Karsten Koed & Morten Gad – The Rewarding Consumer

Karsten Koed, Chairman & Managing Partner, GORM
Morten Gad, Strategic Planner, GORM

Copenhagen, June 2012

Why the future consumer is beyond loyalty

In the future, the boundaries between online and offline will dissolve and enable advertisers to make real time iteration of their communication with the consumer. If brands understand how to build trust, the consumer will actively co-create and reward the brand with not just loyalty, but with participation.

There is no line

Today more money is spent on online marketing than on “old” media. Accordingly, this essay takes its point of departure within an online mental model. That being said, we do not believe in perceiving “the internet” as something out there distinct from “the real world”. Seeing the on- and offline world as two separate entities is a dying mental model that probably only exists among so-called digital immigrants. To the digital native, the Web is social lifeblood – not just an access point for information. We are Homo socious (“social man”) just as much as we are Homo sapiens (“knowing man”).

The German philosopher, Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), is famous for his existential and phenomenological writings on the question of being. Heidegger argues that we can perceive the world as being “ready-to-hand” (zuhanden), which is a non-reflective, participative aptitude. Or we can perceive the world as being “present-at-hand” (vorhanden), which is more of an observing and descriptive approach. “Ready-to-hand” is to know how, i.e. to have skills, whereas “present-at-hand” is to know that, i.e. to have propositional knowledge that is either true or false. The latter is a discourse you enter; the former is just something you do. When digital natives meet the world, they don’t meet a dual on-and-offline ontology. They experience the Web as zuhanden – it is a frictionless extension of both body and mind, and it is an integral and coherent part of their life-world. In a sense it transcends spatio-temporality, since the Web is not a virtual world you enter. Good usability designers have a “don’t make me think” approach when they create web design. This is because they know that a frictionless interface should be “ready-to-hand”.

Our communication universe is about to implode

For years diversification and complexity have increased within our capabilities of communication. But come web 3.0 this saturated universe will implode.

Web 1.0 companies such as Google, Yahoo, AOL, Amazon, eBay, etc. made the world smaller and created a global marketplace for consumers with an internet connection. Web 2.0 companies such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Groupon made people connect. Most of us are engaged in social networks that have reached a level of diversification and hyper-complexity that supersedes any network any human in history has ever had to navigate within. Correspondingly, we have seen the rise of what we like to label “the insisting consumer”. It is the empowered and opinionated consumer who may know more about your product than you do. However, in the future “the rewarding consumer” will replace “the insisting consumer”.

The implosion into a (w)hole

Web 3.0 is usually defined as the semantic web. The term was coined by the inventor of the World Wide Web and MIT professor, Tim Berners-Lee, as “a web of data that can be processed directly and indirectly by machines.”[i] The idea presupposes a common network where data can be shared across apps, enterprises and communities. Many have tried to kill Web 3.0 before it was even born. Tech expert and former vice president of marketing at PayPal, Eric Jackson, recently argued at forbes.com that “we will never have Web 3.0, because the Web’s dead.”[ii] He contends that mobile platforms will replace the Web. He is right about the mobiles: smartphone sales have by far surpassed the sales of PCs. But Jackson (and others) tends to forget that the Web is platform-neutral. We use different devises during the day to engage with the Web. The future will be about connecting various interfaces (e.g. apps). Today, most data is not even connected, but Web 3.0 will make this hyper-complex universe of data implode into a (w)hole of free and available information.

Is this a utopian vision? Well, do we want the alternative? Do we want a totalitarian governmental Big Brother? Do we want a James Bond villain-like private corporation with the ability and willingness to obtain world domination? Do we want certain words registered every time we use them – just like Stasi in the former East Germany did? The bigger part of our social life-world that is online, the more we put our entire lives in the hands of those who control the infrastructure such as Google and Facebook.

Real time iteration

Non-mediated information is meaningless, but becomes relevant when curated.

This is what Google and Facebook (so brilliantly!) have seen. However, in a Web 3.0 scenario, Google and Facebook (or their future equivalents) will no longer control the information – only curate it. And there is a huge difference between controlling and curating.

Today, everything digital is in a constant state of beta. We develop, we test, we launch and we repeat and iterate in order to constantly improve our communication. In the future, this process will speed up and eventually it will happen in real time. Those who iterate will survive! And those who curate can create content. Corporations and consumers have coinciding interests when it comes to content. Even if your product is physical, you’ll be able to create advertising that is meaningful content in itself (in a broad sense: entertainment, services, facilitation, etc.).

Real time iteration is a mental model beyond testing. It is a regulative ideal and a soon- to-be reality that creates frictionless interaction (Zuhandenheit) between your brand  and people’s life-worlds. When your marketing offers valuable content, you can orchestrate genuine consumer participation. If you are able to develop content in a dialectic and direct relation with your consumer, you will be able to build trust – and as a consequence – reduce complexity.

The consumer will not just buy your products, but will endorse you, provide you with business intelligence, co-create with you – and eventually grow your business. This is the rewarding consumer. But the rewarding consumer will only come into existence if you let go of your control.

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_Web

[ii] http://www.forbes.com/sites/ericjackson/2012/04/30/heres-­‐why-­‐google-­‐and-­‐facebook-­‐might-­‐ completely-­‐disappear-­‐in-­‐the-­‐next-­‐5-­‐years/2/