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Defining the Brand, Part 2

Topshop’s Photo Me booth. Image © Ryan Gobuty

In last week’s post, we examined the ways brands are starting to define themselves differently in response to evolving consumer preferences.

This week, we're going to address how consumers—the very people responsible for changing the nature of shopping—shape brands and products.

Today, consumers are creating their own products and sharing ideas with their own networks of friends, family, and co-workers. If the crowd doesn’t like an idea, they can tell you why and simply won’t vote for it. Design-it-yourself is the motto, like it or don’t is the answer.

Brands are recognizing this phenomenon as an opportunity for engagement and opening up their products for input. They have realized the crowds want to have a say in what t-shirts get printed, what soda flavor gets manufactured, what the shoe design looks like, and so forth.

Brands are investing more time, money, and effort into developing platforms that make it easy for consumers to contribute. Collecting the preferences, ideas and connections of existing customer bases helps brands enrich their offerings by creating more personalized and targeted products. Whether you need help choosing a color for your logo or ideas for new products, crowdsourcing provides valuable information at little cost. (According to Interbrand, nine of the world’s ten biggest brands are now known to use crowdsourcing.)

Crowdsourcing also forces brands to become more responsive to their customer’s needs, a key ingredient for success in the contemporary retail scene. There is no doubt that this level of participation will create a very different marketplace for us all.

But an important set of questions remain: Have we reached a tipping point in terms of online connectivity between brands and consumers? It’s not just about “consumption” anymore; it’s about doing things collectively. And just as “too many cooks spoil the broth,” too much collective action could have negative consequences, resulting in hybrid mass-tastes or mass-designs, two problems retailers can and should guard against.

Do we really just want to shop for a mass-produced item, or do we want to enjoy, consume and be surprised by a designer’s brilliant idea?

Paola Salis is an architect and studio Retail Design Leader in Gensler Hong Kong’s office. Contact her at paola_salis@gensler.com .

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