Peers are the new brands | Voxburner


William Higham is a consumer futurist, author, speaker and founder of trends consultancy Next Big Thing. He’ll be speaking at Youth Marketing Strategy London in March on spotting and forecasting youth consumer trends. From ‘Sidestepping’ to predicting next week’s lottery numbers, William gives us a taster of what he’ll be talking about at YMS.

Firstly, what is a consumer futurist?

I study how consumer attitudes, behaviours and expectations are changing; predict how they’re likely to evolve over the next decade; and help brands and industries understand what that means for them.

What do you think has been the most important trend for youth marketers to take note of over the past 12 months?

The rise of ‘Sidestepping’. Declining trust in brands and the establishment, and growing trust in peers, is encouraging more young people to sidestep traditional channels and seek out peer-led services. Peers are becoming the new brands: from Social Commerce (eBay to Etsy, Air B’n’B to Uber, farmers markets to Bitcoin) to Shared Content (vloggers to fan fiction to uploaded news stories). If traditional brands aren’t going to be left behind, they’ll need to make young customers feel part of a trusted community, comprising not just fellow buyers but also the brand itself: creating what I call a ‘Brand Family’.

What is unique about this current generation of 16-24s?

This is a much more serious and responsible generation. Thanks to the impact of the Recession, they are less privileged and what’s-in-it-for-me than their older siblings. They’re also less interested in hedonism and risk-taking, and worry and prepare more for the future. They actually have a lot in common with the 1940s and 1950s generations, for whom hard work and responsibility were more important than acquisition. Scary for brands perhaps (though there are solutions) but good for society. I call them SAFFYs: serious, active forward-facing Youth.

What trend are you most excited about right now?

‘Connoisseur-shift’ and ‘Deepisation’ (terrible name, great trend) are seeing young people focusing on skills learning and specialised knowledge. This presents huge opportunities for companies to win trust and loyalty by offering ‘Brand Aid’: unbiased advice, assistance and enablement.

And finally a few fun questions…

Best moment of your career so far?

The best times are when I’ve trusted my instincts – even when they appear counter-intuitive – and been proved right. Back in the early 2000s I told senior BBC staff at a workshop that, despite some people’s misgivings, their new show ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ was spectacularly on-trend and was going to be huge (seems obvious now, but back then it appeared a pretty bizarre concept). Seeing it grow into the biggest TV show in the world by 2006 was quite a thrill!

Last YouTube video you watched?

Other than idly browsing vloggers, performing pets and instructional videos, the last video I properly watched was Emerson Lake and Palmer performing ‘Knife Edge’ from a TV show in 1971 (link). I’ve gone back to the Prog Rock of the ’70s in a big way recently. And I’m not alone: with their renewed interest in hard work and re-skilling, and a growing disillusionment with manufactured Pop, young people are increasingly excited by the idea of musical virtuosity. So get out your capes and Moog synthesisers: the Prog Rock Revival could well be the successor to the Folk Revival.

Favourite app? Why?

The Kindle app for iPhone (I’ve probably read more books over the last two years than across the whole of the last ten) and a host of locational apps from CityMapper to Bus Tracker (I have no idea how I got about without them!)

Something few people know about you.

I used to be Michael Jackson’s PR.

What are you most looking forward to at YMS?

Hearing what great Youth experts like Kerry Taylor at MTV and Jan Van Leeuwen at Vans are getting excited by right now – and getting realtime feedback from the the very young people we’re all so focused on.

Finally, what should we have asked you that we didn’t?

This week’s lottery numbers.

William will be at Youth Marketing Strategy London which is taking place on 10th-11th March 2015. Join the biggest youth marketing event in Europe.