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January 2016

WBUR Cognoscenti

No, in the words of Trendwatching.com’s 2016 Trend Report, thanks to “crowdfunding platforms where people are more than shoppers, but instead members of a like-minded community of supporters,” we’re “presumers.”

The era of the 'Mecosystem' is upon us

by Julie Wittes Schlack

I confess that I love corporate jargon. I’m a glutton for business-speak’s low-hanging fruit, avid about the ask, and bullish about boiling its ocean of clichés. So you can imagine my delight as the corporate world joins in the frenzy of previewing and naming the new year’s emerging consumer trends.

My favorite from this year’s cleverness crop is coined by the global brand consultancy, Interbrand. (Disclosure: Interbrand is a part of the Omnicom Group network of agencies, as is C Space, the company I work for.) The term is “mecosystems,” which they define as “a select set of brands that create customized experiences around a single individual, where every brand in consideration slots in seamlessly, and where the most valuable micro moments are curated, connected, and choreographed.”

I know, I know, besides being awesomely alliterative, the definition is self-explanatory, right? But nonetheless, let’s dig into the metails.

In the company’s Best Global Brands 2015 report, Interbrand argues that “the most successful brands – the ones with the most presence in a person’s life …often stand out by blending in, because people measure the entire experience by how much it adds to their lives and how little it disrupts it. They empathize with an individual’s priorities, figuring out how to meet people exactly where they are, and when they want it, and tailor to how people move through their worlds.”

Now like you, I used to think that such boundary blurring between individuals and commercial entities was problematic. But I’m me-evaluating. After all, “Droves of digital data, refined analytics, and real-time, multi-platform interactions help brands discover what people want – even before they do – and cater to them quickly, reorganizing around these insights, because, in the Age of You, people are the bottom line.”

Phew. For a minute there I thought that profits were.

Okay, enough with the sarcasm. (Slaps own wrist.) Sure, the authors of this and the other trends reports are creating a new language, but for all of its hyphenates and precious puns, they are using it to tell a somewhat new story. It’s the story of “a new breed of customers and consumers that are more than just co-creators, but editors and producers.”

See, we’re not all just material girls. (Slaps own wrist again.) No, in the words of Trendwatching.com’s 2016 Trend Report, thanks to “crowdfunding platforms where people are more than shoppers, but instead members of a like-minded community of supporters,” we’re “presumers.” We dwell in “The Youniverse,” where “sophisticated technologies will offer a powerful dual benefit: not just customized products and services, but a deeper understanding of the true (often hidden) self …”

What kind of sophisticated technologies are helping us understand and express beliefs and feelings we didn’t even know we had? Well back in 2010, Burger King in Brazil offered “customyzed” products by printing images of customers on burger wrappers. But that’s so five years ago. Now, in 2016, clothing retailer Uniqlo offers a “Mood machine” that “lets consumers find the right t-shirt for their mood.”

Now that’s the meconomy in action! Buying something to find out how I feel! Or, as Trendwatching encapsulates it, “A more evolved knowledge of exactly who I am? In a world that increasingly values individuality and self-expression, that might just be the ultimate consumerism has to offer in 2016.”

The trendwatchers are more than just ingenious copywriters. They are intelligent and shrewd observers of the stories that brands and consumers tell themselves and each other. And this year’s tale about the mevolution of products is both fun and frightening. It’s true that communications technology makes creative and political expression easier than ever, and fuels some trends that are not all bad. For instance, though Kickstarter has been used to promote some pretty silly stuff, it’s nonetheless great that crowdfunding platforms enable passionate people to materially invest in philanthropic and creative projects that would otherwise not see the light of day. And though bootstrap companies like Air BnB have rapidly become behemoths, they are still premised on relationship and reciprocity, two pretty good principles for brands to embrace.

But as the images and aspirations generated by ordinary people make their way into advertising and vice versa, as our search and purchase histories are used to determine what we see, as companies seek to make consumerism an even more pervasive form of self-expression – as these cleverly named trends gather strength, we run the risk that the horizons of each person’s Youniverse will shrink rather than grow.

So let’s not rely on brands to improve our I-sight. Let’s just reward the ones that offer good, reliable products at a fair price, and encourage them to be accountable to their employees and consumers as well as their shareholders.

Let’s transform the meconomy to a wecosystem that’s sustainable for all. 

And then let’s put these awful puns to rest for another year.