DO YOU PROSUME? – how the Do-It-Yourself trend changes the relation between producer and consumer

Impossible is nothing!

Because you are worth it!

I’m lovin’ it!

Do these words sound familiar? Probably yes because they are popular commercial slogans by international companies such as Adidas, L’Oréal and McDonald’s. These are also words that we are faced with almost every single day, whether we are watching the TV, shopping in a mall or browsing on the internet. So let me ask you a question: What do heroin, hypodermis needles and traditional marketing approaches have in common?

Surprisingly a lot because the process of serving up consumers with the same old messages, repetitive content and advertisement which addresses a mass audience rather than the individual customers is just like giving drugs to a junkie. Marketing managers generally believe that appealing words, once injected into the passive corpus called the consumer, would leave us high on “Boom chica wah wah” or “Just do it!” and make us crave the products so much we would have to immediately get them!

But those days, those good old days are finally over – and no “Ch Ch Ch Charming” is going to bring them back.

The era of the passive consumer is slowly making room for a new era: The Prosumer Movement.

Prosumer – a futuristic portmanteau

(Aka.  Somebody with a very colorful mind decided to throw together two worlds)

The term “prosumer” has multiple meanings in business and economics. The business sector sees it as a combination of the words “professional” and “consumer” whereas economists see it more as a fusion of “producer” and “consumer”. In this blog post we will only look at the economic perspective of the word. One man who essentially contributed to the dissemination of the term is futurist Alvin Toffler. He first mentioned “prosumers” in his book called “The Third Wave” and defined it as a blend of producer and consumer. It implies a more active engagement process of consumers in the process of production, whether it is design, construction or customization. Toffler who wrote the book in 1980 has already foreseen the change from a traditionally passive consumer to a more active one about 30 years ago. He states that customers will more and more demand a greater independence from mainstream economy in search of individuality.

The traditional relationship between producer and consumer – a bilateral affair

(Aka. Mi casa es su casa)

The relationship between customer and company as we know it is based on a trade where each party exchanges one value for another.  We have the end users on the one side who buy products for their personal use and the companies on the other side who hold those products available for sale. During the production process a value chain is created. That final value of a product is handed over to the customer in exchange for money. This is how we normally see the relation between producer and consumer, two different roles clearly separates by their activities and contributions to the value chain.

However Toffler claims that this has not always been the case. If we take a look at history we can depict three different stages where a change in the producer/consumer relation can be seen.

  • First Wave – agriculture as the dominant institution
  • Second Wave – factory as the dominant institution
  • Post-Industrial-Age – the electronic cottage/ home as the dominant institution

The First Wave is set before the industrial revolution hit Europe. Agriculture was the dominant institution and Toffler argues that a vast majority of people were prosumers. They hunted and grew food which they later consumed themselves. Only a few members of the society focused on special modes of production such as fishing. Trading your own production surplus for other people’s production output was the basis of the producer / consumer relationship.

The Second Wave came with a huge industrial development. The factory became the dominant institution and most people produced for exchange. The consumer sector has grown large. Goods were produced with efficiency and consumes with indulgence.

Today we are in the Post-Industrial-Age, an era where the first two waves have somehow achieved a synthesis. Our home is the dominant institution. People produce more of their own goods because it saves money and most of the time it requires minimal skill. Nowadays customers like to do things themselves, either because it’s often faster than looking for specialists or simply because we have a sheer infinite access to technology. The Do-It-Yourself trend is an essential factor for the development of prosumers.

The Prosumer Movement – a new demand for individuality, customization and demarketization

(Aka. It’s fast. It’s easy. It’s cheap)

One of the most known companies which already adapted to the presumption movement is IKEA, one of Europe’s most successful furniture stores. Their marketing strategy is characterized by less customer’s service for lower prices. Customers of IKEA have to construct the furniture they bought on their own however in exchange the prices are much lower than those of competitive companies in the same business. The Swedish furniture store is taking a step forwards prosumers and we can definitely see that it works. The company is representative for a new customer’s choice, the choice to save money by using the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Method, the choice to turn away from mass-produced goods and the choice to reach self-actualization by individualizing products. IKEA has realized this trend long ago which is the reason why they have been offering product lines which allow customers to put together their own individual furniture. All they have to do is chose a framework, for example a certain shelf like the famous Expedit one. Then they are basically ready to customize it by picking various extra items such as baskets, drawers or boxes with different designs but which are all made to fit into the framework of the Expedit shelf.

The Expedit series – consumers are able to choose customized segments such as drawers

Another example for presumption can be found in Berlin. Nike has a “Nike Town” store right in near the heart of Berlin where customers can design their own shoes. They are able to choose from a pool of various material, colors, shapes and even different types of laces. The whole process is based on a computer software which displays how the design would look like in real life. Once again we can see that technology permits people to participate in the production process, therefore it supports prosumption.

Shoes section in a Nike store

All this suggests that traditional marketing strategies are outdated because consumers want more than just a piece of mass production. They seek a high persona satisfaction and more individual customization. They are willing to spend more time and even money on partly co-producing goods and services rather than buying them in the marketplace.

This is a new era.

This is DIY.

This is the presumption movement.

So how does management of a company handle this changing process? This is certainly challenge marketers have to face and if you’re curious about the problems as well as the opportunities prosumers bring to management stay tuned for next week’s blog in which I will explain strategies to manage prosumption!

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Still curious? For all the girls – here is a nice DIY video on how to create an accessory that goes along perfectly with the current fashion trend: collars!

Happy prosuming!

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