These days it's not enough for designers to be aesthetes. Following the path of Leger plates, Tibor Kalman watches and Keith Haring's Pop Shop, the new designer/entrepreneur has become trend expert, product manager, sales rep and CEO combined. As liberating as this may seem, it brings a new rack of responsibilities. And it's good to be smart about the other side of the fence.
In the early 20th century, companies pushed products from their factories out onto store shelves. Later, thanks to radio and TV advertising that reached 80% of the population, marketers were able to pull customers into stores in search of their products.
In today's world, media are fragmented, markets are fragmented. Skews of race, sexual orientation, work life, digital experience, marriage and child status, plus other sociological forces crosscut markets even further. We have microtrends, micromarkets and micromeals. Only in rare cases can products (such as oil and toilet paper) claim to be ubiquitous and necessary. These days consumers choose from miles of aisles of cars, clothing, electronic equipment, food, beverages and other staples. To push is dangerous. To pull is difficult. We are engaged in a revolutionary new marketing model not driven by manufacturers or their marketing partners.
In fact, it's not enough to consider consumer push or pull strategies, because today, the consumer picks.
Choose or lose
This new "pick" economy manifests itself with runaway success stories. Consumers pick new entertainment acts on TV shows such as "American Idol." Starbucks lets customers pick from thousands of coffee iterations. Volkswagen lets drivers pick their own colors and accessories on the web. Cold Stone Creamery lets you create your own ice-cream concoction. Second Life lets you construct an avatar, picking body and facial features (even features of the opposite sex). Cellphones let you pick ringtones. Medical websites guide you through your pick of treatment options. Sites such as Wikipedia let you pick a subject and even define it. Google, CNN, Yahoo and other news sources let you pick and sort information. Doodles, Buggs and Pomapoos even let people design their own pet dogs.
The democratization of consumerism and the internet go hand in hand. People vote heavily on the things they prefer and are moved to share with others their views on music, fashion, cars -- even personal finances. Peer-to-peer commentary is commonplace, if not obligatory. Websites such as the Consumerist and Digg and blogs such as Gizmodo and Scobleizer keep people attuned to the ins and outs and muck-ups of public commerce.
Online outlets such as Shopbop.com, Drugstore.com, Zappos and eLuxury let consumers splurge online, picking and sorting from online retail bins. That poses an interesting challenge for product designers who want to stand out.
A pull-down text menu, as just one example, doesn't permit sensory/emotional impressions at all. It's discriminatory (or even random) choice in sans-serif.
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR|
Patrick Hanlon is founder-CEO of Thinktopia, a branding consultancy with clients including Samsung and Best Buy, and author of 'Primal Branding: Create Zealots for Your Brand, Your Company and Your Future.'
Arguably, consumers have always been able to pick and choose. Perhaps it has been only marketer ego and control freaking that has enabled concepts such as push and pull to exist in the first place. What the new pick model infers is loss of influence. If marketing departments once assumed they could determine purchase decisions through mass manufacturing, mass awareness and "understanding" their consumers, today those methods are ubiquitous, commoditized and even repugnant. The consumer has taken the lead, and it's time to look for new ways to make a difference.
So how can you help consumers pick you? Opportunities lie ahead for designers in the new pick economy.