Tara Hirebet
Mar 7, 2013

How to woo 'virgin consumers'

Although they aren't completely inexperienced at being consumers, many people in markets across Asia may be feeling the touch of your brand for the very first time. They should be treated accordingly, writes Tara Hirebet, head of Asia-Pacific at trendwatching.com.

How to woo 'virgin consumers'

The accelerating pace of innovation in the consumer arena means everyone is now at times, if not constantly, a virgin consumes—unfamiliar with many of the products, services, apps, experiences and brands they encounter. However, far from being coy, virgin consumers crave, try out, and experiment with all these new brands, products, services and experiences more than ever.

Thanks to the usual suspects like connectivity, globalization, the demolition of barriers to entry and the democratization of design and manufacturing, the pace and volume of consumer-facing innovation has never been higher. Which means an explosion in virgin consumers: those who, no matter how experienced, are inevitably (and endlessly) encountering tons of products and brands for the very first-time.

Here are some things to keep in mind if you're a B2C brand or agency trying to establish relationships with these consumers:

1. Eager virgins

Especially for consumers in Asia’s high-growth markets, the ‘new’ products and services on offer actually are often more surprising, more convenient, more intuitive—and thus better—than established alternatives, if there were even alternatives to begin with.

On top of that, the usual risk associated with trying the new is now close to zero, thanks to social recommendations from friends and countless online reviews.

This means that more consumers in Asia than ever are convinced that the ‘new’ will help them improve every aspect of their lives, and thus we see a rising number of eager virgin consumers, who want to dive into and experience new products and services.

2. Experienced virgins

While virgins might be unfamiliar with a specific new product, brand or sector, they aren’t clueless or naïve. Au contraire: years of immersion in Asia’s rapidly developing consumer societies means that even virgin consumers are well versed in consumerism.

The exception is some consumer in truly emerging markets, who may actually be new (or nearly new) to many aspects of consumerism. But remember, plenty of other emerging virgins throughout Asia are already vicariously experienced, having spent years lusting after and loving a whole range of brands, products and services—even if they haven’t been able to afford them. Globally, the middle class is roughly 1.8 billion people. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) estimates this could rise to 3.2 billion by 2020 and 4.9 billion by 2030, with approximately 85 per cent of this growth coming from Asia (excluding Japan).

So, for brands in Asia, how can you think like a virgin? Three ideas can help cultivate a virgin mindset:

1. Keep it simple

Cast off industry convention and, if you’re an established brand, previous product iterations. Re-imagine your product from the ground up and make it intuitive to use right out of the box, even if you’re a big brand. For Microsoft, ripping up two decades of user experience and pivoting to a touch-led tile interface in Windows 8 meant creating an interface that caters to virgin consumers.

2. Explain your brand

Think about campaigns that answer foundational questions: Who are you? What makes you different? What does your brand say about those consumers who choose it?

An example: In September 2012, Volkswagen unveiled a website dedicated to promoting the automaker’s Phaeton vehicle in China. Targeting consumers with no prior knowledge of the Volkswagen brand and its associations, the interactive site highlighted Volkswagen’s ties to the Saxony region of Germany and featured information on the architecture and design heritage of Dresden.

3. Don’t ask for commitment

Where once virgins may have wanted a long-term relationship, now many would prefer a one-night stand. Indulge the joy virgins take in playing the field and exploring by ‘streaming’ or renting them products instead of selling. Learn from examples such as Asia's first P2P car sharing and rental community, iCarsclub, which launched in Singapore last year. And think in terms of how to give virgins access to your product, rather than just selling it to them.

In short, whether you’re a start-up or a heritage brand, you simply have to start mirroring the virgin mindset in your own thinking if you want to stand a chance with many consumers.

But however you cater to virgin consumers, remember: Make it special. It’s their first time. 


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