The rise of the "Prosumer"
The term “Prosumer” was first mentioned (or created) in 1980 by Alvin Toffler in his book “The Third Wave”, describing the phenomena that consumers are not just merely consumers but becoming producers, too. Tapscott and Williams picked up this concept in their recent book “Wikinomics” and expanded its usage to include a growing numbers of consumers who are enabled to become producers, all driven by technologies that facilitate the cost efficient exchange of information, the mass-production of personalized products and services, and the immediate contribution and improvement in any kind of open source projects.
It seems to me that brands and their underlying business models are falling into three different categories of dealing and interacting with the “Prosumer” concept:
- Brands like Wikipedia or Firefox that can only exist through Prosumers. Their whole business model relies on the contribution of consumers.
- Brands like Lego, Haagen-Dazs or Addidas who allow the incorporation of Prosumers behavior in two ways: either as contribution to their own product design and creation process (e.g. Haagen Dazs’ ice cream flavor competition) or as the opportunity to personalize their own version of the brand’s product (e.g. Addidas customized shoes).
- Brands like Pepsi or Frito-Lay that open up very slightly their brand control to allow consumers to create TV spots or naming rights, all rather on the fringe of their brand experience.
This third group of brands is definitely the vast majority. One could argue that these brands don’t really embrace the concept of “Prosumers” but merely pretend to take them serious by allowing them to influence non-core elements of their brand experience.
My prediction is that the rise of the Prosumer will continue and influence a larger percentage of a company marketing activity. But there will be always a large role for brands which apply strong control and an iron fist in designing its brand experience (e.g. Apple). They might allow the Prosumer to play in a well limited way but the core of its brand experience will be centrally defined and designed.
Any marketer needs to find the right long-term path within these three different strategic options of integrating strongly or lightly the Prosumer, all in alignment of what makes a particular brand successful. But no brand can ignore the Prosumer anymore.