MVBMS Study Takes Pulse of ‘Prosumers’

Consumers are so yesterday. The new target is “prosumers”: pro-active individuals who not only seek out as much information as possible about products and services but are eager to pass it on to others.

Prosumers have been the target of studies by firms including RoperASW, whose findings were the basis of the book The Influentials. Now Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners sheds more light on trendsetters with results of a new survey of 2,000 Americans conducted last fall with InsightExpress.

Whereas Roper suggests one in 10 Americans are “influentials,” MVBMS labels 26 percent of its respondents as prosumers—the ones who claim, in answering five key questions, to be independent thinkers; to be willing to try new things; to distrust media; to spread the word or be consulted by peers about products and services; and to be engaged in consumerism and pop culture. The study explores how prosumers compare to ordinary consumers in their ideas about everything from work and money to media and technology to sex and politics.

Who, exactly, are these people? The survey says upscale, 18-34-year-old men are slightly more likely to be prosumers than any other group, but MVBMS director of strategy Ira Matathia says, “It’s a state of mind, not age or wallet or geography.”

The rise of the prosumer is linked to “the influence of technology and the proliferation of high-quality products in just about every category,” said Ron Berger, CEO of MVBMS, based in New York. “That means the differences between products are narrowing, therefore the brand image and what it embodies becomes increasingly important.”

Freedom, individuality and choice are key themes for prosumers, said Berger, adding that those notions underlie his agency’s marketing for clients such as Volvo, Subway and Intel. “You have to start from the beginning and let the consumer tell you exactly what they want,” he said, “whether it’s features on a car or a service that allows them to e-mail an order to Subway and have the order ready when they choose to pick it up. It all comes down to a feeling of personal control.”

Since they aren’t a traditional demo, it takes extra digging to find prosumers, said Paul Parton, director of planning at DDB, New York. “It’s not impossible to attract this segment, no matter what the product, as long as you really focus underground and promise exclusivity,” he said.

One thing DDB is doing to reach them is aligning itself with guerrilla marketers and researchers such as youth marketing firm Flamingo International in San Francisco.

A key question for researchers is where prosumers’ influence leads. “There’s a blossoming effect that takes place over two or three years once a product captures the imagination of this group,” said Joe Abruzzo, managing partner for Mediaedge:cia’s MediaLab. “What we try to figure out is whether it will remain within a certain age group or stay within a certain income category.”