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Trendsetters’ motivations explained Trendsetters’ motivations explained

Since I started my PhD research about ten years ago – oh my, time flies – I have been very interested in trends & innovations and mainly in the motivations behind being trendsetter or early adopter. Why are trendsetters or early adopters chasing the latest products and services? I figured out back then that those trendsetters in fact have four core reasons to be the first to adopt a brand-new product or to use an innovative service:

  1. Functional reasons: consumers build certain trends because they pursue task efficiency goals. These goals aim at economizing on time or effort, at saving money or even life.
  2. Hedonic reasons: consumers build certain trends because they pursue affective goals. These goals aim at delivering excitement and experiencing feelings of joy and satisfaction.
  3. Social reasons: consumers build certain trends because they pursue relationship goals. These goals aim at creating self-determination, feeling unique, special or free, giving a certain status & success, but at the same time a feeling of belonging.
  4. Cognitive reasons: consumers build certain trends because they pursue mind expansion. These goals aim at exploration, understanding and intellectual creativity.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: 4 core motivations for being a #trendsetter or early adopter insit.es/2gIORR1 by @BertVdcasteele via @CoolBrands #trendwatching #nextgen

I was glad to see that the theory I developed, is still very topical, as it came back repeatedly during the TrendWatching Live event in Amsterdam last week. It was confirmed that these human needs or goals are fundamental indeed: all trends or new manifestations amongst people – in behavior, attitude, or expectation – are built on those basic human needs. All presentations of that day were built around their Trend Framework. Each expectation-changing innovation they spotted in their network of +3000 on-the-ground Spotters worldwide gets mapped against that Trend Framework, which fits well with my motivation-oriented model:

Trendsetter motivational model

The most prevalent motivation during this year’s TrendWatching event was clearly the Social one. The quest for self-determination, identity and status on the one hand and belonging on the other hand is for sure the main trend of 2017 and also the focus of this blogpost.

Hot tweetawayHot tweetaway: Consumer #trends for 2017 and beyond from @Trendwatching #TrendsLiveAMS insit.es/2gIORR1 by @BertVdcasteele via @CoolBrands #nextgen


Let’s start with the everlasting search for ways to better understand, display and celebrate one’s own identity. We haven’t seen the end of personalization yet; on the contrary, products, brands and companies will serve you with micro-personalization. This means that demographic segmentation is dead: women also want to be DJs, the elderly are embracing technology and social media, men do care about their looks, etc. Demographic segmentation will become more difficult anyway, as consumers embrace new tools, services and platforms that strip away their identity: individuals increasingly want to remain incognito, often for discrimination and/or prejudice reasons. Examples are already on the rise; just think about job interview platforms masking voices to avoid bias with interviewing.io, apps where colleagues can talk anonymously (e.g. Blind), using AI to filter out abusive posts, etc. And no, this masking need is not a small niche, you probably use Snapchat’s lens and filters as well. Even Facebook is working on a live video stream filter, making people more comfortable with being on video.

Target a segment of one

However, every trend comes with a counter-trend, long live demographics; as more data is being captured than ever before, brands will and should be able to target a segment of one (1!). Some are great at this already: think about Spotify and its personalized Discover Weekly playlist, also loved by the elderly, or Toyota creating personalized Facebook ads for their RAV4 vehicle, which started from a collection of 100 individual mini clips, or DDB Group crafting unique rings based on your heartbeat via the Crafted By My Heart app. And it’s going even further, with your most personal data: your DNA. Some brands already make personalized products based on your own DNA. Think about Geneu’s personalized anti-aging skincare, Bompas & Parr’s PharmaCafé where you get personalized drinks based on your DNA, etc. And soon this will be a mass market as well, since Campbell’s is investing $32 million in Habit, a personalized nutrition startup!

A need for purpose and giving back

Another important part of the social motivation to innovate is belonging and giving back. Especially in these times of Brexits and Trump’s walls, consumers feel the need to belong and to give purpose to their lives and are looking for brands and companies to help them with that. Therefore, people are in search of companies which take a stand, which are trying to help the world to become a better place and which have a purpose. Think about Unilever’s Help A Child Reach Five program or Coca-Cola’s response to an earthquake in Ecuador, repurposing billboards into shelter materials, many telecom companies offering free calls and SMS between the US and Belgium after the March 2016 terrorist attack in Brussels or Uber drivers collecting & delivering care packages for the flood victims of the May 2016 floods in Sri Lanka.

Another way to do so is by offering idle capacity and lost value from wasted resources to society, beyond the sharing economy of the Airbnbs in the world: De Prael’s beer brewed from rainwater or Banco de Alimentos’ reverse delivery in Sao Paolo, where their takeout drivers pick up food donations from customers who, this way, feel less guilty for indulging.

And finally, another way to give back as a company is by becoming a stakeholder brand, giving staff a meaningful stake in the organization. And we are no longer talking merely fair-trade. It’s also about middle-class workers: Juno, the on-demand ride-sharing startup giving drivers equity as an ethical alternative to Uber or Cotopaxi where factory employees are given a creative stake on the fabric colors used for their Luzon Del Dia bags.

Hence, to conclude, the social trends of both self-determination and belonging will be big in 2017, next to the ever-greater pervasiveness of technology changing our world with the virtual experience economy and welcomed big brother brands. But that topic might be for another blog post in the near future… lots to say about that as well!

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Posted in Trends