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From Passive to Prosumer: The Evolution of Smarter Customers

(Note: This post features insights from Jon Wuebben’s recent Twitter chat with DIY Marketers entitled “How to Sell to Smarter Customers” )

Back in the day, the relationship between customer and business was pretty straightforward. Businesses made stuff and sold it to consumers. To get those consumers to buy their stuff (or make a good impression) businesses used marketing and advertising.

With technology, this all changed.

Enter the Professional Customer (aka Prosumer)

Technology created several dramatic shifts in the once simple relationship between customer and business. The Internet allowed businesses to reach a worldwide audience. Instead of ending sales at the end of the business day, a business could create a website and get customers 24/7. Instead of paying for a million-dollar Superbowl ad or praying that customers would find you in the Yellow Pages, businesses now had access to a growing list of free or inexpensive marketing options. They could Tweet, create Facebook posts, update their websites with SEO, or buy ads on Google.  They could create their own blogs, upload their own videos, and create their own polls and surveys.

Technology has transformed the ways that businesses communicate with customers. It also unleashed a transformation in the “consumer” side of the equation.

That change led to the “prosumer”, a customer who is able to produce and consume content at the same time.

Customer 2.0 & Beyond: The Rise of Customer Choice & Voice

Businesses, especially big businesses, enjoyed the control that came with advertising and marketing in the past. They controlled the story line about their businesses (for the most part). If a customer of your business had a horrible experience, they might tell a friend or neighbor about the experience They might even call your customer service department or write a letter. No matter what, the situation was (usually) fixable.

Once consumers started using the Internet, they had access to the same tools as the businesses with the Internet. A business could start a blog, so could a consumer. A business could start a social media account, so could a consumer. A business could connect with people around the world, so could a consumer.

Consumers now had a platform. They were making the shift from passive consumer to active consumers to prosumers.

So, what exactly is a prosumer?

The term “prosumer” is an actual term created by Alvin Toffler which refers to consumers who uses a product or service and then produces content about that product or service. They are the Mommy bloggers who review your children’s toy or the teenage gamer who uploads a walkthrough of a newly released video game.

They are consumers who stand in the gap between your business and consumers. They are “professional consumers”

With the power of the Internet and social media, prosumers can reach a lot of people.  That list includes:

  • Current customers
  • Future customers
  • Suppliers
  • Future employees
  • Investors/shareholders
  • Friends and families of current customers
  • Competitors

Why should I care about all this stuff?

Consumers are tired of the same old company “our product is the best because we say it is” advertising and marketing show. They have Google now. They can search for a better option within seconds.

Consumers, however, still want a second opinion when they are narrowing down their options. Who do they turn to? Not traditional advertising or marketing. Forbes found that over 75% of consumers believe that advertising is exaggerated.

Who do consumers turn to for a second opinion? Other consumers. While many consumers will look over a business’ website, they rely more on reviews to make that final decision. Consumers rely on Yelp reviews, Amazon reviews, social media comments, bloggers, and others to help them decide whether a product or service is for them.

I’m a small business. Does this “prosumer” stuff apply to me?

Absolutely yes.

As Jon Wuebben mentioned in the Twitter chat, the same marketing concepts and principles apply to all businesses, whether you are one-person business or a multinational corporation. The only difference is the size. The Internet has somewhat leveled the playing field for small and large businesses. Both small and large businesses advertise on the same platforms (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and strategies. It’s about how a business, any business, leverages their platforms and strategies to reach out to their customers.

How Can a Small Business Leverage the Power of Prosumers?

As a business, your goal is to attract and keep customers. One way to meet that goal faster is through active engagement with prosumers. Prosumers offer a unique perspective that can attract (or repel) customers from your business. Because of prosumers, your marketing gets extra mileage and validation.

The process starts when you tap into the power of the prosumer.

Here’s how you do that.

  1. Find out who’s already talking about your business. Set up Google and social media alerts. Keep track of what they are saying. Look for opportunities to engage and connect with the people behind the content.
  2. Engage current and prospective customers in conversation.  Modern customers want more than a transaction. They want a conversation.
  3. Dig into your own social media. Many businesses focus on growing their follower count, but they often forget the gold that lies in their current follower count. Look for potential influencers among your followers that you might want to engage with.
  4. Don’t wait to reach out. There are plenty of bloggers and websites who do reviews of your products and services. Introduce your product and services to them.
  5. Collect and share customer experiences and stories. If you have customers, you have customer stories and experiences. (If not, start creating them!). Foster a work culture of sharing and transparency. You don’t need to share every aspect of your business, but find those moments that demonstrate what you want your business (or organization) to represent. Share them and encourage others.
  6. Don’t hide from negative feedback. Not all customer feedback you receive will be positive. Many businesses fear this aspect of social media, but your business doesn’t have to. When you receive negative feedback, embrace it. If you can learn from it, apologize and correct any issues. If it is abusive, harassing, or threatening, direct it to the proper people who can do something about it.

Recommended Reading & Resources

Articles

Forbes article: “The Shift from CONsumers to PROsumers

DIY Marketer’s Bizapalooza Chat with “Prosumer” expert Jon Wuebben

Huffington Post: From Consumers Into Prosumers

Books

Future Marketing: Winning in the Prosumer Age by Jon Wuebben

Hug Your Haters: How to Embrace Complaints and Keep Your Customers by Jay Baer

Customer Experience 3.0: High-Profit Strategies in the Age of Techno Service by John A Goodman

Chief Customer Officer 2.0: How to Build Your Customer-Driven Growth Engine by Jeanne Bliss

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About the Author Charles Franklin

Almost-graduated turned freelance marketing/tech writer, future web developer, social justice advocate, and Millennial on a mission but still confused about the path

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