast food fans than more mainstream media. To reach book sites, they both published fake Romantic novels. KFC got customers to review them on Amazon. Wendy’s got them featured on popular fan fiction site WattPad.

Shared interests

In an age when consumers can feel distanced from brands, showing you share their values or interests creates a greater communality. Nike and Gillette do this with shared values. Ben and Jerrys have combined values and interests: their website offers a regularly updated B&J-take on current events. But a ‘values’ angle isn’t necessary. Go Pro video cameras and luggage makers Away use Instagram to showcase their and their customers’ shared interest in exotic adventure.

UGC 2.0

Many of GoPro’s images come from its (now six million-strong) Instagram followers. Using user-generated content is not a new strategy, but it’s evolved enormously. Today it’s less about a few customers who upload complex content, and more about the many who upload simple content: holiday snaps, new flavour ideas, selfies with the product. It’s a great way to build a genuine user-community. Fashion brand Boden encourages customers to take selfies sporting their new Boden purchases which it puts on its website. Last year Starbucks asked its customers to send in photos of the doodles they drew on their paper cups. 


Consumers are growing wary of mega-influencers, and starting to look more to micro influencers or ‘super fans’. Last year Lush gave one of their super fans, Nicole Mcronney Apaw, a high profile job in their PR department. The brand is now quitting corporate Social Media to rely on a mix of live chat-led customer service and marketing-led fan conversations. Johnson & Johnson is using teenagers with just a few hundred followers as influencers. Sephora has created a #SephoraSquad of ‘real people’ influencers, chosen for their passion not their follower numbers. Over 15,000 of its customers applied for the 24 places it was offering.

Help me out

One of the few times today’s consumers willingly turn to brands is when looking for advice. Established brands have knowledge of their sector their customers may not. Recently brands like home decorating chain Lowes and guitar makers Fender have grown market share by providing hours of free branded video advice across a range of social media channels. Financial advice is a good way to help win back some of the trust lost in the Recession. Barclaycard offers advice targeted at growing a small business.Santander created a content-led advice website targeted specifically at young people called ‘Prosper & Thrive’. 

Try before you buy

With consumers less trusting of marketing messages, today’s smart brands increasingly ‘show don’t tell’: finding ways to let people experience the product for themselves. Not content with a 100 day no-quibble home trial, Casper recently launched the Sleepery: a showroom where customers can nap on one of its mattresses for up to two hours. Muji have gone one better and built entire hotels in China stocked solely with Muji products: from sofas to shampoo. 

Immerse yourself

In today’s experiences-led era, companies are finding other ways to let people immerse themselves in the brand. Several companies have created stand-alone pop-up cafes where customers can relax, socialise, get advice or just show off on Social. Benefit highlighted its 1950s-styling in its Roller Liner Diner in Los Angeles, with Insta-friendly ice cream sandwiches along with its usual cosmetics.  L’Occitane created an all-dessert cafe in Singapore using the unusual ingredients found in its products. Other beauty and fashion brands have created festivals, like Sephora’s ‘Sephoria’ and Lululemon’s ‘Sweat Fest’. Capital One bank has gone further, opening permanent venues combining cafes, financial advice centres and co-working spaces.

Challenging stereotypes

Consumers today are typically more trusting of brands they believe ‘understand’ them. Seeing past stereotypes and championing more marginal customers is a fantastic way to do that. Weight Watchers, for instance, use sizeable male Muslim rapper DJ Khaled as an ambassador: a great route into three separate markets. Lululemon steered clear of stereotypes for its brand ambassadors too: instead choosing authentic, locally popular characters like Saskatchewan-based hipster-bearded yoga instructor, and ‘guru’ for Alt Rock band Arcade Fire, Ryan Leier. Meanwhile the British Army found success recently with recruitment ads that mocked the way the Media represents youth as ‘snowflakes’ or ‘Me Me Me Millennials’.