Innovations are a direct reflection of the times. The microwave oven, for example, was invented back in the 1940s, but didn’t really make an impact until the late 1960s, when two-income families become more popular, at the expense of “slaving away at the stove.” The demand was there, and the rest is history.
Fast forward to today. The 21st-century consumer thinks and acts differently than his predecessors. We live in an on-demand world where our smartphones carry more power and possibilities than our grandparents could ever imagine. Today’s consumer has specific expectations about the tools they use each day.
Innovators who adapt to these demands and expectations are more likely to find an audience for their ideas. Take, for example, the concept of mobile ordering.
Back in the fall of 2014, Starbucks announced what seemed like a revolutionary idea: coffee lovers could place (and pay for) their order via their phone app, and then show up to the store to pick up their drink.
Looking back now, the idea is simple enough. It’s not much more than a modern take on the call-ahead takeout service offered by most restaurants. But by incorporating a mobile app, and introducing it into a new arena (the “fast-food industry”) Starbucks was able to tap into the mindset of its customers.
This shift in consumerism reflects the mindset of the every-day customer. Why should we have to wait in line when we know exactly what we want and have the means to place an order from the palms of our hands?
The order-ahead shift isn’t just showing up in the food-service industry either. Take The Handlebar Cycling Studio in Tacoma, WA. The indoor cycling studio uses the app MindBody to allow guests to reserve specific bikes before a class.
“We’re creatures of habit,” said owner Becky LeProwse. “People find a bike they like and they want to use it over and over again. This makes it possible for them.”
Remember when paying with your phone seemed unrealistic? Now it’s commonplace, with Apple Pay, brand-specific apps and more all allowing you to tap a few buttons to convert a transaction.
While that technology impressed consumers for a while, it was only a matter of time before there was demand to have more control over these transactions.
According to a study featured in JWT’s Future of Payments and Currency report (October 2014), 45% of Millennials in the US & UK want to be able to use their mobile devices to split their bills. Surely that percentage will increase, as mobile payments become the norm.
Lyft Line is among the most popular examples of how integrating consumer demand and innovation can turn into business revenue. Lyft users now have the option of saving up to 60% of their fare by opting to have their ride pick up other passengers who are traveling along a similar route.
This consumer trend strikes a nerve with many creatives out there. Think, for example, about Instagram and its countless filters and editing features. These days, anyone can produce stunning photography with little to no effort.
Of course, many professional photographers defend their work (and most of their shots are in a class of their own), while other Luddite-esque people yearn for the days when the journey to creative perfection was paved with darkrooms and incessant “back to the drawing board” moments.
But resistance aside, there’s a real push for helping the “every man” turn into the next Renaissance man.
Canva is a great example. Canva’s tagline is straightforward enough: “Amazingly simple graphic design.” It combines two trends – visual content and “instant skills” – into one.
Not everyone has the skills to design, or the money to hire a designer. Canva helps you create stunning flyers, posters, business cards, presentations, or even Facebook covers, without having had to go to school for it.
Again, good for the every man. Maybe not so good for professional designers.
In his book “On Writing,” Stephen King talked about there being two types of writers: One who writes for himself, and one who writes for an audience.
Which innovator are you? If your hope is to create something that serves a purpose and changes lives, then it’s vital you learn how to predict, and meet, the demands of today’s consumer. How can you use these trends to create the next must-have tool for the 21st-century consumer.