‘Prosumers’, not consumers are the future

Consumers are no longer passive, but rather active ‘prosumers’, professional consumers who not only interact with, but can also advocate for or against brands. Retail pioneer and director at MashUp Robbie Robertson talks about how brands can remain relevant with the ever-changing digital landscape giving consumers more autonomy to shape their brand interactions.

Back in 1972, Marshall McLuhan, the late Canadian philosopher of communication theory who predicted the World Wide Web 30 years before its invention, suggested that with electric technology, consumers would become producers. In 1980, futurologist Alvin Toffler coined the term “prosumers” as common consumers who actively and personally help improve or design goods and services of the marketplace, transforming it and their roles as consumers.

Today, acclaimed economic and social theorist Jeremy Rifkin notes that the three billion people out on the Internet of Things are all ‘prosumers’ adopting tools and technologies to guide their own economic destinies. With customer choice shaping the very core of industries, prosumers are the reality that was predicted more than 40 years ago.

Digital connectivity now means that at the press of an Amazon dash button, people can re-order household items without visiting stores or the website, personalisation has transformed retail banking as we have known it and customers are choosing to self-manage almost anything from hotel bookings to superannuation.

With the rise of the co-creation, it is more important than ever for brands to focus on converting consumers to prosumers if they are to stay relevant and profitable in future.

Convergence of company and customer

The gap between company and customer is shrinking daily. In a recent trends briefing in Sydney, LS:N Global (The Future Laboratory’s trends and insights network), highlighted that across retail spaces, products, hospitality and entertainment, one theme is more prominent than others: it is difficult to tell one thing from the other, or set one within particular parameters or boundaries. The lines between lifestyle industries, between forms of art and entertainment, and between the senses are increasingly blurred.
As collaboration, co-creation and personalisation increases, industries are beginning to adopt a bottom-up approach to community led development and market impact. They have to do so to keep up with the Etsy’s, Nike’s, Uber’s, Airbnb’s and other disruptors of the world. With prosumers guiding the shift in power from large enterprises to smaller communities, well-executed customer-led marketing conversations now involve multiple facets such as design, prototype, testing, production, distribution, marketing, and community. Customers have taken brand conversations away from the company in the form of tweets, posts, blogs, comments, videos and so on. In this hyper-converged reality, prosumers who in turn are brand advocates will be the Holy Grail for companies.

Experience innovation

The dialogue of service design has often been constructed around the channel of customer delivery and off late, on the seamlessness of channel agnostic delivery.

However, companies are realising that the creation of true brand advocacy in a digital reality requires bigger picture thinking about the amalgamation of different customer interactions. True prosumers can only be created when they are integrated across a company’s product, process, environment and business model.

As a process, service design thinking has filtered down to transformation and innovation strategy. Creation is happening outside of a vacuum and therefore, delivery of innovative retail strategy focused on converting consumers to prosumers cannot be done without some level of organisational change – be it HR, finance, IT or marketing. Current structures are just not capable of adapting to the new way of thinking and experiencing.

Collaboration of design across product, process, environment and business model is also impacting its function and importance in framing policy – from how people experience hospitals and public transportation to retail profitability and social issues.

Me-cosystems and fragmented customer identify

In an increasingly transparent, fragmented and hyper connected society, every voice needs to be heard. In order to be relevant and have an impact in the market, brands are reframing how they work. Service design has moved beyond its role as a function to an instigator of change and beyond demographics to psychographics. Brand conversations with the ‘me-economy’ are the big opportunity.

As we move from a social and economic system that celebrates the individual IQ towards harnessing collective intelligence or WEQ, personal me-cosystems are becoming entrenched in business and product. The content apps bought on mobile, the recipes shared on lifestyle portals and the running or cooking clubs we subscribe to are all giving customers multiple voices across varied platforms. As technology continues to give people more power to do things themselves, customer identities will get increasingly fragmented and harder to box. True brand power is then about enabling customers to share the journey and have their own unique prosumer voice.

As Alvin Toffler’s predictions become a deeper entrenched reality, prosumers will have the power shape their world, as they want it to be.