Either way, businesses better pay attention.

The consumer of the future (or perhaps even tomorrow) is one which will balance desire with need. And I don’t mean just personal need. I mean need of the greater good.  For society, and perhaps human kind.

Recently, 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg founded a global youth movement, #FridaysForFuture, to bring awareness to climate change.  Frustrated by inertia, students across the world stood up and demanded attention and action for the security and health of their future and generations to come.  They are demanding their voices be heard.

These students represent our future consumer. The consumer who will drive markets, causing the success and failure of countless enterprises. So what do they care about?

  • Awareness and accountability – I’ll call this global citizenship.  Everyone is in the ship. Will we let it sink or are we riding a wave into the future?  How do we demand accountability? Which organizations are not just transparent with their activities (and the impact on society and the globe), but proactive in driving change in the market?
  • Customer experience – Make it easy, make it relevant, make it on demand.  The consumer of the future might not want fuss. They might not care for excess. Companies that prioritize the customer experience will become the leaders.
  • Ecosystems & Networks – Transportation (think ride share) and hospitality (think private property rentals) are just two recent examples of consumers leveraging existing ecosystems for consumption of goods and services. These networks continue to emerge and tend to be more efficient with lower social and environmental impact, not to mention more cost effective and accessible for customers.

These represent only a glimpse into the evolving temperament of our future consumers. While this is a fascinating evolution of thought and expectation, I am not sure businesses today are ready for the shift that is likely to come.

At the same time, digital disruption is everywhere today in business – whether it’s Internet-of-Things-enabled edge devices, optimized business processed enabled by artificial intelligence or automation, or comprehensive digital strategy to redefine business models and value chain ownership.  The opportunity and upside are significant.  According to McKinsey & Company, “Companies that are digital leaders in their sectors have faster revenue growth and higher productivity than their less-digitized peers do. They improve profit margins three times more rapidly than average and are often the fastest innovators and the disruptors of their sectors. The forces of digital have yet to become fully mainstream, however: on average, industries are less than 40 percent digitized.” (Source: Navigating a world of disruption, 2019)

This digital disruption affords businesses an opportunity to embrace technology for smarter business while also considering the needs of these future, mindful buyers.  Who will be your consumer in 3-5 years? What will his or her network look like? How should investments in digital support a more thoughtful customer engagement?

As enterprises look to digitally transform, leaders must start with end-customers in mind:

  • Seek to understand your consumers’ values – both the buyer of today and the emerging buyer in the near future. What will influence his or her buying habits? What will matter to them? How do you make their engagement both user friendly but also meaningful?
  • Define your digital objectives with the whole value chain in mind – how do you get closer to your end consumer? What will that value chain look like in a few years?

Digital transformations happen too often in a vacuum. You cannot strengthen your market value without talking to customers, and it seems, lately, they have something to say.  Be prepared, be future leaning, and drive sustained value.