Come Back! You Forgot to Buy Something!

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I love to read. I have to admit that it is one of my passions in life, perhaps not terribly exciting, but books bring things to life for me in ways that TV and oftentimes movies never can. The images come into my mind and I can see the characters just as I would see something on screen. The difference is that I get to choose how something looks, how something feels. The tone is mine. It is not dictated to me.

I just finished John Steinbeck’s East of Eden written in 1952. It was truly fabulous and it is now in my top five list of the best books I have ever read.  While working my way through the pages, I found a section that was very interesting. It is at the beginning of Part 2 as Steinbeck talks about the beginning of the 20th century. He writes:

“It is true that two men can lift a bigger stone than one man. A group can build automobiles quicker and better than one man, and bread from a huge factory is cheaper and more uniform. When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion.”

So the 20th century went by with mass everything: mass marketing, mass consumerism, mass production. As long as we could do it faster, cheaper, and produce more we felt like we were making progress, things were moving forward. But now the 21st century has dawned. And what a change that has brought. So far it is a century of profound change that is both good and bad. With the rebellion, economic concerns, and general discontent it seems this is a century that no one has settled comfortably into yet.

The current century seems to be a reversal on the last 100 years. I am not here to declare the end of mass production and mass marketing. I think there will always be a need for those things. However, have we lost our satisfaction with these things? Is the honeymoon over? Are we now seeing the rise of the individual?

Growing up there was no Internet. We bought what was sold at Kmart or Sears, and living in rural Pennsylvania let me just say that the options were limited. We had four TV channels: NBC, ABC, CBS, and eventually Fox. To this day they still haven’t run cable lines out to my parents and growing up we couldn’t afford satellite. So we consumed what was available. What companies gave us to consume. But now things have changed, people no longer are limited to consuming only what is available in their little slice of the world.  Now everything is available from anywhere in the world anytime.

I can buy anything I want with a click of a mouse. If I can’t buy it online I can find what store has it, how much it is, and schedule a time to pick it up. I can now express myself in ways that I never thought possible. Now more than ever what you buy and where you buy it from reflects on you as an individual. If what I want isn’t mass produced or I don’t want to buy something mass produced, I can go on Etsy and find something handcrafted. I can support my local artists and small businesses by sharing my stories online through Pinterest or Facebook. These stories will then point me to a group of people the share my passions, my joys, and my frustrations.

What does all of this mean for business? Are we fully aware of the implications of such a change? A dramatic shift has happened.  Businesses are no longer dictating what consumers want through limited channels. Consumers are now dictating how businesses need to act, how they want marketing people to interact with them, where they want to buy something. And if they aren’t happy, companies hear about it quickly and loudly. You are probably thinking, “Yeah. Sure. Heard it before.” I know this information isn’t new, but have we grasped the implications of such a change? I don’t think we have yet.

The companies that are now most successful are the ones that have adjusted to this shift like Amazon, Starbucks, and Apple. They are the ones that are listening and letting their customers guide them. However, those organizations seem few and far between. Most seem to be standing their ground, falling behind, and screaming at people as they pass “Come Back! You Forgot to Buy Something” as they disappear into the horizon.

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Crystal Jones is the Director of Marketing at The Mpower Group (TMG). She has over 12 years of marketing experience specializing in B2B marketing for consulting companies. Crystal is actively involved in many organizations, including the Business Marketing Association (BMA). She also has her Master's Degree in Marketing from Johns Hopkins University.

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