Marketing has finally become a conversation. Not, in most cases, as was intended, BETWEEN corporations and consumers (that would make too much sense), but rather a global conversation involving millions of consumers ABOUT corporations. On sites like Planetfeedback.com, thecomplaintstation.com, Epinions, About.com, on hundreds of thousands of blogs, community sites, forums, viral emails, bulletin boards, and what have you, consumers relentlessly exchange views, complaints, opinions and comments about products and services, about brands, about companies, about YOUR company...
Why now? Because they finally can. For decades, consumers have been saving up their insights and rants about the stuff they consume, simply because there were no adequate means to interact with companies, or with other consumers for that matter. No longer. These fickle, wired, empowered, informed, opinionated and experienced holders of a MC (Master in Consumerism) are getting used to 'having it their way', in ANY way imaginable, which includes wanting to have a direct influence on what companies develop and produce for them.
It certainly helps that these same consumers are also part of GENERATION C: they're creative and increasingly have access to professional hardware, software, and online distribution channels to show (and dictate) companies what it is they expect from them, using text, sound, picture and video in ever more powerful ways.
Sure, some companies ARE now engaging creative customers in new ways. Recently, brands like Coors Light and Mercedes Benz invited customers to co-create advertising campaigns, with Mercedes encouraging proud owners of a Benz to submit snapshots of themselves next to their automotive objects of desire. And Mazda and Conde Nast have just partnered to create a similar contest whereby contestants can submit photos representative of their interpretation of Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" slogan. (Thanks, Adrants.com!)
These companies are clearly aware that tapping into the collective intellectual capital of their customers yields great creative and 'real' content. However, let's not make the mistake to think that in the end these conversations will all be about communications and branding: how about extending this cooperation with consumers to virtually everything a corporation does, by making the customer an integral part of ALL creative and creational processes?
TRENDWATCHING.COM has dubbed the latter "CUSTOMER-MADE": the phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed. The CUSTOMER-MADE trend has been slowly building over the last five years, but with the current onslaught of consumer activism and the rapid rise of GENERATION C, it finally seems ready for its big moment in the limelight, where TRENDWATCHING.COM expects it to stay for many years to come. It doesn't hurt that Management Guru C.K. Prahalad recently published 'The Future of Competition' an insightful and highly recommended book on co-creation, which prompted us to move CUSTOMER-MADE to the top of our emerging trends list!
Mind you, CUSTOMER-MADE is NOT plain feedback, it's not Do-It-Yourself, it's not customization, it's not even personalization, as all of these happen after companies have decided what the basics are, which products and services and experiences they're willing to hand over to consumers, who can then (at best) modify certain elements, change a color, replace a cover. That's still pretty much a one-way conversation, business as usual.
So what DOES qualify as CUSTOMER-MADE? Check out the hands-on examples at trendwatching.com; a random yet varied overview of CUSTOMER-MADE initiatives, both 'corporate' initiatives and grassroots movements, which should get you going.