The Blue Dot Consumer

The mark of a good consultant or public speaker is one who tells you something you’ve not heard or thought of before.  So hats off to leading Consumer and Shopper Behaviourist (and hilarious Irishman) Ken Hughes who impressed me – and an audience of C-level retailers – at our recent Retail Tomorrow conference with his concept of the “Blue Dot Consumer.”

To help us understand and emotionally engage with his metaphor – and with a delivery that would KO most stand-up comedians – the irrepressibly energetic Ken Hughes made great physical play of unfolding a physical, full-scale ordnance survey map on stage, as a prime example of “old school” analogue, hard copy.  There were always two potential problems with maps, as he pointed out: first that you have to be able to identify where you’re going, and secondly that you have to know where you are – on the move.  And that’s without getting into the physical challenges of folding and refolding a map in the front of a car or the inevitable arguments with spouse about bad navigating.

Today of course digital map apps are everywhere, with the ubiquitous innovation of the “blue dot” designating where your mobile device currently is – in other words, where you are.  This puts the user constantly at the heart of his or her own universe.  The map may continually change – in fact the app or the device may change – but the blue dot is constant.  You are at the centre of it.  You are the most important thing.

We tend automatically to think of “self-centredness” as a negative, as one step from selfishness.  But this trend is identifying something more nuanced, as it goes hand-in-hand with a much wider connection with families, communities and societies (through social media) and a desire to share experience (largely but not exclusively through digital channels).  This is one of the key insights that retailers are using to drive understanding of, and engagement with, the all-important Millennial audience, key to retail profitability today.

Uber is one of the ‘poster-boy’ apps for the Blue Dot Consumer – its USP being that it comes to you.  Ken gave a few other examples of the immediacy and convenience demanded, including the Dominos Dash button (“Press Button – Pizza Come”) and the Bud Light Beer Delivery app.  Everything comes to the blue dot.

As Millennials begin to turn 35 and their Gen Z counterparts push into their 20’s, consumerism is in for a significant step-change. These “Blue Dot Consumers” expect:

  • Personalisation (“I Want it My Way”)
  • Authenticity (“I Trust My Peer Network”)
  • Contextual Communication (“Talk to Me Only with Relevant Benefit”)
  • Sharable Experience (“Something that Makes Me Look Good on Instagram”)

Blue Dot Consumers are less interested in buying ‘things’ and far more interested in having ‘experiences’.  It’s no longer “you are what you own” but you are what you experience and share.  Brands must deliver the kind of life experiences this generation expect, and add real value within the new emerging ‘Sharing Economy’.

Experiences evoke an emotional response.  Brands need to create experiences that excite and delight.  Today, the essence of value is in what you share, so for brands it’s about creating Sharable Experiential Equity, and asking themselves if they are adding experiential value via their proposition.

The Blue Dot Consumer expects a frictionless and seamless experience at every touch-point.  He or she have little tolerance for failure but will become a tribal brand fan for brands that get it right. Peer networks have now overtaken brands’ own voices in terms of relevance – which means brands need to reconsider how best to build conversations with target markets in the future.  Ken talked of the imperative for retailers to move their customers through four-steps: Satisfy – Delight – Engage – Empower.

At the two day conference where we were never very far from the word “disruption” Ken made us focus on one of the biggest insights of all – the real disruptor in retail is not technology, or new business models, but the consumer.

In a Retail Tomorrow program that wasn’t short on “Igniting Ideas and Accelerating Innovation” and which featured one visionary keynote speaker after another, it’s fair to say that Ken closed the program in style and left our minds well and truly blown.  He was a huge hit with the event attendees – but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: Do you recognise this idea of the Blue Dot Consumer?  Do you think retailers are right to put their core focus on them?