Urbanomics: A trend in brief

Although I’m an urban planner in a rural region, I still pay attention to global trends in development—who is growing how where.

Trends by their very nature tend to pop up from unexpected places.  It’s almost impossible for a cadre in some global center like New York or London to manufacture a real trend.  They can fabricate buzz and PR, sure, but the real game changers tend to sneak in thru the back door and you don’t even know they’re there until they’ve left the building.

Trendwatching.com is a nifty site out of London that watches the front door and the back all over the world.  It’s a consumer research outfit, as they say:

We’re tracking consumer trends. Not macro trends. Well, actually, we do track those, but don’t publish them. So, for 2011’s ‘geo-political-environmental macro picture’ check out sources such as McKinsey’s Global Institute and Global Trends.

Even so, their newsletters have had some interesting comments linking development and consumer patterns.  This month they say:

Urbanization remains one of the absolute mega trends for the coming decade. Here’s just one telling stat: “Today, half the world’s population – 3 billion people – lives in urban areas. Close to 180,000 people move into cities daily, adding roughly 60 million new urban dwellers each year.” (Source: Intuit, October 2010)

How will this change the consumer arena? Firstly, urban consumers tend to be more daring, more liberal, more tolerant, more experienced, more prone to trying out new products and services. In emerging markets, these effects tend to be even more pronounced, with new arrivals finding themselves distanced from traditional social and familial structures, while constantly exposed to a wider range of alternatives.

Secondly, keep a close eye out for ‘URBAN ISLANDS’: just 100 cities currently account for 30% of the world’s economy, and almost all its innovation. Many are world capitals that have evolved and adapted through centuries of dominance: London, New York, Paris, etc. New York City’s economy alone is larger than 46 of sub-Saharan Africa’s economies combined. Hong Kong receives more tourists annually than all of India (Source: Foreign Policy, August 2010). However, metropolises such as Shanghai, Sao Paulo and Istanbul are obviously keen to join the top ranks, too.

Catering to city-citizens in these vast urban entities requires a local, dedicated approach in products, services and campaigns that mirror if not surpass the usual country-specific approach.

To cut a long story short: In 2011, go for products, services, experiences or campaigns that tailor to the very specific (and often more refined, more experienced) needs of urbanites worldwide, if not city by city. And don’t forget to infuse them with a heavy dose of ‘URBAN PRIDE’. From Smirnoff’s Absolut Cities to BMW’s Megacity vehicle, urban is the way to go.

Note: As URBANOMICS is perhaps one of the biggest yet still underestimated consumer trends of our times, we’ll expand on this trend in our February 2011 Trend Briefing,

I can take or leave the urban-o-phile aspect of the trend.  What intrigues me is:

  1. Marketers paying attention to development patterns. Where we live makes a difference even in the wired world.
  2. These “urban islands” aren’t necessarily “cities” as we traditionally think about them, but more like ‘citi-states’.  When they talk about New York City’s economy, that’s not just Manhattan but a much broader market area.  Yes, I’m part of Minnesota, but better or worse my rural economy lives and dies on the Minneapolis-St. Paul Twin Cities citi-state.  When we think less about political boundaries and more about economic connections, urban and rural both win.

It will be interesting to see what they have to say next month.

Source: www.trendwatching.com. One of the world’s leading trend firms, trendwatching.com sends out its free, monthly Trend Briefings to more than 160,000 subscribers worldwide.


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