It’s January and the beginning of a bright, shiny new year. I like to start the new year thinking about what happened over the last year—those things that stayed with me and that are likely to continue to affect my life in some way.
Like most people, when I heard that Steve Jobs had passed away late last year, my first thoughts were for his grieving family. But then I started to think about the many ways in which Jobs had shaped our lives, changing our culture and our collective frame of reference with his innumerable, ingenious devices. It struck me that the genius of iTunes—the first game changer that ushered in the Smart Phone era—was that it recognized for the very first time that people want to have total control over their music: where they listen to it, when, on what device. It sounds simple now, but it was far from obvious then.
This same notion that we as consumers are exerting greater control over the media that surrounds us is also playing out in a very real and compelling way in ecommerce. Consider that for the entire month of December 2011, 14.6 percent of consumers used a mobile device, not a PC, to access an online retail site. That’s more than double the rate of 5.6 percent over this same period in 2010. Also in December 2011, 11 percent of online sales came through a mobile device, versus December 2010 when only 5.5 percent of sales came from mobile devices.
The fact is that consumers today are exerting greater and greater control not just over their media (if the iTunes example didn’t convince you, consider that we have collectively all-but obliterated Prime Time TV thanks to the time-shifting wonders of Netflix, Roku, Hulu, etc.), but over the brands that matter to them. Using an arsenal of social media tools combined with a dynamic and utterly transparent wisdom-of-the-crowds approach to evaluating the goods and services offered to them, consumers have turned commerce on its head.
Many consumers believe that they have the right to voice their opinions about a brand or good or service on any of a number of channels from Twitter to YouTube. They also believe their opinions to be as valid as anyone else’s, up to and including the top executives behind the brand or good or service under discussion. Their fellow consumers share this perspective, trusting in the opinions of complete strangers much more so than in advertising. It’s a dynamic we see over and over again across social networks.
The gotcha is that while consumers may believe that they’re now firmly in control of their relationships with brands, many brands have been slow to embrace this change. And by the way, this change is not in the process of happening. It has already happened. Or as my colleague, Steve Cowley, put it, “it starts on the street.”