Our Evolving Consumer

We’ve previously discussed how the future of the internet may develop. Thinking about how brand engagement has changed with the internet already we’ve put a few thoughts together about how this next evolution of the internet is already changing consumer engagement with brands.

The biggest shift has been in the way that brands communicate with consumers. 25 years ago brands were talking at consumers; in fact they were shouting at consumers. We all had easy, cost-effective access to big audiences. An ad in Coronation Street in 1985 would have got our message in front of over 19 million consumers. Today we could only reach about 11 and a half million people. Consumers have more distractions; their attention is divided. As a result winning that attention has become much, much harder.

Whereas previously brands had a one-way conversation with consumers, consumers are now responding to brands and engagement on their own terms. Whilst UK consumers are happy to be entertained by their TV for 95 thousand million hours each year, they’re equally happy to give 100 million hours of their time for free to build and maintain Wikipedia.

Whilst consumers in the past would simply be entertained by content created by others, today’s consumers are creating their own content. In fact the consumer is now the largest producer of content. Sometimes they generate their own content. But they’re also happy to take content from brands and re-create it. Take the wealth of “remixes” produced by consumers of the “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC”. There are over 4,000 consumer-produced versions of this ad on Youtube. Brands have to be aware that if they genuinely touch consumers, this is the kind of anarchistic response they are likely to get.

The original ‘I’m a Mac ads.

A selection of customer created ‘I’m a Mac’ remixes: 1,2, 3, 4.

Meanwhile, consumers are motivating themselves to become much becoming intimately involved with products and services. For example, new research by the government has just discovered that British consumers spend £2.3 billion of their time and money creating their own products and services or improving existing ones. That’s more than twice as much as British industry spends on NPD in THREE YEARS! Millions of British consumers are innovating all the time, ranging from the basic to the complex:

- one woman coloured two halves of a clock dial different shades to teach her children how to tell the time;

- a man concocted a device made from a fishing rod and a large hook to trim his treetops;

- another reprogrammed his GPS unit to make it easier to use and tailored to his needs;

- while one man made a book scanner which cost him £150, which is considerably less than the £5, 000 a commercial book scanner would cost.

So consumers are engaging with brands on their own terms, and brands that cannot harness that will wither and die. The first wave of the internet’s impact on brands was much like TV – lots of opportunities for brands to shout at consumers from a new screen. Web 2.0, the social web, was a chance for consumers to start talking about brands – good and bad. Web 3.0 will probably see a genuinely reciprocal relationship between brands and consumers as data on consumer behaviour flows freely between the two. If consumers trust brands they will give that behavioural information freely. If brands trust consumers they will allow consumers access to all that data. And if consumers want to, they will find ways to repurpose that data, enhancing the existing brand experience, and most importantly creating new experiences.

This is partially happening because all products and devices are becoming smart, gathering and transmitting data on how they’re used. Must gas boilers are now smart. They will soon be transmitting information on their usage to help consumers become more energy efficient, and automatically call for service when they’re not functioning properly. All Sony products will soon be communicating with each other, allowing the seamless movement of content from one platform to another, from video recorder to laptop to TV, easily. And they’ll be telling Sony what kind of content is being saved and moved. And Ford have just announced that they are going to open up the technology behind their in-car mobile technology, sort of like an App Store for Ford in-car systems. Consumers will be able to access the technology and the data to come up with their own apps.