There is another dynamic at work affecting marketing, beyond the highs and lows of media. Forrester refers to this dynamic as The Age of the Consumer, the changing basis of market competition. In 2012 Forrester mapped four historical ages of business.
The first age, from 1900 to 1960, was characterized as the age of manufacturing. In this age companies competed on their ability to manufacture goods and services at scale. Companies would produce vast quantities of products in large plants in order to drive costs to their lowest possible point. This strategy crushed personalization and everyone got the same thing. Supply reigned. It was at this time Henry Ford famously said “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he/she wants so long as it is black.”
The strategy of manufacturing and mass production, as do all strategies, eventually became a commodity and by the 1960s a new strategy and basis of competition emerged, the age of distribution. The distribution age brought with it the birth of regional retail, big box retail, modern shipping and modern advertising. Walmart, Costco, UPS, Federal Express, Wunderman and others learned to compete on their ability to distribute and market mass market products and services.
The age of distribution eventually gave way. It gave way, in 1990, to the age of information. In this age we saw the birth of Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and others. In the age of information, the companies that could master connected networks, supply chains, information controls and dissemination reigned. In the age of information, we began to see the spark of a new breed of consumer. In this age, through vehicles like Amazon recommendations, Google search and social media, people began to express themselves and wield a control over the commercial processes that was not previously possible before.
Like the ages before, the age of information gave way to a new age in 2010, the age of the consumer. In this age, Forrester recognizes that, due to the adoption of smart devices, like the Smartphone, people’s behavior, influence and expectations have changed. Today, people are empowered buyers and with this power they can demand and expect to have any information at their fingertips in order to help them make informed decisions. By some accounts, 90 percent of people are using their smartphone while in-store to guide their shopping. It's estimated that by 2020 smartphones will influence 90 percent of all commerce. Moreover, in this age, no longer does the marketer have sole control over their messages, the marketer’s message is increasingly influenced and controlled by the people.