Blockchain, Millennials, and The Future of How We Buy
A client recently lamented to me about how the web had hijacked his sales channel. Many of his products were being sold by third parties through online retailers like Amazon. He was losing control of his brand, his pricing, and even the online photographs of his products. Most concerning, he feared his product would come to be perceived as a commodity.
My client is just learning to deal with this market reality—but he’s about to experience another wave.
I watched a TED video1 last week about Blockchain, the database used as a financial ledger to record bitcoin transactions around the world. While bitcoin has lost its luster, Blockchain is exploding with possibilities.
Entrepreneurs are creating new applications that will use Blockchain for commerce.
For example, musicians and photographers will regain control of what they create, wresting back income from people sharing files without payment. Foreign workers living in the U.S. will no longer endure whopping bank fees and delays when wiring money to family in other countries. Instead they will send money directly and instantly via an email, without passing it through a bank. An icon will appear on the recipient’s mobile phone and, within minutes, an Uber-style driver will show up—cash in hand.
More importantly for U.S. manufacturers, Blockchain will support person-to-person selling of products, international transfer of money for easier global purchasing, and supply chain transparency. (Millennials in particular want to know their products come from responsible sources.)
I believe Millennials will adopt these new Blockchain applications because they’re fast, seamless, and transparent—attributes Millennials look for. And Millennials are generally open to personal data being collected for tailored product advertising. So our future includes direct mobile marketing to individuals, followed by Blockchain-based purchases. Control of buying and selling will continue to slip away from manufacturers. And Millennials’ buying power will drive market changes.
It’s a daunting playing field, but one thing manufacturers can control is design. Here are three things to consider as you ride the next wave:
- Product design can no longer afford to have a “good side” and a “bad side.” When someone else selects the marketing photograph, every side has to be a good side.
- The same goes for the inside. Every part that a person touches (including service people) must be designed.
- Your product design should contain visual cues that communicate obvious brand messages—visible even on third-party websites.
- Design every touchpoint of the product / service journey. Start with encounters on the web, move through the sale and delivery (and the design of your Blockchain icon), the package design, the user manual, and the service provided for returns or lost parts. Cover every facet of the product’s use (and misuse). And finally, the recycle or disposal process. Millennials expect a seamless journey from beginning to end. (Click here to read a related story about how important product and package design can be with online sales.)
- Use Design Thinking to create new business processes as your marketplace shifts. Too often systems are based on legacy rather than current realities. Create journey maps to compare the customer journey and the business processes that enable the journey—discover areas for improvement and innovation.
Design Early (and Test Often)
Great design is the soul of a winning product—and it starts before the product has been spec’d out, configured, and engineered. Steve Jobs said it well, “In most people’s vocabulary, design means veneer. But to me nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers.” To keep your product from becoming a commodity, start with a deep understanding of the people who will buy and use the product. And build successive prototypes to test the design with customers, and with the ever-changing markets through which it sells—online and otherwise.
Make it Worthy (and Transparent)
Millennials seek to be part of worthy causes, and they care about how a product is made and its impact on people and the environment. In fact, 90% of U.S. consumers say they would switch brands to one associated with a cause, given comparable price and quality.2 And 66% of consumers globally are willing to pay more for sustainable goods.3 While sales channels change, only you own your product design, your brand, and your business practices. So share them with consumers in an open, authentic way. Show images of your processes, your people, and your design ideas…retailers can’t do that, only you can. Explain why you make the decisions you make. Ask consumers about new product ideas and improvements to current product lines. Companies like Warby Parker and TOMS are a testament to the importance of worthy causes and transparency.
This new wave will surely be followed by yet another. Embrace it. Ride it. Use your power of design to stay at the crest of the market.
2 Cone Communications / Ebiquity’s 2015 Global CSR Study
3 Nielsen’s The Sustainability Imperative