The old, manipulating and controlling, way of running a company is out – the loose and interacting way is in. No longer will consumers be “talked at”, but only “talked with.” Here’s an explanation and some examples on how to survive as a business, by incorporating consumers.
(I wrote these words sometime in 2008)
The new age is not as much about technology, but mostly about ideology. Businesses use the new media but doesn’t understand their nature – that’s also true for news media: the printed and TV publications dwindle while the online versions struggle to find the correct format and use of the internet and journalists are secretly bewildered as to what their role is in this new world.
(note – I wrote this in 2008, but as of 2012 I still find it to be correct!! They fill their product with the same garbage, only the medium has changed)
The large majority of businesses (and media) doesn’t understand the very important fact that consumers expect to be engaged in a different way than 10 15 20 years ago, that monologue has been replaced by dialogue and that mass production has been replaced by individualization. And the word dialogue should be understood both in terms of communication, product development and support/service. The businesses that can realize and materialize the new ideology of the CoCreative Consumer, can save lots of money, develop new and better products more efficiently and faster, and make their customers happier.
The mantra is no longer that the “customer is king”, but rather that the “Fan club is king”. The former slogan was about service and therefore reactive, while the current slogan is about product development and therefore proactive.
From considering technology as developed and delivered from top to bottom, we now need to consider it from bottom and up. From delivering complete products, businesses must now to a degree deliver tools. From telling customers what to buy, businesses must now listen for what customers want to buy. From being an arranger of the customer’s experience, the business must now be an advisor to the customer’s experience.
Technology is in some cases the means, but it is never the end a new and open thought pattern is the goal. This way of thinking implies being able to balance in chaos, not maniacally attempting to regaining control in/of chaos. The business must face that it, and it’s products, will be discussed, abused, stolen and criticized. However, this fact can be turned to one’s own advantage, amongst other things through utilizing “The CoCreative Consumer”.
Business and the new ideology
A completely new product life cycle is arising: previously the product was developed by the business after research and planning, and was considered and presented as the final result which consumers could buy or leave be. Now the product is a starting point for modifications, which in turn are starting points for social interaction, which in turn are starting points for new products where after the circle is repeated. What’ll happen in reality is that some of the customers that bought the product will modify it and then spread this modified version to friends or other customers, in the forums where they meet. The business will discover these new ways of using the product, and they will build it into new versions of the product. There is therefore synergy between the engaged customers, the CoCreating Consumers, and the business. (note: as of 2008, this was visible, but as of 2012 it is pervasive, especially in computers)
It’s also important to remember that Pareto’s principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, is true for The CoCreative Consumer: 20% of the customers will do 80% of the modifications, and only a handful will create the really great modifications: the task for the business is to find them, engage them, involve them and hire them.
Future business models will far more often be based on dialogue and start with the consumer or more precisely in the product or the business as a social magnet. Kevin Kelly and Seth Godin use the terms True Fans and Tribe Management, while the Danish institute for future science terms it Creative Man. All of those means that businesses no longer mass produce to unknown customers, but instead have a close and symbiotic relationship with the most engaged ones. Far more “open” products will be made that engages the fan club and is designed to make change and modifications possible.
Therefore new business models will arise: such as “ransom”systems, where the artist only produces next album or writes the next book, when the production costs have been covered by the fans. In reality, the producer and fans thus make a contract in which the consumer to a large degree is determining how the product should be which in turn is secured a certain circulation. Another kind of business model is that one version of the product is free, while another and typically more advanced version costs money. (note: this is not at all new any longer in 2012)
The CoCreative Consumer is based on procedurality: that content is created on the fly. Though the expression comes from the software industry, I use procedural creation in the sense that the producer delivers the tools and a frame which the consumer fills with content. Procedural products are thus tools and frames for creativity: a saw is not per se a procedural tool but a pencil or Adobe Photoshop is. Online services such as Ebay, Youtube or Wikipedia are based on this principle.
Access / Hindrance
The degree of modability in the product or of dialogue between business and consumer, will have an increasing impact consumers simply won’t be hindered or
interrupted. The consumer’s options for dialogue with the business or/and modability of the product will be seen as Access and yield a positive response, while the lack of Access will be regarded as Hindrance: a hostile act towards the consumer which yields a negative response.
Examples of Access can be easy ways of contacting the business, download of PRmaterials or productspecifications, forums for exchanging views with other customers or possibilities for product modification.
Access is about the business handing over control to the customer or basing procedures on that which is best and easiest for the customer.
Examples of Hindrance would be redirecting callers between departments, copy protecting software, or demanding unnecessary registration.
Hindrance is about the company keeping control or basing procedures on that which is easiest and best for itself.