Strategy and Planning

Consumer Corner with Jim & Michael

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Michael: How time flies-
Jim: You mean because it’s Wednesday and you’ve still got a week’s worth of work to do?
Michael: That’s certainly on my mind, but actually I’m reflecting on a fascinating story I read just yesterday—a story about custom earbuds manufactured using a 3D printer.  In thinking about this sort of innovation I was thrust back in time. I realized that what we assumed was so thoughtful and insightful just two years ago is now looking rather like commonsense.
Jim: Mid-week time travel, whiplash…what next?
Michael: No really, but before I share the story of the earbuds, I want to revisit CEO of Intuit, Scott Cook’s, astute observations about the seismic changes taking place in the consumer markets. In a 2012 Forbes article he was ahead of the curve in making a case by saying “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is. It’s what consumers tell each other it is.” To be clear, at the time, Cook was really on to something—he was reading the tealeaves, if you will. 
Jim: Clearly he got it, though not everyone was convinced of the power of the consumer to determine brand messaging. Today this is a given.  How fast change happens!
Michael: Indeed, and I’m amazed, even in the age of Moore’s law, at the pace of innovation driven by technology.  Only two years later, consumers are not only redefining brands, they’re essentially inventing their own products. 
Jim: You and I joust quite a bit on this blog but you’ve got to explain this a little more.
Michael: To the story then. A crowd-funded start-up called Ownphones ( wants to be the first manufacturer of a mass-produced, custom 3D-printed consumer product. Remember our last post where we talked exactly about this, Jim?
Jim: How can I forget? You opined about custom colored sneakers and candy with a picture of my face on it. We debated was this fad or the beginning of a mass movement. Yes, a stimulating discussion for sure.
Michael: Right, and I said we were fast approaching the moment of one:one, mass customization. So, last week a debate, this week some proof; Ownphones can now make you a customized pair of earbuds, Bluetooth-enabled, and crafted specifically to ear shape and size. And, to really blow you away, you start by scanning your ears with an iPhone.
Jim: That’s so meta! I use my iPhone to make earbuds for my iPhone. I’m a connected consumer by connecting to my supplier, using my connected technology.
Michael: Freaky, right? Back to time travel, then. As I’m reading this story, I’m remembering Cook’s quote and I’m thinking, yes, consumers are talking to themselves, promoting and dishing on products and services that work or don’t for them. Word-of-mouth, before social media was the “it” thing. But it’s getting infinitely more interesting than that when we –the consumer­– can literally determine what’s made, to exact specification, using 3D printers, empowered by our iPhones.
Jim: It’s a miracle!
Michael: No, Jim, it’s the Connected Consumer!

About the Author

Jim Hertzfeld is Principal and Chief Strategist for Perficient, and works with clients to make their customers and shareholders happy through insanely great digital experiences.

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Thoughts on “Consumer Corner with Jim & Michael”

  1. Christine Ead

    Insightfull indeed. Could it be a movement back to “true customer service?” How is it that certain (newer) industries make leaps forward to grow, serve and create technology for their customers and (more seasoned industries) meerly lose all interest in creativity and devise ways to squeeze their customers? Will we be required to pay rent for “plug in service” for our newly fitted ear plugs?? Hhhhmmm…

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