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What are Alpha Consumers?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2016
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"Alpha consumers" are the initial consumers of a new product or service; marketers often play particularly close attention to these buyers because they can have a deep impact on the item's eventual success or failure.

The concept underlying the alpha consumer is often attributed to professional marketer Irma Zandl. Zandl developed the basis for what is known today as trend marketing during the mid-1980’s. Essentially, trend marketing works on the premise that a relatively small number of people can adopt a current good or service and create a huge amount of notoriety for the product. In turn, other people begin to perceive the item as being desirable and cutting edge. The end result of this trendsetting process is that the mainstream body of consumers begins to accept and purchase the product, resulting in growing sales. The groups of persons who spearhead trends and bring them to the attention of the wider buying public are referred to as alpha consumers.

Economist Michael Wolf was the first to use the term "alpha consumer" in his 1999 book The Entertainment Economy.

The term “alpha consumer” is a marketing designation that identifies the purchasing habits of the most desirable components of the population, usually population sectors that are known to use a large share of their disposable income to purchase goods and services. Alpha consumers are interested in all sorts of products, and often identified with luxury items, such as trendy clothing, fashionable restaurants, and the latest technologies.

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Although anyone can play the role of an alpha consumer, marketers have noticed that many early adopters tend to fall into the specific demographics. First, there is the teenage market. Teenage Alpha consumers are especially important to manufacturers of clothing, music, and electronic devices. Consumers in this age group tend to be very open to new ideas/products, and often are the trendsetters who set the pace for not only their own peer group, but also for twentysomethings.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, many marketers look for alpha consumers who are part of the Baby Boom generation. One of the most affluent generations in recent history, baby boomers often have enough disposable income to consider purchasing high-ticket items. Involving this generation in trend setting for the purchase of vacations, cruises, and second homes follows the same pattern as with teenage alpha consumers. Marketers start by convincing a core group of individuals of the desirability of the good or service, then spotlighting them in advertising that is first aimed at that age group. The marketer can then broaden the campaign and address additional broader sectors of the economy.

Alpha consumers exert their influence by exposing friends, relatives, and acquaintances to the latest trends, and by using the products in such a way that other people tend to see the goods and services as worthy of potential purchase. Successfully tapping into alpha consumers can make the difference between a product that builds a loyal consumer base and thrives or disappears from the marketplace entirely.

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