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Customers are reaching out to connect with the products they buy in more direct, personal ways.
The following is an excerpt fromConsumed: Rethinking Business in the Era of Mindful Spending(Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) and reprinted with permission.
Modern consumers feel disconnected because they are. Most of us have no ties whatsoever to the people who design and assemble the products we use, sew our clothes, and grow our food. We may not even know where in the world these workers reside. As customers worldwide begin to push back against this anonymity and divide, they are turning to brands that do away with myriad layers of commerce and reconnect buyer and seller in a more direct way.
One such business, the online site Etsy—where artisans personally sell their handcrafted wares—has enjoyed phenomenal growth as a consequence of this hunger for connectedness. Some 2.4 million people in 150 countries have registered on the site, and more than 155,000 vendors sold $58 million in goods in the first five months of 2009, doubling Etsy’s sales over the same period the year prior. Etsy has become the go-to place for conscious consumers looking for "real" products created and sold by "real" people.
The purchase process need not be direct, however. A colorful provenance can provide an authentic, more personal experience as well.
The store A Vida Portuguesa in Lisbon, housed in a former soap factory, only offers brands that are unique to Portugal, are handmade, have stayed true to their original packaging, and represent the best of indigenous craftsmanship. Even within these tight parameters, the store stocks more than a thousand products, ranging from toiletries to stationery and homewares. Part of the attraction is that the items offer an alternative to mainstream brands and strike a blow against modern artifice. "Taking a firm stand in the face of globalization," one visitor says, "A Vida Portuguesa has tracked down Portugal’s unique brands and opened a store dedicated to products that have resisted the urge to keep up with changing times."
Absolut Vodka is a worldwide brand, but lately it has honed a local touch with its Cities Series: for New Orleans, a special mango and black pepper blend inspired by indigenous traditions; for Boston, a black tea and elderflower flavor, marketed with a green backdrop suggesting the "Green Monster," Fenway Park baseball field’s high rear wall. Such linkages have the ability to evoke a particular time and/or place and the values connected to them.
Interconnectedness need not be limited to building links between companies and their customers. It is also important to facilitate interaction among customers. There is no better example of this than the Harley Owners Group (H.O.G.), sponsored by Harley-Davidson. H.O.G. assures prospective members that it is "much more than just a motorcycle organization. It’s one million people around the world united by a common passion: making the Harley-Davidson dream a way of life."
State-level events offer "live bands, parades, bike shows, great riding opportunities, fun and games ... No two state rallies are ever alike because so much local flavor goes into each event." The tough-looking biker who dons chaps and "brain bucket" before catching flies in his teeth may epitomize the freewheeling individualist, but H.O.G. offers him a heartwarmingly communal experience:
"Meet the thousands of brothers and sisters you’ve always wanted."
Duracell has come up with a smart way to bring people together in common cause while highlighting the company’s brand promises. Each New Year’s Eve, it sets up a Smart Power Lab in New York City’s Times Square. Passersby are encouraged to jump on a pedaling machine and contribute their muscle power to light up the iconic crystal ball, which drops at midnight. No fewer than 300,000 participants enthusiastically pedaled during New Year’s 2009.
"We’re trying to encourage the world to think about power and how important it is to capture it," explained Craig Bida, brand manager for Duracell North America, adding that the project is part of an ongoing Smart Power initiative: "Every little bit counts."
"Our guests will be able to say they truly powered the start of a new decade," said Rick June, Duracell vice president and general manager, North America, of the 2010 event. "The Smart Power Lab is just one example of how Duracell delivers innovative, efficient and reliable ways to power important moments."
Andrew Benett is Global CEO of Arnold Worldwide and Global Chief Strategy Officer of Havas Worldwide. Ann O’Reilly is Content Director of the Euro RSCG Worldwide Knowledge Exchange. Photo by sashafatcat.