Get in with the early crowd.

 

I wouldn’t want to fly in a plane with co-created jet engines. But I would love to take part in an early-access Dreamliner flight.

There are logical limitations to how and when companies ask consumers to participate, and co-creation, hot though it is, doesn’t always make sense. Enter the presumers, who “love to get involved with, push, fund, and promote products and services before they are realized.” Trendwatching.com devotes its latest briefing to this different kind of participatory consumer cohort, and I want to dig in to why presumers are an essential dynamic in the context of the Social-Industrial Revolution.

The Social-Industrial Revolution is an era in which “consumers and businesses fundamentally redefine their roles and relationships,” and develop new, productive ways of working together. Getting consumers involved before launch isn’t really a new idea—we’ve always had buzz-building, VIP give-outs, etc.—but it has traditionally only benefitted a tiny subset of consumers or has been part of the R&D process. But presumers aren’t a small, non-representative group anymore; they are driven by the same desires that motivate the behaviors and preferences of today’s mainstream consumers: “firstism” and “newism,” status-building, and a sense of belonging.  Presumers have left the fringes, and they’re entering the mainstream. Hence the growth of crowdfunding, just one element of the presumer movement:

“In 2009, crowdfunded platforms raised a total of USD 530 million. In 2011 that figure was USD 1.4 billion. This year, that’s on track to double to USD 2.8 billion (Source: Massolution/The Economist, May 2012).”

Crowdfunding rarely involves a standard return on investment calculation. Backers want to be a part of getting something off the ground, without the expectation of profit. If they expect something in return, it’s early or exclusive access to a product whose genesis they feel proud to feel part of. However, the Trendwatching.com report does highlight the emerging phenomenon of “custowners,” or consumers who purchase small shares of equity in the projects they support:

“Well, if US citizens would invest one tenth of what they gamble each year, that would equate to USD 55 billion (Source: Fundable, September 2012).”

Expect to see an explosion of “crowdfunded equity” services in 2013, says Forbes.com contributor Devin Thorpe, as the passage of the 2012 JOBS act, which included new language about crowdfunding, is interpreted by the SEC and FINRA, and regulatory structures are built for this new type of funding. If ever there was an example of a radical departure in the way businesses and consumers are used to working together, crowdfunded equity is it.

Presumers won’t let traditional supply chains dictate what they can and can’t have. As the costs of manufacturing fall due to technologies like rapid prototyping, cheaper fulfillment, the ability for brands to connect directly with consumers, and the availability of better data about what consumers actually want (the “end of assumptions”), consumers are getting involved at earlier phases that were once closed to their input and influence. And as barriers to entry for entrepreneurs and markets erode, so do barriers to access for consumers to the exact products and experiences they want.

The presumer movement would not be possible without the incredible expansion of choice we’re living through. Consumers have never had so many options as to what they spend their time, energy, and income on. Now they’re choosing to be involved with brands earlier, and to contribute in more meaningful ways. Sure, there are plenty of fresh new startups to meet them there, but there’s a massive opportunity for bigger brands to win the loyalty of this exciting consumer segment.

What’s your presumer strategy?