The idea of consumer participation has been in the headlines in the last couple of weeks; first with the rise of the citizen journalist and yesterday with the announcement that key Google investors would also be investing is Zazzle.com (a site that allows users to put their art on stuff). Also, Business Week has a whole piece on consumer-created advertising. Last Friday the BBC reported from the TED Oxford conference stating:
“Digital technology is providing people with the tools to produce and share content like never before, and it is set to throw the relationship between them and institutions into turmoil, say experts.”
If one was to join all the dots and one could easily be led to believe that the gates have been opened and a torrent of consumer creators have been unleashed.
The problem is the analysis is all rather general. What’s the participation we are talking about here? Is it putting a picture of your kid on a t-shirt, shooting mobile video at a bomb scene, or making a hit record?
Currently there are some things that are holding the true mass development of participation. There’s clearly a scale at work, that is just like the classic pyramid; with the true artists at the top and those less talented at the bottom.
What’s changed is the means of access and distribution. We all now have the chance to do it. There are no excuses; we can publish and sell books, make music and release mp3 files, take photographs and get our stuff seen and heard by thousands of people.
However, most people believe that you are either really creative or your not. There is no middle ground and after being told that you are not creative, often there’s no turning back.
However, this might all change if some new entities emerge.
Tier One: Find new stars
They sift through the mass talent; find and nurture the ones that could make it. Once a few of these people make it, this could be the signal for a lot more people to get involved.
Tier Two: Give potential stars the means of production and distribution
Who: “New Distributors/Publishers/Studios”
They allow consumers to publish,create and distribute. These include; Lulu.com and cafepress.com and Amazon is also moving into this space its purchases of Custom Flix and BookSurge.
Tier Three: Educate the wannabes to take it to the next level
With increasing opportunities for personal expression among the mainstream consumer base, there could be a role for creative educators to help consumers add new skills and to critique their work. Imagine webeducation courses, etc…
Tier Four: Empower Everyone
Personalization is a key driver for all consumers and important for brands to embrace wherever possible. Nike ID is a great example and it has been extended brilliantly with the store where you book an appointment with a designer who helps you design. The model could obviously work for lots of brands in the fashion space; empowering consumers to design their own products and then giving them the opportunity to create enhanced designs through collaboration with creative professionals.