Will Higham is a consumer futurist at strategic consultancy Next Big Thing

Will Higham is a consumer futurist at strategic consultancy Next Big Thing

In the second part of our exclusive interview with consumer futurist Will Higham, we continue to look at the younger end of the consumer spectrum, discussing provenance, rebellion and what we should actually call the next generation.

just-drinks: How important a role does provenance play with younger consumers?

Will Higham: The idea of locality matters to them almost as much as geographical locality does: The idea of something being made locally is important, even if that locality isn't within your own locality. It's not just about wanting it to come from near where you live, more that it's got a story relating to where it comes from. I think it's a reaction against globalisation and the facelessness of global technology.

j-d: Where does this leave the larger international drinks brands?

WH: If you're a global brewer and you make your money through economies of scale, and your audience wants artisan and craft, how do you scale that up globally? That's the big question in so many sectors right now. At the moment, I think companies are trying. In craft, some players are being bought up - that's worked in the food industry, to an extent. If brewers, for instance, can find a compromise between craft and scale, then that would work. But, the days of bland, soulless beer are numbered.

We're in a period of transition in terms of global commerce. There are a few clear answers, but not many. Nobody has all of the answers. Technology and digitisation is having a huge impact on lifestyles and deliverables, on how things are produced and how they're consumed. At the same time, consumers have more choice and more control and, subsequently, they have higher expectations.

j-d: How about the role of gender?

WH: The whole idea of the third gender is a big issue to Millennials and younger. They tend to believe you should be able to determine your own gender. It's less black and white - they see themselves more on a spectrum, of colour, of gender. They're identifying less with one gender or another. The idea of traditional gender roles is definitely much less important now, to anybody under the age of 40. Generation X was the first to actively engage on gender equality - the Baby Boomers only really talked about it. For drinks companies, to stress the positivity of your produce, you really ought to do so in a way that appeals both to male and female consumers.

j-d: We've heard the head of Anheuser-Busch InBev suggest recently that, in the craft segment, consumers are growing tired of the breadth of choices available to them. Is that fair?

WH: What people are looking for is edited choice. They want to feel that they're choosing, but the range available in many areas is exhausting. Consumers actually feel like they have less time.

There is a clash among consumers between the demand for control and the desire for convenience. Companies shouldn't look to produce every single flavour, they should produce just a few flavours. To consumers, the sense of choice is important. Brands can succeed here, as consumers continue to use them as a self-identifier.

There may also be room for brands to be non-choice: "We do this, we do this brilliantly, and we don't do anything else." There's room for this approach, it's almost an artisan approach. But the human-ness must remain. The levels of vertical trust are crumbling, the levels of horizontal trust are rising. It's important that producers think about how the consumer is making its choice - a lot of the time, it's because of individuals.

j-d: Is the rebellion against parents and their choices still alive in younger consumers?

WH: One of the many reasons they've become less hedonistic is because they're a generation that's seen their parents remain hedonistic for longer - they can see the negatives of some of that. To some extent, their very conservatism is their rebellion. It's not that they don't want to drink what their parents drink, it's more that they don't want to drink how their parents drink.

Also, there are definitely closer ties within families now, partly because of parenting techniques, such as 'buddy parenting' - sons no longer referred to as 'sonny' but as 'buddy'. It's a flatter hierarchy today. They're also spending longer in the family home - it's a lot harder to leave home now. What all this means is that companies need to look at selling to families in a different way to before - that's an opportunity there.

j-d: Have you worked out a name for the next generation yet?

WH: We haven't had a good name for a generation since 'Generation X'! Nor have we had one that everyone agrees on. 'Millennials' does my head in: The name should be appropriate for that generation - it should be the biggest influence, or driver, or characteristic. 'Baby Boomers' is self-explanatory, 'Generation X' was either 'Generation Whatever-You-Want' or 'Generation Nothing', another appropriate name. But, it wasn't called 'Generation X because it came after 'Generation W'. So, you can't really use 'Generation Y'.

Millennials is supposed to be appropriate because of the sense of hope and excitement around the Millennium. But, what does it actually mean? There's no real definition for the next generation - 12 to 25. I refer to them as 'The Recession Generation'.

For part one of this interview, click here