Product, Service & Design Innovation
How Comfortable Are You with Your Customers Having All the Power?

Wolff Olins and Flamingo’s Game Changers series is an annual exploration of what’s driving change in the world of brands. The latest Game Changers report, The New Mainstream, looks at the evolving ways people are consuming products and interacting with brands. The research addresses the sense of uneasiness from companies about ‘giving up control to consumers’ in the age of social media. Some business leaders are embracing it, finding new ways to connect with their customers on an individual level — but most are nervous at the thought of potentially losing control of their brand.

The report starts off by defining the “new mainstream”: “Consumers no longer simply consume. They’re active, skeptical, creative, and entrepreneurial. This used to be a minority pursuit. Now technology has made it mainstream: It’s given consumers new powers to be agents.” People now have countless ways to create, use, adapt, mix things up, sell things and even build their own businesses.

The research suggests three trends are gaining momentum:

  • People are reshaping their relationships with companies, which is opening new opportunities for companies to create much richer, more human and more multidimensional relationships with individuals.
  • These relationships will give customers more than just products, and customers will give more than just money.
  • And in these new relationships, the new role of brand is to create relationships of fair exchange, where consumers and companies meet as equals — where each contributes and everyone gains.

The report then suggests three ways that any company that’s up for the challenge can use fair exchange to profit in the new, post-consumer world:

People are sidestepping — be the place people side-step to. Everywhere in the world, people are questioning authority — and finding ways to sidestep it. This is most obvious at the political level — ordinary people are overthrowing governments, and at the click of a button a 30-year-old technical contractor can blow the whistle on the US’s surveillance operations. But it’s become mainstream across many dimensions of everyday life. People question, compare, probe, mistrust, even boycott corporations — and find alternatives.

This means that people are looking for a new, fair exchange. In exchange for their trust, they want new powers. They want truth, in a democratic rather than authoritarian form. They want openness and honesty. They want simplicity. And they want it as close to free as possible. And this fair exchange is built on brands. The opportunity for companies is to create, or acquire, ways for this kind of exchange to happen — and in that way to get a great deal more from people than just their trust.

The researchers encourages brands to share their own sense of purpose and find ways for everyone to take part in it, and to amplify it — take, for example, TOMS Shoes or the UK cancer support organization, Macmillan. In achieving this purpose, customers will see the company as not a sole operator, but as part of an ecosystem. The study inspires companies to think less about selling to people and more about enlisting them.

People are making meaning — give them ways make, share and sell. As makers, people are looking for a different kind of fair exchange. In exchange for their money or effort, people want a platform on which they can make, share and even sell their ideas. The opportunity for companies is to go beyond selling to equipping their customers with knowledge, skills, tools and even marketplaces, and to let customers use their brand — and in that way, to get much more back in return.

People are shaping time — be time-creative. This shift is a complex one. It’s about the value of people’s time, access and experiences. Faster and more frequent communication has allowed brands to push too much at us — and people are looking for ways to control that flow, to get things when they want them, where they want them, and on their terms. This is where the last strategy comes in — to be time-creative: Let people do things on their terms, in their time — total convenience to create the experience they want; rethink segmentation — consider how different people in different moods want different things and let them choose, rather than thrusting things at them. Give people a menu — from quick snacks to longer, deeper experiences.

The report then concludes with the opportunity to expand the idea of value by creating one-to-one human experiences to find new ways to grow. Ask yourselves: “What new value can you create for people? And what new value can they create for you?”

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