Who Is the Consumer of the Future?

New research suggests consumers are becoming 'prosumers'
Photograph: Shutterstock

We all know today’s consumers are changing fast. But as millennials become the dominant consumer group, and a rapidly growing cohort of Gen Z peers follow closely behind, what’s the impact on companies looking to drive up brand value?

Research from Accenture, Barkley and Jefferies gives us a clear picture. It shows, first and foremost, that modern consumers are becoming “prosumers.”

What does that mean? Essentially, it’s that younger consumers don’t simply “consume” a brand’s product or service. Instead, they weigh up all the information from every interaction: the communications they see and read, the design ethos, their direct experience with the brand, their engagements with employees, as well as the product or service itself. These prosumers take all this information and process it to evaluate their broad perception of a brand.

The impact? More than ever, having an authentic brand purpose becomes essential. By understanding this purpose, prosumers can embrace a brand’s heritage, its ethics, its social values, maybe even its sense of fun. And that means they’re much more likely to form an emotional bond. This "brand love” is the secret to driving up brand value. Indeed, it’s precisely how so many small brands have been able to capture big slices of consumer goods markets.

No ‘Typical’ Consumers

While “prosumption” defines millennial and Gen Z consumers, there are as many differences as there are similarities between these generations. Whereas millennials are often collaborative, environmentally conscious risk-takers prone to oversharing on social media, Gen Z consumers are generally more competitive, more risk-averse, more focused on equality and conscious of the need for data privacy. In fact, the sheer variety of consumer priorities, desires and needs a brand now has to satisfy means it no longer makes sense to think of a “typical” consumer at all.

What’s important to a consumer—what makes them love a brand—will vary with each individual, each occasion and each interaction. So to succeed in delivering personalized experiences and building brand value in this complex landscape, companies will need to be highly targeted, agile and able to operate without boundaries.

Treat Consumers With Care

That’s easy to say but often much harder to practice. The best place to start? Trust.

The research shows just how disproportionately concerned today’s consumers are that brands keep their personal information safe and secure. In fact, this is more than seven times as impactful as the other consumer levers a brand can pull—once baseline factors such as value for money, reliability and quality are accounted for.

It means treating personal data with security and sensitivity is now a crucial step in building brand value. Convince consumers—and prosumers in particular—that you’ll keep their information safe, and you’re well on the way to building a deeper, more valuable relationship with them.

Find New Ways to Win Loyalty

Rewarding consumers for their loyalty is another key brand lever—and that means thinking beyond just monetary benefits. So whether it’s expert how-to guides, personalized recommendations and subscriptions, or rewards for introducing friends and sparking new ideas, rewarding customer loyalty is over six times as impactful as the average brand lever.

Just look at the IntelligentX Brewing Co. This innovative brand invites consumers to weigh in on beer flavors and carbonation levels via its website. This crowdsourced insight is then fed back into the brand’s algorithm to produce continuously refined and personalized beer recipes at scale, with the resulting brews shipped monthly to subscribers. It’s a smart way to create an authentic and lovable brand experience.

Identify What Consumers Value

There are a whole host of powerful levers a company can use to drive up brand value. These include embedding ethics and sustainability into products and services, making quality or value for money a key attribute, being transparent in how you do business, supporting social interactions and making everyday life as simple and convenient as possible. 

SoulCycle is good example. By creating a community for indoor cyclers and fitness buffs, SoulCycle’s purpose aligns with customers’ values of health and a positive environment. This creates a sense of pride and community for customers who want to participate in a high-end cycling experience that supports the lifestyle they wish to achieve. The experience becomes totally relevant when a customer has an instructor that personally inspires them with personalized training and motivation plans. Finally, they feel like they are rewarded with new, clean facilities, upscale bathroom products and custom SoulCycle playlists on Spotify.

But with so many levers to pull and so many different consumer needs to satisfy, where should the investment be going? Above all, brands should be making sure they can meet consumers on their terms on the channels they want to use. That’s no surprise: Multichannel accessibility is now table stakes for playing in any consumer goods category.

Make the Most of What Makes Your Brand Special

Much depends on the unique characteristics of the brand and the category it operates in. For example, the data shows personal care and beauty brands will most benefit from positive peer reviews and tailored customer service. Fast-food restaurants will need to accelerate their omnichannel personalized customer engagement. And household staples such as cleaning products and packaged food should be focusing on product design levers such as style, design and format to help tell brand stories that resonate with consumers.

Yoplait, the global yogurt brand owned by food giant General Mills, is a good example of what leveraging the unique characteristics of the brand and category looks like in practice. Consumers typically associate big food companies with mass-production methods, but Yoplait found itself increasingly competing with an influx of newer brands, including Greek yogurt brands that emphasize and compete on connecting to authentic food traditions.

In response, Yoplait focused on creating consumer relevance by taking its long history of making French yogurt and turning it into a market advantage by embracing a traditional French method in which yogurt is cultured and sold in small individual glass pots. It further enhanced its relevance in the market place by creating its new Oui brand proposition and promoting its all-natural, non-GMO and very simple ingredient list.

See the World Through the Lens of the Prosumer 

Building brand value today is about understanding how modern prosumers view a brand: As a collection of ideas, ethics and interactions embodying a distinctive and authentic purpose. Getting that right—and pulling the right levers for each individual consumer in each category—will be the key to building a modern and thriving consumer goods brand for the prosumers of the future.

Laura Gurski is senior managing director, global lead, of consumer goods and services for Accenture.



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