Meet ‘the 9’: the leading-edge consumers

Any idea what New York-based Stephanie has in common with Mayank from New Delhi? While she is an LGBTQ+ activist and member of a transgressive punk feminist art rock band, he is an entrepreneur, passionate traveler and food blogger. And both are at the epicenter of new consumer needs, actively pushing their lifestyles forward.

They are what we label leading-edge consumers‘, or ‘the 9’ in the 90-9-1 rule.


Experts by passion

All of us everyday consumers can share our everyday needs and frictions; but only a limited number of people can signal ‘things to come’, thereby curating the future. Those are the ones living on the edge – heavy users, trendsetters or early-adopters; they know precisely what is hot and next in a particular area. Think about the tech-enthusiast friend you consult when you want to buy a new phone. Or your ‘travel-crazy’ adventurous colleague that spends every bit of spare time mountaineering; they can talk at length about the perfect shoe for climbing crags, walls and boulders. These people are extremely passionate about a product, category or theme; and so they recognize needs and opportunities months or even years before the rest of us. And it’s exactly because of that passion that they are valuable collaboration partners for businesses.

Marketing short-termism

According to ‘The CMO Survey’ of August 2019 among 341 U.S. marketing leaders, they report to spend 68.5% of their time ‘managing the present’ and 31.5% of their time ‘preparing for the future’. The fact that most compensation structures involve quarterly or yearly performance bonuses only adds to marketers’ short-term focus. Investing in future-forward capabilities helps overcome this short-termism and become more proactive in shaping a brand’s future. Marketers and company stakeholders not only need to understand what consumers need right now; they also need to see how these needs might evolve in the future. Connecting and collaborating with leading-edge consumers helps brands understand what’s new and next, and extract strong foresights to future-proof a business.

“The best way to predict the future is to create it”

Peter Drucker, Austrian management consultant and influential business thinker

Illume network

We connect brands with leading-edge consumers via our global Illume network which covers more than 60 countries. Each of the network’s cultural curators, called ‘Illume Guides’, is handpicked via peer-to-peer recommendations and based on their unique profile. They are all passionate about certain categories, have a leading-edge lifestyle, can articulate what is new or next.

Meet the Illume Network

Our leading-edge consumers with a particular passion that can help curate the future.

Take Patrick from Manchester, for example – music producer and owner of ‘Emib’, an independent clothing brand. Next to his love for music and fashion, he is a passionate advocate for the younger generation. Patrick regularly organizes events for young people in Manchester; he also uses his social platforms to speak up about how brands can better engage with GenZ.

Being ‘experts by passion’, leading-edge consumers such as Patrick can zoom in on a particular lifestyle or emerging trend and add local nuances. At the same time, with many being well-travelled, they can zoom out and contemplate the societal influence, potential future direction, and impact of a trend at a global level. This makes them powerful collaboration partners for brands when rallying around business challenges.

For Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) for example, our Illume Network fueled tech innovation in finance and banking. Together with five Illume Guides, we deep dived into five future tech themes put forward by RBS, to explore the human problems they could solve. Next, the insights were validated with RBS’s everyday consumers. The project resulted in key opportunities for RBS across the five strategic themes; all were grounded in emerging cultural expectations and mass consumer realities.

Collaborating with leading-edge consumers can thus help businesses anticipate cultural shifts and emerging trends, rather than merely reacting to them afterwards. It’s about combining strong consumer insights in the present with solid foresights that can help shape the future.

Unlocking the power of consumers

Unlocking the power of consumers

Different people come with a different set of unique skills and competences. Research has shown that out of every 100 people, 90 merely consume content, 9 will like, share or react to what is created, and only 1 will actually create something. And this is no different for consumers.

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