Consumers no longer simply consume. They’re active, skeptical, creative, entrepreneurial. This used to be a minority pursuit. Now technology has made it mainstream: it’s given consumers new powers to be agents.

New research by Wolff Olins and Flamingo suggests three particular behaviors are moving from the fringe to become common everywhere. These are not simply a Western, leading edge ‘techy’ phenomenon, the new consumer is an entrepreneurial 60-year old in Toronto, a socially networked mother in Mumbai, and urban migrant as agile and proactive as any tech savvy teen. These new patterns of behavior demand we re-think what we mean by ‘mainstream’. And their effects are amplified as never before – people, ideas and movements mobilize and pollinate quicker than ever in hard to anticipate, uncontrollable ways. So while much has been offered about trends to watch and the impact technology has on our lives, we believe marketers have been missing a course of action.

This report sets up that very conversation.

In 2006 less than 10% of people actively created content online. Now, it’s 77%.
Source: Holly Goodier/BBC 2012

These new mainstream behaviors show that, in the long power struggle between individuals and corporations, the battle lines are being redrawn. People are reshaping their relationships with companies. And it no longer has to be a fight. New opportunities are opening up for companies to make much richer, more human and more multidimensional relationships with individuals. These relationships will give customers more than just products, and customers will give more than just money.

And in these new relationships, brands are center stage. We believe the new role of brand is to create relationships of fair exchange, where consumers and companies meet as equals, where each contributes, where everyone gains.

This report suggest three ways that any company that’s up for the challenge can use fair exchange to profit in the new, post-consumer world.

In a world of sidestepping, companies need to focus on enlisting, not just selling to, their customers.

Everywhere in the world, people are questioning authority— and finding ways to sidestep it. This is most obvious at the political level — where ordinary people are overthrowing governments, and at the click of a button a 30-year-old technical contractor can blow the whistle on the US’s surveillance operations. But it’s become mainstream across many dimensions of everyday life. People question, compare, probe, mistrust, even boycott corporations — and find alternatives.

“We have lost our gods. We lost [faith] in the media. We lost it in our culture… We’ve lost it – that basic sense of trust and confidence – in everything.”
Laura Hansen, Western New England

Bypassing the phone companies, millions switched to Skype, and now millions more are switching to WhatsApp. Wikipedia sidestepped traditional authorities such as Encylopedia Britannica, and now it’s become the mainstream source of knowledge. Travel guides like Michelin have lost their influence to sidestepper TripAdvisor. Zipcar sidestepped traditional car rental.

And at the edge, sidestepping is going even further. For many small enterprises, Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Zoomaal are new ways to attract funding that sidestep the banks by leveraging the power of the crowd to create new products. Pave is creating a funding community for young Americans by pairing them with investors who are paid back with a percentage of earnings. Through Kiva, people are sidestepping development charities and investing directly in enterprises in the developing world. In the UK, many consumers get their loans from peers, through Zopa, rather than the banks.

In the US, to avoid traditional banks and inflated fees, people are signing up for Simple Bank’s no-fee online checking accounts. In its first year, Simple Bank saw more than $1 billion US in transactions. Betterment is demystifying investment services with simplicity and humanity. Business students are sidestepping university education in favor of Hyper Island, SkillShare and General Assembly.

In China, citizens are coming together to form the Human Flesh search engine to uncover social injustice and government corruption. The adoption by many of Bitcom shows the demand for a non-institutional form of currency. Ushahidi in Kenya provides crowd-sourced information in times of uncertainty, like elections or unrest.

“What really excites me now is that people feel empowered to make a change- People form their own opinions through their own networks.”
Priya Prakash, founder Design for Social Change; former Head of UX Design, Mokia

In March 2013, the red equals sign in support of marriage equality in the US went viral all over the world. Thousands of adaptations proliferated on the Web.

This means that people are looking for a new, fair exchange. In exchange for their trust, they want new powers. They want truth, in a democratic rather than authoritarian form. They want openness and honesty. They want simplicity. And they want it as close to free as possible. And this fair exchange is built on brands, like Skype, Wikipedia or Ushahidi.

The opportunity for companies is to create, or acquire, ways for this kind of exchange to happen- and in that way to get a great deal more from people than just their trust.



Share your own sense of purpose, and find ways for everyone to take part in it, and to amplify it — like Tom’s Shoes, or the UK cancer support organisation, Macmillan. In achieving this purpose, see yourself as not a sole operator, but part of an ecosystem. Think less about selling to people, more about enlisting them.

In a world of sidestepping, companies gain trust by giving people a new power. Offer your customers new ways of getting inside your business. Reveal rather than persuade. Organize your business in a way that delivers your purpose; beyond profit. Measure your positive impact, and what you’re doing to reduce negative impact. Above all, don’t act like an institution. Find lucrative ways to be on the side of people. Everyone says: achieve commercial success. We say: advance social progress.

Google’s “Hot Trends” tool and “Knowledge Graph” open up their data, to give a view of what’s on the world’s mind, right now.

In a world of making, to get people’s money, companies need to give them a platform on which to make and sell.

The days when consumers simply consumed are over. People now have so many ways to create, use, adapt, mix things up, sell things and even build their own businesses.

Social media has been an obvious force for change. In the world of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, 77% of Internet users actively create content — up from 10% only seven years ago. The volume of digital content created grew nine times between 2005 and 2011. Chinese users create more content than professional websites. So in this world of free-flowing ideas and opportunities, people are making the most of what they have access to.

“We’re seeing the democratization of technology where the user is becoming a producer. The tools for people to create new services themselves are increasingly simple.”
Martin Geddes, telecoms and IT analyst

Sites and services like Codecademy, catering to the learn-to-program market, now number in the dozens, many for free or close to it.

Millions more are joining the Share Economy to make things, and to find markets for them, through peer-to-peer platforms like Etsy and Airbnb. Taskrabbit has created a marketplace for getting everyday chores done in exchange for a percentage of the fee. Square makes everyone a potential entrepreneur. In what’s been called the Bieber effect, YouTube has turned self-made stars into household names. Amazon is enabling an explosion in self-publishing. And 3D printing is about to bring the means to manufacture products inside people’s homes.

Where resources are constrained, people are finding frugal ways to make things — as in the Jugaad spirit in India (Hindi for clever improvisation), where people re-purpose the materials around them. Still in India, Arvind has created a new model to overcome preventable eye disease in rural India, by training women in the villages to perform the surgery.

“Our era is Elizabethan. It flourishes with new ideas. Compared with the couch potatoes of recent decades, we are all mad scientists.”
Grant McCracken, Culturematic

Lapka is a “personal environment monitor” that plugs into a phone to let users measure and analyze the qualities of their surroundings.

As makers, people are looking for a different kind of fair exchange. In exchange for their money or effort, people want a platform on which they can make, share and even sell their ideas.

The opportunity for companies is to do much more than just selling: to equip their customers with knowledge, skills, tolls and even marketplaces- and to let customers use their brand. And in that way, to get much more back in return.



Give people ingredients, rather than the finished article. When technologists pursue the ‘minimum viable product’, consider also building a ‘minimum viable brand’ that people can adopt, adapt and improve.

Give people skills — like the UK publisher Faber through the Faber Academy. Run seminars, masterclasses, open weekends. Think about creating your own free online courses.

Give people a marketplace — like fashion retailer ASOS, which enables customers to sell clothes they no longer want. AmEx is funding people’s project ideas, which anyone can submit just through a tweet. Engage DIYers and give them a platform so they can become brands themselves.

Help customers to collaborate with other customers and build communities. Eventually, put more decisions in the hands of your customer.

Above all, don’t simply sell to people: find profitable ways to play a much bigger part in their lives. Everyone says: use your brand to sell more. We say: use your brand to help people do more.

MakerBot, the Brooklyn-based start-up that makes 3-D printers, was recently sold for over
$400 million. Their printers are used by engineers, designers, and hobbyists around the world.


In an era of taking back, to get people’s time and data, companies need to give people the freedom to get everything on-demand.

This shift is a complex one. It’s about the value of people’s time, access and experiences. Faster and more frequent communication has allowed brands to push too much at us — and people are looking for ways to control that flow, to get things when they want them, where they want them, and on their terms.

This is the most visible way we converse: now much less in synchronous phone conversations, and much more in asynchronous social media. Making phone calls has dropped to the fifth most frequent use for smartphones.

“Feelings of ‘harriedness’ mean that consumers experience their lives as a series of hot and cold spots – the cold spots being the ‘quality time’ they carve out for themselves and those they care most about.”
Dale Southerton- Editor, Encyclopedia of Consumer Culture

IOS 7 has a “Do Not Disturb” feature which, when activated, doesn’t alert users to calls, texts and emails until later.

This push-back behavior is mainstream too in television viewing. More and more television is being watched, but less and less through conventional broadcast channels. Through on-demand technology like YouTube, TiVo, Hulu, Netflix and iPlayer, people are doing their own timetabling — sometimes consuming bite-size chunks, sometimes bingeing on entire seasons of drama.

Education is changing in a similar way, with online courses — at school and university level — enabling people to learn at their own pace, not according to an institution’s timetable. Coursera has raised $65 million in funding so far to bring online education to emerging markets. The MOOC movement has reached Europe too with a new platform, Futurelearn.

In China, the social media app Weixin has 300 million users, taking part in a group free-form chat which embraces video, voice clips and images. Elsewhere, Snapchat offers a way of sharing things without permanently keeping them- a way of living in the moment. Twitter’s video platform, Vine, gives you six seconds of content, liberating both the audience and the creator. It’s being embraced by brands from automotive to retail who respond to customers’ tweets with real time video.

Toyota Spain uses Vine to take its cars off the road.
Source: Vine

In areas like health and wellness, it is less about managing time but rather deepening the experience in that period of time. In this area there’s been a huge upside to our always-on, always connected lifestyle. Advances in digital health are providing access to medical services to people in remote areas, and wearable technology is creating a multi-billion-dollar industry with brands like Nike+ Fuelband, FitBit and Jawbone’s UP.

“Lifestyles are changing and becoming more fluid, we’re creating new patterns of conversation which you step in and out of, like Google Hangouts. It’s about negotiations rather than being summoned.”
Martin Geddes, telecoms and IT analyst

In 2012, U.S. President Obama answered citizen’s questions about the State of the Union over the White House’s first-ever Google Hangout.

Increasing concerns about data and privacy are accelerating this. Most consumers are willing to tick the box on terms and conditions, and to accept that they’re giving away valuable data on their behavior and location — but they want more back in return. And much more than the ‘rewards’ offered by traditional loyalty schemes.

This means that in exchange for data, people want freedom over their time.

The opportunity for companies is to provide more open-ended, flexible, nuanced experiences, and in return to get even deeper insights from customers on what they want, and how they want it. And brand becomes the fulcrum — owned jointly by company and customer — through which this fair exchange happens.



Let people do things on their terms, in their time: total convenience to create the experience they want. Target is introducing simpler CityTarget stores designed to minimize shopping time. Conversely, Starbucks is experimenting with food and wine options that help people slow down and spend longer in-store. How could your interactions with customers become more asynchronous?

Rethink segmentation: consider how different people in different moods want different things. Then let them choose, rather than thrusting things at them. Give people a menu, from quick snacks to longer, deeper experiences.

Think not just about ‘customer relationship management’ but also — to use the phrase of tech guru Doc Searls — ‘vendor relationship management’. How could you help your customers manage their relationship with you, and with your peers, so that they’re in control?

Be generous — particularly in giving people insights you’ve gathered from the data they’ve given you.

Above all, don’t try and control people’s time. Don’t be demanding. Instead, find ways to be completely on-demand. Everyone says: manage your customer relationships. We say: engage on your customers’ terms.


Defining the New Relationship

These behaviours are signs that people want, and are creating, a new kind of relationship. One of exchange, not of broadcast. One of give and take. One where people and companies meet as equals, where each contributes, where everyone gains. This creates huge opportunities for organizations, through their brands, to enlarge their relationships, to everyone’s benefit.

There’s a spectrum of ways to do that.

At one end, be yourself, openly declare your exchange, but don’t aim for a deep emotional relationship. Make a brand that honestly sets out a tightly defined exchange. This is the secret of Europe’s biggest airline, Ryanair.

At the other end, become boundariless. Share your brand across an ecosystem of organisations and individuals, and let them all shape what you are. This is the secret of the world’s fastest-growing brand, Android.

Of course, people have always sought a minimal kind of fair exchange — quality in exchange for cash. And brands — as trademarks — were invented as a guarantee of that exchange.

But our research suggests that there are now many more dimensions to that exchange. The opportunity for organisations is to magnify their exchange — to offer more, across more dimensions, and in return to get more back.

In this post-consumer world, brand becomes the joint property of the company and the customer — the badge under which the customer makes things, just as much as the company.

This the opportunity to expand the idea of value by creating one-to-one experiences to find new ways to grow. What new value can you create for people? And what new value can they create for you?

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