Meet the Empowered People

haleakala sunrise
(Read part two, Meet the Resilient Corporations, in this two-part series.)

Meet the people formerly known as customer/consumers/target markets.

They have new powers.  They are backed by powerful companies.  And they are starting to organize.

No, I’m not talking about the latest episode of Heroes.  I’m talking about the people formerly known as your customers.  You may be asking, “What powers do they have?  Who gave those powers to them?  What are they going to do together?”   I’ll be glad answer that.

They are powerful. They have new powers, and you can see a collection of stats, that enable them the ability to get all the information they need about you in real time using social networks, mobile devices, and the internet.  They can find ratings and reviews about your products as well as your competitors, compare prices and, now, have it delivered to them in under an hour from “the crowd” by using services like Postmates, Instacart,, Google Shopping Express and many others.  They can also choose to buy a product one time, and then share it many times with their peers, rather than the whole group buying the same product over and over again.  WARNING:  This will cause extreme disruption to companies that sell ‘stuff.’   This powerful crowd is also able to act like traditional companies in their own right.  They can become like hotels and host people at their own homes using Airbnb.  They can transform into restaurants by having strangers over for dinner.  They can even morph into a rental car company by chauffeuring or letting friend or even complete strangers borrow their cars.  In their most advanced state, these empowered people can build their own products and goods, using Quirky, Etsy, Shapeways, TechShop, MakersRow, CustomMade and other sources, many of which are invisible to the corporate eye.

What it means: Your customers are now starting to be your competitors.

Technology is giving them strength.  Who’s giving them these powers?  Small tech companies and big tech companies are.   There are hundreds of new startups that have emerged to enable ordinary people to share goods, services, time and space with each other at distinct local levels.  Links on Craigslist (from used cars in Chicago to baby goods in Paris) are becoming like distinct companies.  These startups are being funded by venture capitalists who see how “two-sided marketplaces” at scale.  Also, these are startups have incredibly low upfront costs.  A handful of people can build a successful company in a few short months.  Big companies are giving ordinary people super powers too.  Facebook, Google and Apple immediately come to mind.  Most of these sharing startups are using Facebook connect, an instant plug-and-play trust network.  Google just invested over $260 million into Uber, which will spur adoption of shared services at a local level around the globe.  Apple’s instant app availability means global distribution at a local level to anyone carrying a smart phone.  The average guy on the street can obtain a high-powered, locally-focused app on demand.

What it means:  They can get much of what they need from each other –rather than from corporations.

They are organizing as a collective.  While not everyone adopts the empowered state, we often see higher adoption within high density, progressive markets and is common among younger-aged people who were born sharing using the internet.  In our last post, we explored how the Millennials will become the dominant workforce generation in less than 15 years.  Like all great movements, they have opposition, and these empowered already have many challenges that combat their efforts.

The resistance is coming from municipalities and corporations that do not espouse change and its potential impact on their traditional controls.  Dozens of other hardships rise to face them as they come into their own.  But the crowd is pressing on relentlessly.  On September 9, 2013,, an advocacy group for the people, launched its first campaign to allow the crowd to collectively voice their opposition to LA laws that would suppress the growth of the movement.  New entities like the Impact Hub, a global set of locations enable new organizations greater impact by allowing them a framework in which to cooperate with each other to build strength collectively.  Using communication tools, they will connect to each other, and collectively build their own voice.

What it means: They are connecting to each other, and are self-organizing like a organic company.

The term “customer” or “consumer” is becoming antiquated.  People who used to have the custom of buying from corporate entities will no longer be customers if they are enabled to get what they need from each other.  The term “consumer” is unpopular word in sustainability circles, especially as they seek to share products amongst each other, rather than constantly buy anew.  This is a new breed of people.  They have power. They have strength in numbers.  They are organizing.  And big technology companies are backing them.  This blog, and my ongoing career mission as a whole, is focused on helping corporations connect to their customers.  In order to do this, corporations must take the time to listen and to understand how customers are changing.

Savvy corporations will collaborate with the empowered people.  Savvy corporations that want to benefit from this massive economic revolution will collaborate with these empowered people, and, in return, create resiliency within their corporation.  Make no doubt about it, this is a business opportunity.  But if ignored, this is a threat that could unravel corporations.

What it means: Corporations who want to be resilient know the crowd becomes part of their company.


(image used with creative commons licensing, by ralph)


24 Replies to “Meet the Empowered People”

  1. One thing I’ve been thinking related to this whole “sharing/collaboration” stuff is that it always seems to come short (ie: fail) outside major city centers. Unless you have critical people mass, these models don’t work. If you live in the “burb” in the US (for the most part), you’re still screwed when it comes to transportation, for example. And these services being described/discussed here in this context only work in large agglomerations don’t they?

  2. Jerome

    Awesome that you chimed in. There is some truth to this. We see more sharing of physical goods in urban centers.

    However, this doesn’t alienate rural areas. Anyone who’s a maker, or has time to work on online projects, can participate regardless of where they live.

    Previously, I’ve used CrowdSpring to create new designs, the person who I chose for the final design happened to live in the Philippines.

    Some Etsy creators, who can share their artisan goods may live in the mid-west of America, but can now tap a global marketplace to get things to others.

    So when you look closer, density in the real world aids physical good sharing, but anywhere you see the internet, you can see the exchange of many other things.

  3. Good post. I love where your head is and how you continue to evolve this narrative. The one thing that stuck out to me is the notion – the correct notion IMHO – that there is a shift away from traditional segment classifications. As you stated, customers are now in some ways competitors and consumers are in some ways connected sharers. If brands want to tap into this groundswell – urban or rural (and I do think this can spread to the burbs, especially with services like Lyft with the proper incentives) – they need to not only think about the journey that they want to take “people” on, but also how to tap into the journey the people are creating for themselves. Tapping into the CE not only has the potential to give brands new revenue streams, ideas, products, etc., but it also gives them a way to tap into some highly passionate people (advocates) doing really cool things to shape the evolution of business.

  4. It’s curious to note the irony in that much of marketing revolves around the theme of empowering the consumer; the marketplace has evolved to such a point that anyone may find the opportunity to become a competitor, but what kind of life-span should we expect to see out of this model? How will the “savvy corporations” that adapt to this change function as a collaborator? As companies like Google, Apple, Yahoo, etc. jump into the startup frenzy, are they poised to undermine the whole customer-as-competitor movement down the line because of their roles in funding?

    Just some thoughts about what we may be looking at years down the road. I suspect that with the types of changes you’re discussing in your post happening so rapidly, we will also see this market shrink as a result of the “savvy corporations” capitalizing on the opportunity.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. Brian,

    Top tech companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Saleforce, Oracle, Intel, IBM already collaborate with their customers, they have: Reseller and partner programs, and they’ve built a developer platform and opened APIs for their own customers to build and collaborate products on top of their company.

    Now, to translate this to the physical goods and services companies.

  6. What I like the most about the collaborative economy is that it turns the 1:1 relationship on its’ head, and, as you’ve pointed out, it empowers people to work together to create amazing things and leave the pointless junk behind. Without going off into a rant about lean analytics and amazing UX, it’s that core concept of adding just enough structure to empower collaboration, but not enough

  7. Thanks Joe. You’re right

    Media is the first industry to be impacted. Napster, to iTunes to crowd created data, infographics and ‘citizen journalists’. If you look where it’s at now, social and mainstream media have integrated in many ways (for better, and for worse)

    That same pattern will now happen to: goods, services, time, and space.

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