The hyper individuals: Why it's never been harder to please consumers


Future Foundation’s Karen Canty explores the emerging trends shaping the way 21st century consumers behave

There is no shortage of business experts dying to bring us the latest news from the corporate world, but the consumer can often be overlooked. That’s why The Hyper Individual, a story of consumer empowerment and control, is such an interesting trend and something that every business professional should be more aware of.

Its main focus is how the balance of power is slowly shifting away from companies to consumers.

This isn’t just the consumer who tracks their health and monitors their calorie intake; it’s not just the multi-tasking mum who compares prices to get the best deals; and it’s not just the always-on business professional. It’s a confluence of all this and more.

The Hyper Individual is the consumer who lives in the cloud and who, through the adoption of many new skills, has become one very powerful, super-charged consumer that can exploit freely available information and use it to regain control in the marketplace. In a world of increasing consumer demand and a growing impatience with inefficiency, the Hyper-Individual knows what he wants and means business. This is life, professionalised.

Technology is unsurprisingly a huge driver. A plethora of tools have emerge that allow consumers to see their electricity expenditure, compare prices, track their health and home energy use – and to then make the best decisions (or even automate the decision-making process) based on this information.

The trend psychologists like to call Maximising plays a starring role for the Hyper Individual. It refers to the consumer’s burning desire to use all means at their disposal to locate the very best deal at the best possible price. Since we can now gain instant access to information about almost any product, service or purchase (price comparison websites, consumer/ expert reviews, recommendations…), we are now able to make pretty informed choices in almost any market.

Maximising is hugely appealing and beneficial, especially when it comes to big-ticket items like holidays or consumer technology. But spending hours comparing prices of washing powder or bread is obviously a poor strategy. Enter our trend The End of Inefficiency, another major player in the Hyper Individual’s connected life.

Ever smarter algorithms are creating websites, apps and services which can mine data and suggest the best choice in almost any situation. This is already in evidence but as the decade progresses, more and more services will be able to capture data on our behaviour and use intelligent systems to make recommendations.

Just imagine, for example, a system that constantly monitors utility prices and automatically transfers you to the best value gas supplier for your needs, without any need for interaction. Or a TV that analyses your viewing habits and alerts you to other programmes you might want to watch. Perhaps even a fridge that scans supermarket items warns you when they’re going off and suggests recipes to use them up. This is Apple’s ‘Genius’ in real time.

There’s obviously the privacy issue to consider. As the raging debate around Big Data demonstrates, we’re hugely suspicious of whether companies are keeping our personal data safe. But research from consumer trends specialists Future Foundation has shown time and again that many people are happy for companies to collect their personal data in return for some tangible benefit – be it deals, better prices or smarter, tailored recommendations.  Indeed, 40% of UK adults agree they would “consider giving companies access to information about my past purchases in exchange for discounts on products / services”; and forecasts show that this trend will continue to see substantial growth over the next five years.

The Quantified Self is another important trend, and something which is infiltrating every element of our lives. We see it in places like wellbeing (fitness trackers, exercise apps), diet (food labelling), home energy usage (smart metering) and health (diabetes trackers, sleep monitors). These apps, services and devices all allow consumers to gain more knowledge of, and power over, themselves, others and the brands and companies they interact with.

The implications for brands are clear – with people learning and applying new methods of choice, efficiency, self-monitoring, data tracking and information-gathering in their everyday lives, every deal, offer, communication will be closely scrutinised. This gives us the consumer the power to reject what’s on offer if it is not in line with our growing sense of empowerment.

Hyper Individuals are hard to please, not easy to delight. They stay alert to what is available and are able to quickly switch away from offers which became outdated maybe even just moment ago. They are not lazy and they are not loyal. And as mobile devices continue to offer them more access to the world around them, and as life becomes more automated, with less space for inefficiency and more streamlining, there will be less and less excuse not to take control.  In this sense, we can all be a little bit Hyper now.

The Future Foundation is a leading global consumer trends and insight consultancy. We specialise in identifying, quantifying, articulating and translating every consumer trend shaping the future business landscape for our clients.You can follow them on @futurethoughts and Karen Canty can be found tweeting at @karencanty