The Rise Of The Connected Consumer

Last week I introduced the concept of Marketing 4.0

In the first topic of Marketing 4.0, I will look at the rise of the connected consumer.

Charlie Frost was a conspiracy theorist who strongly believed that 2012 would bring the end of civilization. A couple of geologists in 2009 found that Frost’s belief might be true. They discovered that the earth’s core was about to explode and bring catastrophe to the world. And so the world’s leaders gathered to find a solution and decided to build giant ships resembling Noah’s Ark to save select groups of the world’s population. The survivors on the ships would be expected to start a new civilization.

This story is completely fictional and is taken from the movie 2012 (starring John Cusack). But many of the scenes in the movie symbolize the change we are experiencing today. The movie shows how the old standards of civilization—political, economic, socio-cultural, and religious standards—were being destroyed and being replaced by a more horizontal and inclusive set of social standards.

It shows how leaders of the Western superpower countries were forced to drop their egos and collaborate. They even had to rely on China to build the giant ships. The ships also functioned as the symbols of a new world in which diverse people were connected with one another without any geographical and demographical boundaries.

Today, we are living in a whole new Marketing world. The power structure we have come to know is experiencing drastic changes. The Internet, which brought connectivity and transparency to our lives, has been largely responsible for these power shifts.

We witness how exclusive powers surrender to the power of inclusivity. The G7, which is an exclusive group of powerful nations, could not solve the global financial crisis by themselves. They had to involve the G20 nations, which include China, India, and Indonesia. The economic power is now more inclusively dispersed. Large corporations also found it difficult to nurture innovation within their exclusive organizations. Companies such as Microsoft and Amazon eventually needed to acquire smaller yet more innovative companies such as Skype and Zappos. Even millionaires Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg were aware of the need for economic inclusivity. They donated their wealth to help the poor through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Startup:Education (now part of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative) organizations, respectively.

We are also seeing how a vertical power structure (from companies to market) has been diluted by a more horizontal force (outside sources). Take, for example, how at near the top of the world’s most populous countries is the “United States of Facebook” with its population of 1.65 billion people. We also see how people now go to Twitter for breaking news from citizen journalists whereas in the past, a large TV network like CNN would be the go-to channel. Even YouTube has taken Hollywood by storm. A survey commissioned by Variety magazine revealed that for 13 to18-year olds, YouTube celebrities are more popular than Hollywood stars. My 11-year old son often proclaims “Dad, why do I need to go to school when I could just be a You Tuber?”

Given the connectivity we live in today, the weight of social conformity is increasing across the board. Consumers care more and more about the opinions of others. They also share their opinions and compile massive pools of reviews. Together, consumers paint their own picture of companies and brands, which is often very different from the image that companies and brands intend to project. The Internet, especially social media, has facilitated this major shift by providing the platform and tools.

These shifts have radically changed our world. In a world where the horizontal, inclusive, and social forces trump the vertical, exclusive, and individual forces, consumer communities have become ever more powerful.

They are now more vocal. They are not afraid of big companies and big brands. They love to share stories, good and bad, about brands. Sure we have seen the rise of ‘fake news’; yet random conversations about brands are now more credible than targeted advertising campaigns. Social circles have become the main source of influence, overtaking external marketing communications and even personal preference. Consumers tend to follow the lead of their peers when deciding which brand to choose. It is as if consumers were protecting themselves from false brand claims and campaign trickeries by using their social circles to build a fortress.

Over the next few weeks we will delve deeper into the horizontal, inclusive and social worlds and bring each to life.

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