Once upon a time businesses produced products that we, the unsuspecting consumer, would buy. We had little say in the matter, besides the collective clout of buying something and not buying something else. The something would prosper and the else would disappear. Survival of the fittest. Darwinism and all that.
And so it was, unless you were unlucky enough to grow up in a collectivist economy where who made what and how much was determined by central planners, not swayed by the ‘invisible hand’ of the Adam Smith’s free market system. I say unlucky, because having visited Russia during the last throes of communism over 20 years ago, it was not a good sight. Long queues for everything, empty shops and depressed looking people dressed in times gone by. I felt terribly guilty striding around in jeans and sun glasses.
As the market economies developed elsewhere post war, so ‘marketing’ itself became a subject to be studied, with consumer behaviour ‘theories’ abounding. You can’t just make things and hope they sell, deplored the marketeers, you need to find out what people want, and then give it to them. Sometimes, on rare occasions, you might develop something for people who had no idea what they wanted until it was produced (the Walkman in 1979, the iPad in 2010), but usually you would have to carefully research the consumer first before putting on your producer hat.
Then along came IKEA. Don’t stop there, they said (probably in Swedish) allow the consumer to be PART of the production process. As you probably know, IKEA products come flat packed (which saves money for them in storage, shipment costs and assembly). You slide the half finished cabinet into your car, drive home, then spend many a happy hour fiddling with allen key (chipping some nails in the process) piecing the darn thing together.
Banks realised they could have us do our own banking (online), and even the business I am in basically provides software such that our clients do all the grunt work, uploading all the content and keeping it fresh. For this, we charge them a tidy monthly subscription. Nice business model. But it’s also good for the consumer who can take charge of the final consumption outcome, and be charged less.
Behold the prosumer (ghastly word, a combination of producer and consumer), but it’s a win all around. Power to the people. People to the prosumer.