Marketing is about meeting the needs and desires of consumers, but increasingly they are meeting their own. The idea of consumers popped up after WWII when governments, economists and business people decided the best way to fire up industry was to promote the idea of the nuclear family and sell them a home a car, a refrigerator and FMCGs. Ah, those were the days. The earth was the gift that kept on giving.
But consumerism is on its last legs and old-world marketing with it. Not just because we all now know the biosphere has physical limitations – water, energy, food, CO2, climate—but because we no longer need governments, economists and business people to tell us what’s good for us. We just don’t trust them anymore.
Instead, our imaginary friends we call ‘consumers’ are sophisticated citizens who, in addition to consuming, produce, comment and share information and resources. They are major players in a whole stakeholder ecosystem and are connected and collaborating as never before. The efficiency and trust in peer-to-peer networks is cutting out incumbents left and right. People are sharing everything from cars and houses to bikes, boats, tools and pets. But it’s not only the commercial marketplace that’s changing, the whole economic, social and environmental agenda is being revolutionised by new levels of connectivity between citizens.
It took 100 years for interracial marriage to be sanctioned in the US; gay marriage took 10. Amnesty International took 25 years to get 500,000 members; Avaaz.org took six months to get there and now has over 25 million members. The old marketing model is so 20th century. Now’s the time to delete ‘consumer’ from your vocabulary and start working with citizens.