Back

The prosumer era: a new opportunity for fashion brands

With the rise of prosumers, Fashion brands have more opportunities than just commoditizing an untapped segment of the market; they have the opportunity to add real, tangible, and human-based insights to designs. Learn more about Prosumers here.

Author:
Lui Iarocheski

When I entered Fashion Design school about ten years ago, I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer of my own label and presenting collections in fashion shows around the world. As soon as I graduated, I was doing what I'd always dreamed of.

Having run my own label for 6 years, and showcasing my designs in global fashion weeks, I began to notice a trend as I began to build a close relationship with my customers: the end of the era of the superstar designer. Most successful fashion cases came from brands who understood that the customer is now their main stakeholder as creators or influencers. We call these newly empowered consumers: prosumers.

What does prosumer means?

Prosumer, a term coined by futurist Alvin Toffler in his 1980 book The Third Wave to describe consumers' active role in the commercialization of goods, derives from the words producer and consumer. The term prosumer is sometimes used to describe a combination of consumers and professionals. There is a common concept in both definitions: consumers' growing ability to design products to fit individual preferences, not just how they use them.

Toffler argues that during the Industrial Age, production and consumption activities became separated. He identifies three main waves or stages in the history of consumption.

First Wave

Since agriculture is the dominant institution in the First Wave, most people are prosumers. In addition to hunting and growing their own food, they make their own clothing and amusements. As a result, they trade surplus output for things that others produce. The dominant process in First Wave societies is self-production, the norm is survival, and the social nexus is kinship, friendship, and tribe.

Second Wave

During the Industrial Revolution in England, there was a Second Wave. The factory became the dominant institution. People spend an increasing amount of time at work. Workers work eight hours a day in factories (or as office staff). With their income, they shop at the markets for what they need. It is more common for people to produce for exchange than use. 

In Second Wave Societies, industrialization and marketization are the dominant processes. In societies like this, goods and services are obtained through establishing exchange networks. Products are produced according to efficiency standards and consumed according to indulgence standards. Along with kinship and social relationships, contracts and transactions are the social nexus that binds people together. During the industrial and marketization era, people specialize more and more, which makes it harder for them to produce even basic things like cooking.

Third Wave

Essentially, the postindustrial age represents a synthesis of First Wave and Second Wave societies, which Toffler calls the Third Wave. The home is the dominant institution in Third Wave societies, where people produce and consume their own goods. Having more people produce their own goods and services reduces the importance of markets, as they exist to meet exchange needs in societies where trading is the main purpose of production.

Toffler sees ‘demarketizations’ and demassification as the dominant processes in Third Wave societies. Third Wave societies are characterized by individualization rather than mass consumption. Families and neighborhoods are social nexuses.

Young happy friends sharing content on streaming platform with digital modern camera
Business leaders and marketers cannot ignore the importance of social media and new technological advancements in today's world.

Why will society move towards more prosumer activities? 

1 - We will continue to see the workweek decline over time from 80-90 hours during the Industrial Revolution to 40 hours today to even fewer hours in the future. A shortage of jobs will lead some companies to adopt share-the-work schemes. Additionally, there are some people willing to work less than 40 hours per week to have more leisure time.

2 - The education level of the population will increase. You will not find them as eager to accept boring work. They will be tempted to spend more time in other activities due to the advancement of technology, especially in computers and telecommunications.

3- A rising price for skilled labor - like plumbers and carpenters - will encourage more people to do their own work. Unemployed or underemployed individuals will have the time to accomplish these tasks. A rising cost of service will encourage consumers to be prosumers.

4 - People want to become more physically active in a society where work has become increasingly mental. If you sit at a desk all day, you'll look for physical activities, including some involving self-production.

5 - When the quality of manufactured goods and services declines, some will think that they can produce better products and services. Dutch and Germans, for example, have developed a high sensitivity to quality and a strong sense of workmanship. They will undertake projects at home that would normally be outsourced.

There is a trend toward individualizing through the creation of their own goods and services in preference to mass-produced goods. In addition to cooking and gardening courses, people will also take courses in knitting, weaving, and painting. Following Maslow's (1954) hierarchy of needs, this prediction suggests that as people satisfy lower-order needs, they will focus increasingly on self-actualization, much of which will take the form of prosumer activities.

‍This proves that the term prosumer isn’t a new one. It has even been around in marketing for years. But, in today’s world of social media and new technology advancements, it has taken on a new importance that business leaders and marketers can’t ignore.

Illustration of a young girl posting on social media
Influencers and brand ambassadors are crucial in brand marketing.

Prosumers in the digital era

The term prosumer has transformed from meaning professional consumer to meaning product and brand advocate or co-creator. People are no longer just consumers of products; they are now influencers who have a significant impact on the success or failure of companies, products, and brands, particularly through their participation in social media.

Today, companies are not in complete control of their products, brands, and messages. We now live in a consumer-driven world. Bloggers, microbloggers, forum posters, social networkers, and more are the leaders of this shift — they spread messages, influence people around the globe, and fuel demand.

In order for businesses and brands to thrive, business leaders and marketers must not just identify prosumers, but also acknowledge, respect, and build relationships with them.

‍The prosumer produces and consumes content continuously. Using their internet profile, they share reviews of certain products and services. They influence people's purchasing decisions because of their market experience and a large following.

The success of your business can be directly affected by this new type of consumer. In the end, positive feedback can lead to increased sales. A negative comment can damage your company's image. Therefore, it is essential that you know all the information about the prosumers.

What are the characteristics of Prosumers?

Prosumers have some features in common. For you to learn how to deal with this type of consumer, you must become familiar with them.

Creative consciousness

In general, prosumers like to create their own lifestyles. In order to create a routine suited to their needs, they seek information from a variety of sources. Prosumers choose a service or product wisely. Do not make impulse purchases. They analyze what are the best and most cost-effective goods. And, like to add a personal touch to products.

Innovation

Another interesting characteristic of prosumers is that they are not interested in companies that have been in business for decades. They embrace organizations that seek constant change. Additionally, it is important for them to be the first to use a new product.

Proactivity

Prosumers like interactive communication with brands. They want to send in their tips, give feedback, complain and share feedback.

They are also detached

They don't use a product or service just because the brand is famous. If the competition offers another better and more complete option, they will most likely change options.

Prosumers are self-taught

They like to find out how a product or service is developed. They have the ability to learn and share knowledge with their thousands of followers.

Brands have already realized the impact of prosumers and have included them in the creation of their content and products.

The only reason Wikipedia exists, for example, is because users produce all the text. Prosumers are able to participate in design processes and product development of brands such as Lego.

Illustration of young people socializing on social network
Prosumers like to be heard. Therefore, give them space to post their opinions, share knowledge and ideas.

What are the types of Prosumers?

It is not possible to define a single prosumers model because consumers make decisions differently. The most common types are original, influencers, brand ambassadors, and engaged.

  • Original: creates products and services to make available to others on the market. Companies also use this type of prosumer to help them create new ideas for them; 
  • Brand influencers and ambassadors: use your product, rate, and share their opinion with thousands of followers. The consumption of the product can be done spontaneously or through partnerships;
  • Engaged consumers: the customers decide which product or content they want to consume. Companies use this data and feedback to decide which products to put into production.

Now that you know the concept around prosumers, the types that exist, and their characteristics, it is crucial to create a powerful strategy that positively affects your business.

How to create a good relationship with Prosumers?

Often, companies overlook important aspects of their relationship with the prosumers, which can damage their image with customers and negatively affect their business.

With that in mind, we decided to list a few tips to help you understand how to relate to this new type of customer.

  • Engage prosumers through interactive spaces
  • Prosumers like to be heard. Therefore, give them space to post their opinions, share knowledge and ideas.
  • Prosumers have more empathy for businesses that let them feel like part of the company. A really cool tip is to invite them to create a product, participate in changes to your website design, and partner in social media content.
  • Prosumers like companies that step out of their comfort zone and create unforgettable messages, products, and experiences for their customers. In this scenario, we include organizations that invite their clients to know the company's behind the scenes, like having the opportunity to meet with the CEO or visit office spaces.
  • Listen to prosumers with attention. It is a mistake to think that a good relationship with prosumers is cheap. On the contrary, they are not just fans to which we send a gift. Listen carefully to each piece of information, contribute to the partnership, generate value, identify your mistakes, and thank them for their contribution. That way, you will realize that everything is not just a marketing ploy.
  • Monitor prosumers on social media. You cannot have only one-time contact with prosumers. That is why it is essential to monitor them on social networks. Be on the social media they are on, read the content they like the most, and see everything they share. This information can help you get to know them better, create unique experiences and engage them with your brand.
  • You might consider leaving someone on your Marketing team to handle this. She/he will have a lot of knowledge and will be able to share full reports about prosumers.

Many companies struggle to adapt to this new scenario, especially since they fail to recognize that the success of the business depends on its audience's participation.

Prosumers can help your brand reach more customers by influencing other people, driving sales. Therefore, you need to include them as an integral part of your marketing strategy.

Woman alking about clothing while doing a live video for her fashion blog on social media
Prosumers can help your brand reach more customers by influencing other people, driving sales.

Prosumerism in favor of the Fashion Industry

Traditionally, fashion has been a monologue from designer brand to consumer. However, new technologies have enabled consumers to engage brands in a meaningful dialogue to express their evolving needs, ideas and feedback.

Customization is no longer an innovative concept. Successful brands involve customers in the design process and talk directly with them to develop their products. Successful business models rely on co-creation and crowdsourcing, and designers and manufacturers are providing the technology for these creatively active ‘prosumers’. This collaboration, however, creates a worrying trend for fashion professionals. The passive consumer is a thing of the past. Today's fashion designers compete with 'amateur' creators who are disrupting every aspect of fashion while being motivated both by profit as well as creativity.

With the rise of prosumers, Fashion brands have more opportunities than just commoditizing an untapped segment of the market; they have the opportunity to add real, tangible, and human-based insights to designs.

The value used to be created by shifting viewpoints between professionals and consumers. It is now easier to understand the individual needs of the whole customer since both these segmentd have blended together. As brands move away from one-time transactional sales towards outcome-based business models, they are able to adapt their services more nimbly, provide sharper value propositions across all segments, and ultimately get closer to their customers - individually.

The prosumer is showing their influence not only through the products they choose to buy but also through the devices they choose not to buy. It's imperative that companies use insights from their digital interactions to understand their customers' needs on the spot and adjust the strategy as needed.

Data will be essential in creating hyper-individualized value propositions for consumers. It is essential that prosumers and data-driven insights complement each other.

To create a connection with prosumers and have them speak about your brand, products, and business, the bottom line is to provide content or products that improve their experiences while integrating them throughout the experience and even allowing them to customize, personalize, fix, exchange, or assemble the products by themselves.

Don't be afraid to let them take control of your product and spread your message. Business leaders and marketers must learn how to harness the power of social media and online influencers to drive word-of-mouth marketing and co-creation far beyond what has ever been possible, and that should be their ultimate goal.

Thinkers like Toffler remain influential because their ideas tap into a fundamental aspect of human nature: the drive to belong to something and to constantly improve ourselves and our world. The next decade's production agenda will be set by the prosumers. The fashion industry has an opportunity, but it also has an obligation, to fully embrace this influential segment of the market.

Are you ready to allow your customer to be part of your processes, even if that means virtually?


Read more: The Ultimate Challenge for Fashion's Digital Transformation