Lady Gaga? Bangs? [ed: Yikes] Neon Fashion? On the way out. So are cleansing fasts, the Occupy movement and the recession. What’s in? Stay-at-home dads, Pinterest, apps, and tablets. At least that’s the word from the latest edition of "The Curve," a bi-annual book from NBCUniversal Integrated Media dedicated to anticipating what’s next in the lives of Generation X and Y consumers. (Note to Ryan Gosling, cake pops, vampires, and zombies: You’re on the fence.)
The just-published second volume of "The Curve" is a detailed report on social and cultural trends, based on data collected from Gen X and Y survey respondents, "leading edge consumers," expert interviews, and proprietary research. The new, 2013 edition focuses in particular on digital trendsetters, the 5% of the national population who are not only on Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare, but also have above the average number of friends on social networks, above the average number of apps on their smartphones, and are among the first of their friends to buy the newest gadgets.
It’s not just their digital behavior that makes this group stand out. "Their outlook on life is completely different," says Melissa Lavigne-Delville, executive trends and culture editor, NBCUniversal Integrated Media, who headed up research on "The Curve." "They trend much happier, much more optimistic. They think they’re healthier than most. They think they’re hotter than most. They also believe they are going to be famous more than the mainstream."
Digital trendsetters aren’t entirely full of themselves. As a group, they are surprisingly honest. "A vast majority of respondents say they represent themselves accurately online, but everybody else embellishes themselves. But digital trendsetters admit that they embellish themselves online," says Lavigne-Delville.
They are also more likely to admit committing one of the 7 Digital Sins, which include sexting, online stalking, chronic oversharing, and drunk shopping (see infographic).
"It makes sense that these things that happen in our real lives are finding a forum online as well," says Lavigne-Delville. "Chronic oversharing is the online equivalent of gluttony. You can’t overeat online, but you can binge on information. I know a lot of people guilty of that!"
Digital trendsetters are also a surprisingly diverse group. "I was nervous when we were screening for digital trendsetters that we were going to get a bunch of white, single, guys from the Northeast and California," says Lavigne-Delville. "What we found was that even though they’re a small percentage of the population, they are really diverse." (They are 54% male; 58% white and 54% of them have kids.)
Although the digital trendsetters only represent 5% of the population, they wield significant influence online (they have nearly three times as many brand "friends" as the general population), which is why marketers are anxious to find out what they think will be the next big thing. One of the next big things is literally quite small: small-scale designs with built-in solutions for urban consumers (think folding car or "flat-pack home).
Another surprising finding: Digital trendsetters say it’s more important for a brand to support environmental and social causes and have a loyalty rewards program than have a Facebook page, a Twitter account, or an app.
In addition to the book, which will be distributed to approximately 1,000 advertising and media executives, NBCUniversal Integrated Media is also producing a film version of "The Curve," which will screen at industry salons in January.
"Every quarter, we do a Curve film which takes a topic from the book and blows it out in a different medium in a far bigger way," says John Shea, EVP and CMO, NBCUniversal Integrated Media. "Our clients rely on us to offer them great creative solutions to their marketing problems, but they also rely on us far more broadly to know these audiences incredibly deeply. That’s really the point of 'The Curve.'"
Why bother to package digital trends in a beautiful 150-page coffee table-style book? "The ability to have something on your desk that you can flip through can be pretty compelling when you’re bombarded with digital messages day in and day out," explains Lavigne-Delville. In other words, sometimes you’ve got to go low tech to stand out—an insight that will perhaps appear in the next volume of "The Curve."