How a Global Movement Is Turning Consumers into Stakeholders
As five strategic macro trends converge, a clearer view of the Stakeholder Economy continues to emerge—and with it, the potential to transform business, brand, and experience design.
Fueled by a universal need to be seen and heard. Shaped by recent events. Enabled by technological advancements. People today think and behave with a stakeholder mentality, armed with the power and the will to decide who they support and champion. In personal and professional lives, there are heightened expectations for relationships with businesses and brands.
Event marketers led the charge of this evolution by thinking of audiences not just as passive consumers but as active participants. And now, it is time to fundamentally change strategies again. It is time to engage a new generation of collaborative, value-oriented individuals who are deeply connected with a brand and its purpose.
They want more than just to participate. They are bringing stakeholder expectations.
The Rise of the Stakeholder Economy
Recent events and innovations have fueled the rise of the individual and collective stakeholder mindset. Now the masses have the power and the sentiment to be stakeholders. Inspired by Scott Belsky, chief product officer at Adobe, recent reflections on this topic, Opus Agency teams have dug in further and identified the five trends that are changing the audience mindset from consumers to participants to stakeholders.
Macro Trend 1: Social media forced brands to relinquish the branded message
When social media finally gained viability as a marketing channel, brands used it as another place for online ads. After experimentation and platform maturation, marketers realized that social media is good for fostering connections and two-way conversation. On social media people can share their experiences, giving everyone the power to change brand sentiment and impact the perceptions of future customers. This new power changed the rules of marketing. Brands were forced to become more authentic and transparent. The brand message took a back seat and customers’ experiences and reviews took precedence.
Macro Trend 2: Heightened expectation for brands to be forces of good
The pandemic did not change behaviors or spawn brand-new technology. It did, however, accelerate their adoption. Video conferencing, telehealth, the connected home gym, and working remotely were already available and practical. Similarly, a revised view of self-purpose was already underway. The pandemic and the subsequent quarantine gave people the time to reflect on what is important. Social issues, climate concerns, and a host of other global disruptions gave the rationale for the re-evaluation of personal values. This reconsideration extended to the brands they support.
Now people want brands that align to and embody their own personal values. Accenture calls this shift in buying attitude and behavior the Reimagined Consumer. These reimagined consumers support brands that are sustainable and support social issues. But they act less as consumers, and more like backers and investors who expect brands to take more responsibility for their impact on the world.
Macro Trend 3: Newfound and rediscovered motivation for affiliation and connection around a shared purpose
People are hard-wired to seek out affiliation and connection. This drive was rediscovered and took on new importance as a result of COVID-19. Social distancing separated us from families, friends, and society. This mental and physical isolation drove a greater yearning to connect and be part of something bigger. While connected to Macro Trend 2 discussed above, this goes beyond a brand’s ESG score and DEI reports. It’s about what a brand stands for that is beyond the utility of the product. Consumers that care about the causes supported by the brand are drawn to this purpose and passionate vibrant communities spring up around it. Brands are recognizing this rediscovered motivation and are embracing the communities connected to their purpose.
Macro Trend 4: The sharing economy and the drive for more autonomy and personal control
There are many other big trends that have changed how people live and work. The gig economy offered up side hustles and more diversified income streams. The creator economy launched a new generation of influencers and content makers who express their creativity and showcase their personal passions. Consumers demanded and now have more control over their data and privacy. Together these trends loosened the grips that companies have and is giving people more control over their lives and their data. This control and autonomy enables people to pursue their vision of who they want to be, and the experiences and accomplishments they aim to achieve.
Macro Trend 5: Blockchain, P2P platforms, Web3, and collective ownership
Many innovations over the last few decades have focused on eschewing centralized authority and shifting control to the individuals. Crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo connected entrepreneurs to investor communities, bypassing investment banks and venture capitalists. Blockchain gave rise to cryptocurrencies and NFT’s, offering alternative assets to investors that were free from regulation and government control. More recently DAO’s (Decentralized Autonomous Organizations), organizations that have no central authority, move control entirely to the member community, where individuals have a say and vote on mission-critical topics from strategy to budget allocations.
These advancements put the power into the hands of the community members, giving them collective ownership and the ability to have greater control over the things that affect their lives. Blockchain, which many Web3 concepts are built on, is still an emerging technology that is finding deeper adoption beyond the cryptocurrency worlds. Altogether, these innovations will continue to allow us to depart from this centralized authority and offer more say and ownership in our lives.
Stakeholders in Motion
Stakeholders expect to invest — their time, their focus, their energy, their personal brand reputations, and their money — and they expect a return. They want to have a say in the brand. They want to have a role in a product’s future. More so than ever before, people expect to be seen, heard, and valued by brands.
The next generations of successful businesses, brands, and experiences will embrace a fundamental shift in their strategic designs. They will move beyond thinking in the active-passive terms of audiences and participants. They will shift their mental models and strategic design processes to start with stakeholders. The result will be transformed industries, development of new categories, and critically, form and fuel brand movements.
With big shifts, come even bigger questions. Watch this space as we continue to release research, frameworks, and playbooks that put the power and potential of stakeholders at the core of our strategies, pushing everyone beyond the moment, and catalyzing a new movement for experience design.
By Brent Turner and Joe Lovett
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