Your customer is dead
JUSTIN SMALL WRITES ABOUT HOW THE ACTIVIST CUSTOMER WILL STOP CAPITALISM FROM KILLING US THROUGH THE INSTANT CROWDSOURCING OF MOMENTARY SUSTAINABLE BUYING DECISIONS IN THE AISLES OF GLOBAL SUPERMARKETS.
From gods to kings, from housewives to hippies, from gen X to millennials - the customer has and will drive most of the change in history. From the Reformation to the English Civil War, from the American Dream to the Civil Rights Movement, from Gay Rights to sustainability - whenever the customer wields its power, it changes the world (for good or for worse). But over the past 30 years, capitalism has created the Passive Consumer, and learnt to divide and conquer the customer, by creating as many personalised sub-groups as possible (a trend that has increased exponentially with the digital revolution). Capitalism has made sure the customer cannot wield its power to change the underlying structures that feed so much value up to the corporations. Our supposed modern need for personalised individualism has aided and abetted our own destruction and powerlessness, denied us the ability to unite as one customer, and taken away our power to act for our own interests, instead of those of the market.
In a supply/demand-ruled market economy, the customer owns the market, and has ultimate power over it through the control of demand. But we have been conquered by consumerism, we have confused shopping with self- actualisation and we have forgotten that capitalism is ours. We have forgotten that we created it, we sustain it, and that without the customer, there is nothing. But most of all, we have forgotten that we are the gods of capitalism, and that we have the buying power to reform it to service us better.
As a result, capitalism is about to kill us (the customers that feed it), by destroying the very biological systems we rely on to sustain us. If allowed to continue, this unconscious alien life form that multiplies and morphs to counteract any threat to its being, will destroy us and itself, in the pursuit of its goal to drive growth no matter what.
Our big hope is the emergence of a new type customer - the Activist Customer - who will take over from the Passive Consumer of the last 30 years and save us from Armageddon. The Activist Customer will have the power - through dynamic data and digital tools - to make sustainable buying decisions at every brand interaction point. The Activist Customer will demand that brands begin to be scored and rated for their commitment to sustainability and ranked on a league table of the good and the bad. This will begin a movement away from non-sustainable brands, with a large drop in sales for those brands at the bottom of the table. This profit disruption will create a sustainability brand gap, and brands will race to close this gap because it will impact their bottom line. A sustainability transformation will begin, as organisations rush to transform themselves to become circular, and the Activist Customer will begin to turn the tide and reconfigure capitalism in the pursuit of sustainability. Buying products or services from a non-circular, unsustainable brand will become the equivalent of buying cigarettes for primary school children.
Where government has failed, and will continue to fail, the power of the customer will succeed. Corporations and governments, bedfellows and pals, will not change unless the market economy itself forces changes upon them. Through the power of profit disruption, the customer controls the market, and must regain the ability to use this power to drive the change at the till, as one.
Ultimately, we must wake up to the fact that we are capitalism’s customer and we must demand that it services our needs. And we must see that our customer, the one we serve today and for a long time to come, must be the earth, and the systems that sustain it. If we wait around for governments to do it for us, we will wait in vain. We must unite as one customer, and wield our power to drive change into the heart of the unthinking capitalist structures that are driving our destruction.
So that The Future Strategy Club is not accused of being all hat and no cattle, we are launching a new initiative to help drive some of this change.
Customer1 is an early stage startup to make aggregated brand sustainability data available to customers at the till in the form of a sustainability score (SUS Score). Via a platform, it will allow customers across the world, at the same time, to form Virtual Momentary Customer Power Groups and make buying decisions together in the supermarket and online when comparing different brands in particular product ranges. These customer groups would form to help decisioning about what products to buy, in effect crowdsourcing singular shopping decisions to save the world.
This instant crowdsourcing of momentary buying decisions will, we hope, drive us back towards the one customer and allow us to wield our considerable market power across a broader range of buying decisions.
Power to the people!
Henry Carroll graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2005. He is a photographer, writer and author of the ‘Read This If You Want To Take Great Photographs’ series. First published in 2014 by Laurence King, this best-selling series has sold over 600,000 copies across 17 languages. Henry’s latest book, ‘Photographers on Photography; How The Masters See, Think & Shoot’, is in stores now. Originally from London, Henry is now based in Los Angeles