The world is changing, and rapidly. Many of yesterday’s truths are looking quite outdated today. The emerging new citizens of the world (mostly youth) are a totally different breed than anything witnessed before.
In developing countries such as Kenya, they are leap-frogging the technology and there is nothing like trying to catch up with the west…. they are with the west as far as technology and ways of relating to it is concerned. They are as versatile on Facebook as anybody else, and they come up with innovations on the net as frequently as anybody else.
Though the rest of us grudgingly follow on realisation that you can do nothing to stop an idea whose time has come, we too are way different from what we were some times back. What with all this choice around us in terms of media (100 FM radio stations to chose from up from only two 15 years ago), TV, internet, mobile phones and others.
We have completely changed our social order and we are all grappling with a new societal order and everyday trying to find our position in it. After dismissing Facebook as nothing more than kids play for a long time, I finally made my debut, made peace with my children and we are now coexisting happily. One of them remarked the other day that I must be getting idle by the day!
What we are having today then is an empowered consumer. One who decides what to consume, when, how and where to consume it as endless choices get thrown at them.
Business on the other hand is in the business of creating goods and services that this consumer will pick and use – and make a profit out of it. How then do we keep this consumer interested and indeed loyal to those goods and services?
Watching this space for a while now tells me that one key ingredient in not only keeping the old ones, but winning new ones is engagement. This will call for different ways of working in different industries. In media, one inescapable fact is that the consumer increasingly wants to see himself as part of the news. True, there was an accident on Mombasa road but he was there and probably took an incredibly better shot than the one the newspaper shows on day two. He feels bad that he was not able to offer his photo to the world (that is if he has no blog and is not on Facebook). He feels short-changed because he saw the whole accident and knows the driver was avoiding hitting a pedestrian as opposed to an oncoming motorist, as the mainstream media reported. He begins not liking the newspaper.
Fast-growing reality shows
It’s called citizen journalism and every media organisation must consciously look for ways and means of embracing this. In a more broad sense, the consumer is looking for ways of having a two-way conversation as opposed to being told by the newspaper or radio or TV. No wonder reality shows on TV are some of the fastest growing viewing segments in the world. The most popular radio segments are those that have the highest audience participation in Kenya.
The onset of the internet and its growing importance as the fibre optic stuff gets finalised offers even more incredible ways of engaging the consumer. One will be able to go to a website of a car assembly plant and basically give details of the car you want including shading the colour and adding the extras. The assembly plant gives you a price and a delivery date. You get exactly the car you want without endless journeys to some show room.
The power has shifted to the consumer in another even more fundamental way. While you can advertise and say all the nice things about your brand, it’s the conversations that consumers are having in the blogs that are, more than ever before, shaping the ‘positioning’ of the brand in the consumer’s mind.
A simple conversation along the lines of toothpaste X did not foam last time I used it leads to another consumer saying his tube hardened in the bathroom after only a few days. Very soon, your toothpaste has been analysed by millions of consumers and a verdict given. This not only calls for manufacturers maintaining a consistently higher standard of quality, but great customer service disciplines amongst the employees. A perception of arrogance on a company’s part can be discussed by consumers for days on end with the brand getting hurt at every turn.
Finally, if anybody ever wanted to know just how much consumers have changed and the importance of direct engagement in a two way communication, one needs to look no further than US President Barack Obama’s election campaign. Not only did the campaign raise record amounts of money, it also enlisted the highest number of volunteers in America’s history. A key characteristic of these volunteers was that they all felt they were regularly having a one on one communication with Obama.
Every brand custodian must worry about this new consumer power and rewrite business plans that ceases to talk down to him/her, but engages and most importantly creates a two-way traffic. I must say the recent Tusker Safari Sevens was a great effort in the new way of engagement in our physical world. A lot more awaits.