The Upcoming Consumer (Looks Nothing Like The Consumer We Knew)

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**The consumer is changing.**
This used to be a platitude. Correction. It’s a marketing parlour trick to say that *”the consumer has changed.”* It’s a parlour trick, because the more professional marketers say this, the more latitude they *may* be given to try new, untested and unknown things. It’s also used to then beg forgiveness for any misgivings that may have occurred in the execution of an advertising campaign… and there are always some of those. One could argue that technology has changed the consumer forever. You need look no further than the power of consumer reviews to tell a different brand narrative or e-commerce as an engine that allows consumers to *”shop the brand”* in a twenty-four hour cycle. There is no arguing that social media has created a much more *”connected”* consumer in this day and age, but have consumers really changed all that much? Ultimately, these things just allow consumers to be aware (attention) and purchase something (conversion).
**Has social media, big data or marketing automation *really* changed the consumer?**
When I think about what the media landscape might look like in the near-future, my focus has turned away from the engines that create awareness (i.e. what will be the next [Twitter]( “Twitter”)). There will always be something new and different that advertisers can use as a place to create attention. While Silicon Valley valuations rip into the multi-billion dollar stratosphere, the only money being made is in taking the mass audience of these platforms and figuring out a way to put a brand message in front of the consumer. Remember, soap operas were originally created to get women (and, maybe, some men) to buy their products. While [Facebook]( “Facebook”) may not have been created for that same reason, that is how it now makes the bulk of its fortune. So, when we ask, *”what will the future of media be,”** we should look beyond the delivery mechanism of message and focus much more on how consumers behave.
**Consumers are behaving very differently.**
During the early days of social media’s growth in popularity, many media pundits rescinded the definition of a *”consumer.”* The prevailing wisdom was that consumers no longer *just* consume. Some recommended that we start calling people who buy things, *”prosumers,”* and there were other forms of nomenclature that failed to gain any traction with anyone. If you look at consumer behaviour today, we are beginning to see some startling (and alarming) trends that may, in fact, radically rewrite the role (and definition) of the consumer.
**My, how quickly things change…**
We went from vinyl records and cassettes to CDs over a period of years. We went from CDs to downloading in a lot less time. Don’t blink, because consumers are now slowing back on the downloading, as streaming continues to grow at an unprecedented pace. Last April, [Bloomberg BusinessWeek]( “BusinessWeek”) ran an article titled, [Apple’s 10-Year-Old iTunes Loses Ground to Streaming]( If you pay attention to the growth and preference of streaming over downloading since April, you will notice something more than its exponential growth: when given the choice, consumers would rather have access to an entire catalogue of music for a monthly fee, over paying for a digital good that resides on their hard drives and takes up space. Suddenly, it’s not about consumption and ownership, it’s about access. There are no bragging rights of a collection when you stream. There is nothing to brag about when you have access to (almost) everything.
**That’s not all.**
For all of the public woes that [Uber]( “Uber”) is enduring these days, it is a juggernaut of revenue. When this company goes IPO, pay close attention: they actually have significant revenue… and it’s growing (rapidly) month over month. Uber is the poster child of what my good friend, [Jeremiah Owyang]( “Jeremiah Owyang”) calls, *”the collaborative economy.”* We don’t just buy things anymore. We share them… for money. The infrastructure and technology exists for us to loan/rent basically anything. From extra rooms in our homes to our driveway when we’re at the office. Apps, websites and businesses are entering the fray at a dizzying pace. With that, we’re seeing that consumers are not just about owning things, but sharing them (for something in return).
**What this means for media and brands in 2015… and beyond.**
Brands are looking at digital channels, because this is where the audience and attention has shifted to. Nothing will change here. Brands are looking at marketing automation technology, to be better optimize their messages and customize it. They’re fascinated with this technology, because consumers have become very fragmented and overwhelmed in a world where advertising has shifted from a scarcity model to one of abundance. If brands don’t get better at segmenting and customizing their messages, fatigue (and lower sales) will set in. Brands are looking at big data, in the hopes that mining these unique data sets will give them newer consumer segments or insights to create better advertising and engines of conversion. All of this is still reliant on advertising to create attention, no matter how fast the data is pumping in now. Drones, 3D printing, the Internet of Things and every other buzzword popping out of [CES]( “CES”) this week is a distraction. These are not the imminent new frontiers that brands need to worry about. What brands and the media companies need to really solve for is this: how will marketing look, feel and act in a world where consumers are rapidly realizing that they don’t need to own as much as they used to (thank you, streaming), and a world where they can share (and make money) from the things that they buy (thank you, collaborative economy)? All of this means one thing: less and less consumerism, as we have known it to date. It’s easy to think that these changes are years away, but don’t let the speed of disruption fool you, either. Consumers are probably changing more in this moment, than they ever have before. Right now. Under our noses. We think it’s because of social media and e-commerce, but we may, in fact, be fooling ourselves.
**How will brands solve this challenge?**