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They've got the power

February 15, 2011

Many a marketer and businessman/woman long for the good old days when life was simpler. The manufacturer was king, mass media ruled and you could “get it in whatever colour you wanted as long as it was black” (Henry Ford’s infamous quote).

 

That was then and this is now. One is no longer the loneliest number, at least according to trend spotter Ray Kong (SVP at Ipsos and adjunct professor at York University). Some people have a knack for communicating trends in a way that “connects the dots”. Ray has that ability and shares his insights.

 

You talk about the shift in consumer behaviour to individualism and ephemeralism. Can you explain both and the link between the two?
 
I believe that these two forces are driving consumer behaviour today and should be considered by every marketer as they build  their product and service offerings for tomorrow.

Individualism:  consumers have become used to individualized product and service offerings.  For example, content providers provide customized experiences on the web (think about your home page, or iphone screen) and flexible manufacturing systems and innovative design have allowed product marketers to offer products which consumers can make for themselves (check out miadidas.com or visit a fossil store to see their watch collection).  

 

Consumers now expect individualization in all facets of their lives … a customized offering is better than an off the shelf one and all other things being equal, you can appeal to a much wider market if your offering is more individualized.  At the same time, we have become more ephemeral – temporary – in our thinking.  Built to last has been replaced by planned obsolescence; careers for life have been replaced by a series of three to five year stints in a role.  Formal and informal communities of renters or sharers are in every category from cars (zipcar.com) to baby things (bebarang.com).   How can your business adapt to the consumers’ ephemeral way of thinking is a highly relevant strategic question.

 

Do you believe this consumer behaviour shift will manifest in the workplace? And if yes, how so?
 

Consumers are employees.  And I believe that employers also need to pay attention to the individual and ephemeral thinking of today.  Employees are demanding more individualism in the workplace, seeking interesting opportunities, job content, vacation structures and benefit packages which are tailored for them, rather than being content to work in a collective employment culture.  We continue to talk about ‘team players’ but when it comes to the end of the year, individual effort is often disproportionately rewarded.  And the reality of the workplace continues to be that the individual star is the one who gets promoted. 

 

When I started in the workforce, many people expected a lifetime career and it was not unusual to work for a single company for 10, 20 or 30 years.  Now, many social commentators are talking about individuals having 2-3 different careers over their lifetime, and many of the younger people with whom I work get restless if they have been in a role for more than 2 years.  The speed of change has many students in university or college now training for jobs that have yet to be conceived!  Yet businesses need stable workforces to grow.  High turnover and frequent internal rotation is inefficient as it can create lower productivity and critical loss of institutional memory, particularly in knowledge  based businesses. 

 

Innovative human resource management solutions are needed to ensure that workforces get their needs for individualism satisfied and that productivity remains high in the ephemeral world.

 

Thanks Ray for your insights. As we’ve witnessed with the fall of Mubarak in Egypt the power truly is with the people and we are in the era of the citizen.

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