From Consumers Into Prosumers.

03/02/2015 04:23 pm ET | Updated May 02, 2015

Yesterday I was invited to read an advanced copy of a friend's new marketing book on the unique needs and values of millennial parents. Though chock-full of pragmatic observations and inspiring brand examples, I was most excited to see Jeff Fromm celebrate the shift from "con"sumer to "pro"sumer.

We all know that clever copy can change our perceptions (the genius of the term "pre-owned", for one). But more profoundly, a change in language often signals--and accelerates--a shift in societal behavior.

With that, we nominate "prosumer" as word of the year.

Sure, it's only just March, but this word--coined many years ago as a mash of producer + consumer--is an important acknowledgment that the conversation between brand and buyer has fundamentally and forever changed. With unlimited choice, gobs of information just waiting to be optimized and an increasingly social brain, we are no longer "targets" (period). We are your co-creators, citizen advocates and when called for, your most passionate activists.

Someday soon we'll take this shift for granted (does anyone still use the term "new media?"). But as we continue to see in our Play Big Inc strategic work, many of the biggest and brightest brands have yet to fully embrace this new dance. It goes beyond having an intention to offer greater good - which we're happy to report is indeed happening more! It is a recognition that the marketplace demands we show up with a very different, much more humble yet generous posture. One that allows us each to make more societally "pro-active", participatory choices.

A New Form of Brand Leadership

For some it is difficult to accept that brands are now facilitators... not saviors. But as we shared on our blog this week, a new HBR story (Marketing is Dead, and Loyalty killed it) highlights how marketing has shifted from a one-sided endeavor where consumers are merely people to sell to, to creating brand values and content that people want to be affiliated with, helping define not just the brand, but the person choosing it in the process. As they describe it:

"Customers keep coming back to J. Crew, Chipotle, and Apple because being a loyal fan of the brand reassures them that they are succeeding in being a certain kind of person. People expect convenience from a transaction, but what they crave is meaning. A marketer's thundering from the top of a mountain like the voice of God will be quickly spotted for what it is - a disconnected jumble of hollow words bouncing along the canyon walls.

Building loyalty is much harder work, and it requires not only valuing customers, but liking them enough to have a conversation every day. Bringing passion and excitement to that conversation requires genuine enthusiasm for your own products and mission. The Chief Loyalty Officer's job isn't about asking, "What should this company say?" It's nothing less than answering the question, "What should this company be?"

And we'll add..."how can this company enable all stakeholders to make their shared values more visible?" As the latest Havas Worldwide Survey of 16-34 yr olds (titled Hashtagnation: Marketing To The Selfie Generation) concludes:

"It's not about telling customers who/what to be, but about helping them to be a better version of their most authentic selves."

Enabling Prosumers Looks Like This...

Research shows that 91% of prosumers and 78% of mainstream consumers have stated that they admire companies that are finding ways to help us waste less. Brands that deliver the great experiences we want, but also help us to reduce waste, improve our health and be more conscious of the impact our consumption has on the world around us will be rewarded with more loyalty than ever.

Take H&M for example, whose Garment Recycling Program collected 7.7 million lbs of used clothing in 2013, which was then resold as is or converted into other products. And even more boldly IKEA, who turned it's Facebook page into a digital flea market, letting customers resell their IKEA furniture.

How awesome is that? Raise your hand if you've tried floating something similar within an organization and been met with stunned silence... (we've been there, too). And yet, here is the shift: as global ecological and economic resources are increasingly constrained­­­--and as simultaneously mounds and mounds and yes, mounds of waste continue to pile up--we prosumers will be making active choices to buy and use less. Those that help us will win our hearts:

"Supermarkets will deliberately sell us fewer products in smaller packages. Automotive brands will stop selling us cars and start selling us access to mobility services. Financial services brands will help us to spend less money within our means. Soft drinks brands will sell us fewer sparkling beverages. Insurance brands will charge us lower premiums based on our individual behavior, not actuarial tables. All in the interests of building the loyalty that comes from being understood and not trying to manipulate us into using more than we want or need." --Fast Company

So here is a cool stat to play big with:

28% of the population belong to a sharing service or expect to join one within the next year; 41% expect to belong to a number of sharing services in the future; and by 2050, 42% of people believe that city-dwellers will be more likely to share a car (through a sharing service or joint purchases) than to own one outright (Havas).

How can you apply this to your work?

Let's have fun! Let's Color!

There is also a very fun and deeply human side to all this.

Today's youth occupy the digital sphere with a louder, stronger and more popular voice than ever, with more than one billion monthly YouTube viewers and 3 out of 4 agreeing that "If there's a brand I love I tend to tell everyone about it." Not only does this represent an unprecedented opportunity for businesses to create powerful stories that connect with prosumers, but when combined with authentic user generated content, has been shown to increase customer engagement by 28%.

We already know that tapping into the collective genius of prosumers as co-creators and building open source creative platforms will continue to blur the boundaries and even the playing field for brands and consumers, but it's more important than ever to invite them in and be a part of your story.

This beautiful and inspiring campaign called "Let's Colour" from Dulux, is a stellar example of what can be possible when you have a big idea built on social good that creates millions of citizen advocates. First aired on social media in 2010 it has since blown up to become a global movement, with citizens, communities and the company all diving in to drive momentum around the idea of bringing the world to life through color.

However, what is truly brilliant (uh, no pun intended) about this effort isn't that Dulux, a paint company, simply invited others to color their world--an admittedly emotionally compelling promise--they joined right in, leading by example AND simultaneously inspiring the community itself to carry the movement forward. By actively investing in a big idea and sharing thousands of gallons of richly colored paint, they enabled a powerful reciprocal exchange. And yep, they were clever enough to use today's social brain to capture and share the story. Again, not to pat themselves on the back, but as way to invite others to join. IMHO, this is all so much more powerful than a celebrity studded SuperBowl spot that simply promises some ephemeral benefit.

Humble Audacity

I've talked about this for a while in terms of personal leadership... (for a refresher, here is a 9min talk I gave a couple of years ago). The idea being that if we step out of a position of protecting our status/ego and the need to always be right, we have the power to see and contribute to much more audacious solutions.

The concept continues to resonate. And it increasingly applies to business strategy itself. To win the hearts and voices of today's prosumers, society is inviting brands and enterprises of all sizes to move from a posture of extraction, dominance and often unconsciousness self-righteousness to a space of humility, passion and genuine invitation. Some might call this love. Excitedly, it's what allows us all to play so much bigger.