About 12 months ago, I started renting parts of my life that previously I had been buying, owning, using, and then basically discarding or leaving to collect dust.
It started with Spotify when I switched to the premium service 12 months ago. The prospect of a near infinite music library and syncing playlists over WiFi to my iPhone for cheap greatly outweighed the costs of my iTunes addiction, of which I have been set free. I haven’t bought a CD in years.
This was swiftly followed by a sign up to LoveFilm, which curbed my DVD fetish. TV series rentals through iTunes or Virgin Media became the norm. And then the biggest of all – ditching my little (beloved) Renault Clio for a Street Car subscription.
Why is this important, I hear you cry? Well, for as long as people have sold things, bought things, owned things – they have also showed off, paraded, adorned and accessorized things – all in an attempt to show the world the kind of human being they were or were aspiring to become. Yet in our 21st Century, wired world where so many of these character-expressing assets are becoming digital, it is becoming increasingly difficult to show off these purchases. And if we can’t show them off, and if advertising is becoming increasingly background noise, how can we want these things? How will we know about them? Are we on the brink of a marketing Armageddon? (OK – a bit over the top, I admit… but gravitas is hard to do in a blog post!)
Well, maybe not – because there is something else going on, which may be the antidote to this commercial conundrum, and it comes in the form of the recommendation. Sites, tools, and utilities have been busily building social tools into their sites, to Levi’s including “Like” buttons on their jeans selector. And people are using them in droves. So what’s going on here?
I would like to suggest that we are seeing the birth of a new kind of consumerism, with its currency and economy. As more and more of our purchases become digital, or are purchased through digital means, from grocery shopping online with Ocado through to ordering snacks for work through Graze, we are beginning to use socially-enabled tools and sites to share our purchasing habits to replace the kudos of displaying your complete works of Shakespeare on your living room bookshelf. Instead, we are using the recommendation, that social share moment that says, “Here I am. This is what I like. This is WHO I AM.”
We may well be entering into a time when we begin to identify our friends as different social beings, not through what they own, but what we can see. Not by what they display, but by what they share, like, tag, check-into and recommend. This has a massive impact for marketers and business as a whole. If the recommendation is becoming the new currency, then companies need to get into the “recommendation economy” if they are going to fight for consumer attention.