RISE OF THE NEW ORDER
Can big-thinking big spenders bring economic success to Tasmania?
Gill Vowles (Mercury Saturday Magazine – 6 November 2010)
IN the hit film The Matrix lead character Neo saves mankind. Now an internationally acclaimed consumer behaviourist believes NEOs could save Tasmania.
Only Ross Honeywill’s NEOs (new economic order) are not movie characters. Instead, they are an elite consumer segment whose spending power and social conscience he believes could benefit the state.
“NEOs have lots of money and are prepared to spend it,” Honeywill said.
“They would come to Tasmania with their brains and large income and start spending without needing much infrastructure.”
He said NEOs were four times more likely to have a university qualification, six times more likely to earn more than $100,000 a year, and six times more likely to volunteer.
“Essentially what we are talking about is high earners with a well-evolved social conscience,” Honeywill said.
“They vote for economic leadership while insisting on progressive social views, they like sport but love the arts, they dominate the Internet and believe food is a celebration of the day.
“As consumers they love authenticity, change, technology and luxury and revel in a world of rich information and whispered secrets.”
Honeywill, who knows where every one of Australia’s 4 million NEOS are located down to street level, says Tasmania is currently under-represented.
“The national average of NEOs is 24 per cent of the population,” he said.
“Hobart, with 26 per cent of the population identified as being part of the NEO, is slightly above the national average, but overall only 18 per cent of Tasmanians fit the NEO category, so to reach the national average Tasmania needs to attract another 20,000 NEOs.”
Honeywill, who moved to Tasmania with his artist wife Greer in March, said attracting NEOs to Tasmania would not be difficult.
“Greer and I epitomize NEOs, and what attracted us to Tasmania is what will attract others,” he said.
Brisbane-born Honeywill studied psychology and social history and at age 19 was running five commercial theatrical productions simultaneously.
That work brought him to the attention of the founder of the Queensland Ballet and at 21 Honeywill became the company’s general manager.
When the Whitlam era came to an end, “and arts funding dried up”, Honeywill moved into fashion retailing, where he became the first ever, and only, male manager of a Katies store.
From there he went to retail giant Myer as marketing manager for South Australia.
In 1983 he formed his own marketing and advertising consultancy, but during the 1990 recession moved to Melbourne and bigger opportunities, first with Buchan Consulting Group, and then with global consulting firm KPMG ,running its Centre for Consumer Behaviour in Asia Pacific.
In 2001 Honeywill formed a consumer think-tank, the Social Intelligence Lab, with the goal of finding better ways to measure consumer behaviour.
Working with social scientist Verity Byth, Honeywill built on an idea he’d been developing for a decade and shaped his NEO typology into a “best in breed” social segmentation model.
“Labels like Gen X and Gen Y don’t describe our desires or explain how we behave as human beings, let alone as workers, consumers and homemakers,” he said.
To find a way to explain those behaviours, Honeywill spent eight years surveying hundreds of thousands of respondents and examining more than 2000 social and behavioural characteristics.
As a result he discovered the NEO.
“They have been around since the middle of last century when individuals found their voices and made small waves during the 1960’s,” Honeywill said.
“Those wavemakers shaped the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War movement.
“But NEOs truly found their voice and started exercising their real influence during the information age of the 1990’s.
“Today the wave is unstoppable as these highly evolved individuals exert their influence across the globe.”
In 2001 Honeywill showcased his ideas in the book I-Cons: the essential guide to winning and keeping high-value customers and in 2006 in NEO Power: how the new economic order is shaping the ways we live, work and play.
With clients including David Jones, National Australia Bank, Qantas and Sony, Honeywill last year found himself in a position where he and his artist wife Greer could work from anywhere.
“Out of the blue we sold our property in central Victoria and started looking for a new base,” he said.
“We decided on either Vancouver Island in Canada or Tasmania, as we both love island cultures.”
Honeywill said the parallels between Vancouver Island and Tasmania were profound but Vancouver Island was “10 years ahead of Tasmania”.
“Ultimately the degree of difficulty involved in moving to Tasmania was smaller and it still offered all the things we yearned for like stories around every corner, fresh air, clear water, great food and an accessible lifestyle,” he said.
“Just accessing cafes in Melbourne is difficult because of the traffic, and in both Melbourne and Sydney violence is simmering just below the surface – they are about to reach the boiling point New York did 20 years ago.
“Tasmania is a breath of fresh air – literally and metaphorically.”
Honeywill said the things that attracted him to Tasmania were the drawcards for all NEOs.
“They are not after resorts, they yearn for pristine, edgy experiences and food is a really big thing for them,” he said.
“Tasmania has the wonderful food they are looking for and also offers the stories of pristine produce, like the young North-West couple who are breeding free-range rare Wessex saddleback pork at Mount Gnomon Farm.
“Connectivity is a huge issue for NEOs who demand broadband access along with good air services and intellectual infrastructure like the university.”
Honeywill said Tasmanian house prices were another huge attraction for NEOs.
“Houses in Hobart will always be less expensive than Sydney or Melbourne, so the fact they can get much more house for their buck is incredibly attractive,” he said.
Honeywill said some Tasmanians would argue that attracting NEOs would force locals out of the housing market.
“NEOs will be buying at the top end of the market, not starter homes, and the vast sums of money NEOs will put into the economy outweighs any negatives,” he said.
Honeywill said the only risk for Tasmania in adopting an NEO attraction strategy was its ability to deliver on the promise.
“What we need to promise is that the things which attracted them here in the first place – the pristine, wilderness nature of the state – are protected,” he said.
“NEOs don’t want to be part of an extraction state relying on forestry and mining, and we don’t need more factories to attract people – the world has moved on, as evidenced by Vancouver Island’s shift from extraction industries.”
Honeywill said attracting NEOs was not about offering financial incentives to relocate or investing in advertising campaigns.
“Governments tend to favour marketing programs, but with NEOs it is less to do with marketing and more about standing for something,” he said.
“We don’t need another advertising campaign, we need people talking about how fabulous Tasmania is.
“The NEO mantra is `Stop shouting, I can’t hear you’.
“NEOs aren’t interested in government departments shouting, they like whispered secrets. Tasmania has to become a whispered secret.”