Thursday, September 16, 2010

Urge Alerts

The British consumer research firm,, issued a new report the other day to signal some recent shifts in consumer behavior, based on the observations of its hundreds of professional trend-spotters planted around the globe. Here are four "trends-to-watch" that are especially relevant to the use of social media and the cause-wired among us:

1. Urge alerts. Spurred by the Web and mobile phones, increasing numbers of people want their buying experiences to be based more on speed and location -- their location. Sure, it's not new that people want things “right now.” But the "where" is becoming increasingly important. So how can a company or a nonprofit satisfy these new expectations from the people who support them? According to, it's all about getting better at keeping up with the accelerating pace of cultural change. For nonprofits, maybe it's as simple as creating a Web interface set up to track the progress of a donation. Consider Domino’s Pizza and its new digital “pizza tracer.” It allows customers to follow the progress of their order, from preparation to delivery, making delivery delays easier to bear and giving consumers a virtual peek into Domino's kitchen. Is there a digital way to help donors trace the flow of their donations or measure their impact? “While the appeal and influence of ‘now’ has been building for years, societal attitudes, sky-high consumer expectations and new technologies are currently converging in such a powerful way that brands truly have no choice but to go ‘real-time’,” the report says. The takeaway here for social change groups? Find a way to help your donors help you to measure the impact they're having, or risk losing them to groups that will.

2. Brand butlers: You’ve heard it before: serving is the new selling. But now, a nonprofit or a for-profit will need to start asking its customers or donors what it can do to help them -- rather than the other way around. says groups that reinvent themselves into “service organizations” (a shift from “broadcasting” to "assisting") could be more likely to survive in the months and years ahead. At least one nonprofit -- the Brooklyn Museum -- is already working the new angles. CTO Shelley Bernstein has developed a way for visitors to “check in” at their favorite exhibits, using their mobile phones. Once they check in this way, a museum staff member comes out to greet them in person -- and to assist them, if necessary, in their search for what interests them. Bernstein also is developing a way to help museum-goers to navigate the neighborhood outside the museum. Museum staff issues an ever-changing list of "staff picks" that might include tips on where to find the best piece of apple pie or bottle of wine in the area.

3. Mature-ialism. Consumers increasingly want authentic offline experiences. But now, "authentic" is being measured by the level of drama involved. "Consumers have a hunger to be exposed to raw and real life – in the form of much more honest conversations, more daring innovations, and more offline, risqué experiences," says. "They want brands that push the boundaries." Driving this? The spread of a more liberal, “anything goes” culture in the online world -- coupled with an ongoing shift in what constitutes "status" in today’s society, the firm says. “There has never been a bigger market for demanding and difficult experiences; people are upgrading their consumption to challenge themselves," the report says. "They’re craving authenticity and brands that, increasingly, have values that reflect their own.” For nonprofits, this means there may be an even bigger pool of potential donors waiting to “get their hands dirty” or wanting to have an offline experience that demands more of them to serve the needy -- a kind of reverse-Slacktivism. But consumers also still want to have fun, the company says. Why else are more charities staging contests asking people to, say, shave their beards for a cause, or lose 10 pounds so that poor kids can eat? [Think The Biggest Loser meets the local food bank.]

4. Mass mingling. Surging use of mobile 'smart phones' and the use of location-awareness games like Foursquare and Gowalla are creating ever-larger mobile social networks that convene around social events or a local business "happening." Next up? People organizing in this way around causes. "Like any consumer trend, mass mingling unlocks a human need in a new way," the report says. "It makes the act of interacting with others much easier." Consider organizing your nonprofit supporters around a volunteer event -- but do it via Foursquare or Facebook or Gowalla. And hold that event right away -- this afternoon. Be bold. Remember, one of the latest consumer trends is a respect for brands that dare to do new things -- right now.

Got any other examples of new consumer trends with special promise for the advocacy sector? Let us hear from you!

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration, Flying Team, by Miroslaw Pieprzyk)

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