In past blog posts, we’ve looked at how technology is changing our focus from being human “do-ers” to human “be-ings” as machines take over more of our most basic functions. We’ve also considered how this change is being reflected in the sharing economy.

Today I’d like to take a closer look at a word that’s been used so much that we no longer even think of what it really means; a word we should eliminate from our vocabulary if we really want to be on the same side of the table with those we would claim to serve.

That word is “consumer.”

The basic definition of a consumer is “a person who purchases goods and services for personal use.” The secondary definition is even more dehumanizing: “a person or thing that uses something.” Our overuse of this word has desensitized us to the indignation that should be associated with its use.

The Industrial Age created the concept of a “consumer”. This was followed not long after by the traditional advertising and marketing techniques designed to influence people’s decision processes. But in a digital world, where the Internet of Things (IoT) is throwing off huge amounts of data, the role of the “consumer” has shifted, and therefore the risk has shifted. This means the role of marketing and the brand within enterprises must evolve to address that shift. In the process, insurance companies may be forced to choose sides between serving either commercial or personal needs.

In a digital world, individuals could become prey to large enterprises that direct their products and services for us to “consume,” especially if those enterprises are given free rein to collect and use data about us to market to us and potentially manipulate our decision making.

To risk being overdramatic, one could imagine a scenario where “consumers” are all part of the great stimulus-and-response experiments in the name of Marketing. There is massive potential for abuse in IoT technology to slice and dice information about people into insights that businesses can use to influence individuals’ decision making in ways they themselves do not understand. It’s the ultimate dehumanization, and a clearly emerging risk that we must address.

Each business must decide which side of the table they are on in this debate. Insurers will need to determine if they are going to continue to back Industrial Age commercial interests supported by modern technology, or if they will shift their focus to support humans and prevent them from being taken advantage of by those with the information and sophistication to do so. The fact is, it’s really in our businesses’ best interests to watch out for our customers. These represent new societal and individual risks, and will require some thoughtful approaches to address.

However, most firms will find it hard to break out of the traditional mindset of existing risk pools and “consumers” as targets to sell things to. This isn’t surprising; established business models, which have been successful for these businesses for many years, are hard to break out of.

Most insurance organizations don’t even have a function to detect and address these new risk pools.  This is why it is becoming more important to consider “red teams”—idea incubators outside the four walls of the corporate system, which permit and encourage innovative thinking and the luxury of failing.

Next week we’ll look at ways in which red teams can help shift our focus from consumers to human beings.

For more information, go to:

Accenture Technology Vision for Insurance 2015—Digital Insurance Era: Stretch Your Boundaries

Accenture 2013 Consumer-Driven Innovation Survey: Playing to Win

The Customer-centric Insurer in the Digital Era

Double the Profits: How High-performance Insurers can Create Business Value from Digital Transformation

Insurance Telematics: A game-changing Opportunity for the Industry

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