Essay

Ownership

In the future, it will be more difficult to create a clear profile of what a “typical” or “ideal” customer looks like. The steady rise of a new generation of consumers will bring a considerable number of changes to the way we will have to sell products. Jordan Brandt of Autodesk realizes this, which is why he sees the need to begin changing the way Autodesk conducts business now. Traditional marketing strategies that assume and rely on the consumer’s need to purchase and own products will no longer suffice. On the contrary, the customer of the future will mainly want to consume things, but not necessarily own them. Self-described technologist, artist, and startup founder Stef Lewandowski, or Future Laboratory co-founder Chris Sanderson, are examples of a new approach to product development aligned with those consumer trends. Sanderson, for example, speaks about the new “me-conomy”, where self-representation and the constant presence in the digital space lead to a fragmented identity that is also mirrored in the way young people react to matters of ownership.

Social media allows and encourages us to constantly reinvent ourselves and to project an endless chain of mirrors representing a version of who we would like to be, or, perhaps, who we would like to be perceived to be. This fragmentation of the person will also have a tremendous impact on how products will be perceived in the near future. Ownership will become obsolete, because people will want to purchase the experience; they will want the experience to have an influence on the self. The product of the future will have to reflect people, and therefore it will need visible core values that resonate with people’s personalities.

Lewandowski is a young business leader who is part of the Maker’s Movement and believes that we should create something new every day. Simultaneously, he states that ownership of products will transform into ownership of processes. To be the CEO of a company at a relatively young age has become a familiar sight in the new economy or, to use Sanderson’s terminology, the me-conomy. Now, while Lewandowski’s “create something new every day” approach may not be feasible for all industries, and is not entirely realistic for all companies, we should all make sure to keep the already occurring fragmentation of our future customers in mind. The impending loss of physical object ownership will impact all brands in all industries. Since experiencing a product will become much more important than owning it, customers will no longer stay loyal to one brand. Therefore, Sanderson explains, brands will have to shift their focus away from fixed objects and move towards delivering solutions that can be customized to address the individual expectations of a customer. This will fundamentally change product development and open up the way for new kinds of process management.

Consumer fragmentation and the corporate focus on processes will be the twin pillars of future consumer markets, and this will occur across all industries. The vital question is: What we can do now to adjust our business models so we are ready?

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