Users, not owners

The other day I was driving home for christmas, talking to my mum about presents. I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism lately, and had just got rid of a lot of the clutter around my room. After telling her this, she told me that a friend’s children haven’t asked for any material objects for christmas. They’re older children, 16 – 21, and they’ve asked for  holidays, subscriptions, games (which I would argue are immaterial) and the like.

With a lot of what I’ve been reading, I would argue this is a growing trend.

The rise of users

Think With Google recently released a study examining how the auto industry is struggling to sell cars to a generation who plainly don’t want one. Meanwhile, car share services are booming. People don’t want to own a car, but they still want to use one from time to time.

There will always be a market for cars, however other industries are also seeing a shift in how people consume. Many women will often spend large sums of money on a dress they wear once or twice. Rent the Runway is a service which allows women to rent a designer dress for a special outing. Most dresses cost somewhere between $50-100 and come with a backup size and free delivery. Again the emphasis is on usage, not ownership.

Where does this come from? 

I would say from a combination of web and green culture.

We are in an age where everything has a carbon footprint. We are conscious of how our purchase affects the environment, be it a bottle of water or a new computer. As such, usage makes more sense than ownership. A shared object is greener than an owned object.

Secondly, using is easier than owning. 21st century products are used not owned. You don’t own a Dropbox or Spotify. You use them. This trend was born of the web, and is starting to make its way into the real world.

Where to next?

Don’t think this spells the end of consumerism or capitalism. Just a shift in how we consume.

R/GA recently presented their plan for the next 9 years at Cannes. For them, ‘Functional Integration’ is the next big step: an integration of goods and services across different consumer landscapes with the brand at the center, Apple and Nike are two good examples. For a full explanation I really recommend the talk.

We are already paying for things that, on the surface, don’t really exist. Communications and online subscriptions are front of mind. But where is this trend heading? Imagine not owning a computer, but rather subscribing to a 10ghz CPU which you access via the cloud. Only using the computational power when you need it. It sounds less than likely, but it’s interesting to think about.

How to sell to users

Take a look at how your customers are consuming and interacting with your product. A camera isn’t an object, but rather a tool to capture an experience. A car isn’t a status symbol, but a gateway to different places. Nobody wants a printer, they suck, but people still need things to be printed.  Sell to the user, not the owner.