FEATURE11 April 2013

The Insumer


In the future, when brands want consumer insights, they’ll turn to Insumers – people whose jobs are to share their data with brands and help solve business challenges. Jeremy Rix puts himself in their shoes.


Looking back, it’s unbelievable to me that big brands used to give people cash to get their opinions; that consumers would be invited to a group discussion and pretend they cared about a brand for an hour and a half in return for £50; that when research went online, consumers were persuaded to fill out endless tick-box surveys in return for credit points, prize draws or small cash payments; and that this led to online communities where consumers were expected to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences with a brand over time in return for a few quid and the ‘fun’ of taking part. It’s also unbelievable that consumers gave away their personal data for nothing – everything they did online, all their interactions with suppliers, even census data.

There used to be ‘researchers’ or ‘insight professionals’…

…Their job was to harvest all this data – by dangling cash incentives in front of consumers and getting them to answer questions – to make sense of it all, then communicate the consumer perspective to brands. They were middle men, working in agencies or inside the brands themselves, and they made their money – their fees and salaries – out of consumers. They created ‘projects’ and ‘methodologies’, had consumers jumping through all kinds of hoops like lab rats to generate ‘insights’ which the brands used (or didn’t) to make changes in their business. Like consumers weren’t able to speak for themselves.

Things are different now…

…My name is Harry, and I’m an Insumer. A professional. Being a consumer is my job.

The big brands have to adapt to survive now. They are constantly changing. When some of the biggest brands went bust at the beginning of the century, it became clear that no-one was too big to fail. They had to respond to changing consumer needs in real-time – constant transformation.

So I’m signed up to the Google data platform. It makes most sense at the moment because of my age and my interests. Most of the tech and youth lifestyle brands are on Google. I’ll probably move on to one of the other platforms when I get a bit older.

“I’ve signed over all my data to Google. I mean, everything. An implant records all my bio data, they track my location, all my brand interactions, my purchases. I’m constantly publishing what I think and feel about what I’m doing via the Google+ feed (and whatever I say is recorded by the implant)”

There are three basic ways I make my money. First, I’ve signed over all my data to Google. I mean, everything. An implant records all my bio data, they track my location, all my brand interactions, my purchases… everything. I’m constantly publishing what I think and feel about what I’m doing via the Google+ feed (and whatever I say is recorded by the implant).

They have access to all my government and health data too. I get my subscription fee from this, and the brands do all kinds of fancy analysis of what I and all the other Insumers are doing and thinking, and how I’m responding physiologically. They use this to respond to change, and to predict what’s going to happen in the future.

Second, there’s a special projects element. One of the brands puts out a request via the platform, usually asking us to take part in some kind of challenge. We get paid for joining in and it’s usually “out of your comfort zone” stuff. This isn’t a simple Q&A like the old days. The last one I signed up to, we had 24 hours to tear apart a restaurant and bar outfit, and then rebuild it, solving a bunch of problems the brand had with it. Some of this was digital, and some of it was real – the first two hours were spent breaking up the bar with sledgehammers. We had to find all the trades to rebuild it the way we wanted it to be, as well as programmers to put together the digital elements. It was a heck of a lot of work, but worth it.

Finally, flash mob insights is where we make most of our money. A call goes out from one of us – a fellow Insumer – for people to be in a particular place at a particular time (a real or virtual place). This is usually where a brand has let consumers down in some way – sometimes it’s something that an Insumer has experienced themselves, sometimes they’ve been directed to it by a non-pro consumer. We do our own exploration, and then we work together to develop solutions to the problem the brand has.

You get to know which flash mobs to get involved with. Mostly I work with the same groups – these are the ones that pick up on the real challenges the brands have, and we work out the best solutions. The brands prefer flash-mobbed insight, because it means they don’t have to identify the challenge and create a special project to solve it. It’s cheaper for them, but we make more money out of it – a share for all of the Insumers who’ve been involved.

Back in the day, the brands were in charge of the agenda…

…They had objectives that were mostly tied to the management vision of where they wanted to go. And you could see – during the depression – that too often management were so fixed on that vision, they couldn’t see the changes going on right in front of their eyes. They took their eyes off the ball, and the ball was us: the consumers.

Brands used to have all the power. One of the ways they wielded that power was through the middle-men – the people who used to make a living out of researching us. It’s not like that anymore. Now consumers have cut out the middle men. I guess we’re doing our own research. We really are at the centre of it all and it’s us who have all the power now.

Jeremy Rix is the founder and chief listener at Oko. He’s online at www.engageoko.com


10 years ago

Fun piece, though not entirely sure that our "insumer" is that representative of the consumer point of view (not that there's just one, of course). He's unusually hyper-creative and doing a bit too much high-level problem solving... An alternative reading might be that brands were cutting market research out of the mix entirely, handing it all over (problem and solution) to guerilla design agencies...

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10 years ago

I suspect sharing data will be about as profitable for the "insumers" as sharing music is for artists on Spotify.

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10 years ago

The cynic in me says that consumers like the '£50 turn up for an hour' model of research. It would be a strange minority that sign their whole lives over to market research...

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