Not all consumers are alike – meet 'the 90', 'the 9', and 'the 1'

Have you ever consulted Wikipedia? You probably did. But have you ever created or adapted a page on the world’s largest reference website? Your answer is probably “no” which is not surprising; only less than 1% of the 1.7 billion unique visitors a month are active contributors.

Having observed the same phenomenon on photo-sharing website Flickr, Bradly Horowitz, VP at Google, was inspired to formulate the 90-9-1 rule of participation inequality. This rule states that, out of every 100 people, 90 merely consume content, 9 will like, share or react to what is created, and only 1 will actually create something. The same goes for consumers, as different people come with different skills and competences.

We found that this ‘90-9-1 rule’ also exists in the context of brand-consumer collaborations. Our experience shows that the significant majority of people (around 90%) are able to and like to share feedback. Some 9% are extremely passionate and can curate. And only 1% is truly innovative and creative.

Everyday consumers

Everyday consumers

We label the 90% as ‘everyday consumers’. Basically, they’re people like you and I; and they build knowledge around brands, products and services simply by living the consumption experience. The 90% are using brands day in day out; that is how they can effortlessly give feedback and share their everyday frictions, needs and aspirations. They are ‘experts by experience’.

However, giving feedback is only one aspect of the consumers’ collaboration power. There are consumers that have the interest, experience and competence to be involved in far more.

Leading-edge consumers

Leading-edge consumers

Think for instance about consumers with a particular passion, experts in the field, that enjoy sharing what is hot in their area of interest. Those are the 9%, or ‘leading-edge consumers’. Being heavy users, trendsetters or early-adopters, they can articulate what’s new and next, and can help brands to curate the future.

An example of such a passionate consumer would be food blogger Ella from the UK; she started her blog around plant-based recipes to take control over her own health. People with a clear passion point, such as Ella, are interesting collaboration partners for brands, as they zoom in on a particular lifestyle or emerging trend, but also add the nuances of their local market.

Creative consumers

Creative consumers

Then, there are also those consumers with a creative mind; they like to think out of the box and wish to get involved in shaping the solution space. These are the people that buy cat litter, but don’t own a cat. They simply use it as garbage-can deodorizer, to soak up oil spills, to get rid of algae in their fishpond, or even to make their own ‘cat litter clay face masks’.

The 1% or the ‘creative consumers’ are characterized by their unique skill to think out of the (litter) box; they address situations in an atypical way and challenge the status quo. During the lockdown in 2020, English singer-songwriter Charli XCX even counted on her creative fans to co-create a music video documenting ‘quarantine life’ as it is; this resulted in a stunning video clip.

Unlocking the power of consumers

As Montaigne once said, “The only thing we all have in common is that we are all quite different”. The power of consumer collaboration lies in embracing this diverseness when rallying around business challenges. It allows to tap into a wide variety of competences and skills; and some of those might not be available inside an organization.

In fact, the ‘diversity trumps ability’ theorem states that a randomly selected collection of problem solvers outperforms a collection of the best individual problem solvers. This explains the success of crowdsourcing initiatives such as Google’s Crowdsourcing app; it invites its community of users to contribute solutions and fixes to common problems with Google products and services. By tapping into the wisdom and skills of a diverse crowd, Google uses the power of its consumers to the fullest to solve their business challenges efficiently.

Despite successful examples such as Google’s Crowdsourcing app, many brand-consumer collaboration initiatives are limited to asking consumers for the occasional round of feedback. Yet giving feedback is just one dimension of a consumer’s collaboration power.

Unlocking the power of consumers

Unlocking the power of consumers

Different people come with a different set of unique skills and competences. Research has shown that out of every 100 people, 90 merely consume content, 9 will like, share or react to what is created, and only 1 will actually create something. And this is no different for consumers.

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