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Exactly a year ago I published a blog about consumer collaboration and the shift From Passive to Active consumerism (if you had better things to do that day, firstly how dare you, but secondly may I suggest you catch up and have a read).

Thinking you are a separate entity from the whole is a dangerous game. We all do it. In fact, humanity is under a magnificent illusion that we are somehow separate from the planet we occupy, greater than the fragile eco-systems we rely on. We fool ourselves into thinking there is some kind of US and THEM separation. There is US (humanity) and THEM (nature / the animal kingdom / our environment).

From Passive To Active Consume

The Illusion of Separation

In fact, we do it in many facets in life. The class structures society has created is an US:THEM construct, as is the first world versus developing worlds. Most, if not all, of the world’s conflicts and wars are built around this US:THEM construct. We fear difference, we draw comfort from lines of separation. And brands do it with their customers. They create an illusion of separation.

But what if we are all wrong? What if there is no line of separation. What if we are all one (deep, eh?)

The more distance you put between you the product and its user/consumer, the more you exaggerate this separation. The farther the distance between brand and consumer, the less likely it is you build a tribal sense of belonging which leads to Customer Lifetime Value.

So we can possibly all agree that we need to dissolve the US:THEM and invite the customers inside. As consumers, we all have 3 very simple ‘worlds’ when it comes to brands and personal space.

digital consumer behaviour

The first is MY WORLD, the space that is deeply personal to you, your inner circle. For brands, this can be a difficult space to push into. Some brands succeed, managing to intertwine their brand values with their customers self-identification. When a snowboarder wears a Red Bull beanie hat or a Harley Davidson rider tattoos the logo on their shoulder, they are acknowledging the brand presence within that MY WORLD inner sanctum. It is where every brand wants to be, but few make it.

Together We Can

The next level out is OUR WORLD. This is the world of community. In our physical everyday lives, this is our workplace and school, gym and hobbies, the various worlds we occupy. This is why sponsorship is important for brands, to push their way into our community worlds. Living in this space we hope that our brand stays relevant to a customer by being in their world. Establishing yourself in this space takes time, or genius.

What is left in the outer circle is THE WORLD. This contains everything else, all the noise and activity of everyday life. 99% of brands and businesses live here, one of many that could be chosen. It is a transactional space, devoid of relationship, a line of complete separation between brand and consumer. So how to avoid living in this irrelevant desert as a business?  You do something to dissolve the line.

Deconstructing the famous Dollar Shave Club viral/ad above (click to watch before reading on) you can see how a brand, in just one YouTube post, can establish itself immediately within the OUR WORLD space. It is a masterclass in positioning. Mike makes himself one of us. With his sneakers and loose tie he is one of the guys, the opposite of corporate America. He is no Gillette or P&G. He is there to take down the capitalist machine, and invites you to take part in the journey. The viral is full of humour, start-up culture/energy and manages to sell the proposition by pushing its way quickly into that OUR WORLD space. It taps into that powerful force – ‘Together’

Fortnite Squad Consumer Collaboration

Collaboration is such a core value for modern consumerism. Gen Z have grown up in a world of complete collaboration. Take gaming for example. Previous generations grew up playing 1 and 2-player games. Gen X had Pong and Pacman, Millennials had Sonic and Super Mario. You played on your own or with a friend who was sitting next to you. Today Gen Z and Alpha consumers have grown up gaming online with a community of players.

They play in Fortnite Squads, collaborating with players from all over the world to reach their objective, chatting live through their headsets. They  command Call of Duty squadrons made up of players, some strangers, some friends they have never even met in person. Collaboration is often their default.

From Shaving to Swifties

The world was recently given a collaboration MY WORLD masterclass by Taylor Swift.


Taylor is my guilty pleasure. Not only is she a talented musician, lyricist and performer, she is also an extremely smart business woman with a powerful knowledge of the modern generational zeitgeist. For years she has managed to blur the lines between US & THEM by reaching in to her ‘swiftie’ fans lives and opening hers for them through social media. She has always understood the modern tools of connection, and utilises them in a way others rarely do.

Let’s take her recent “Anti Hero” hit single. Another artist would release the video via YouTube or Vevo, the fans would consume it and that would be that. The line of separation would firmly stand. I am the artist, I produce. You are the fan, you consume. No collaboration, no push into the inner OUR WORLD or MY WORLD space. But not Taylor.

For those of you not familiar with the video or song, might I suggest you watch a few minutes below before moving on. Not only is it a great tune, it is also a fantastic story based video (can you tell I’m a fan yet?). The song is written about anxiety and the things you dislike about yourself.

So, that is the ‘product’. But today, what use is a product to a consumer if they don’t feel they can be part of it? Where is the collaboration potential? As other platforms like Instagram and YouTube play catch up to TikTok, they are looking to mirror the short video content that has become key in holding a users’ attention. Instagram have reels and YouTube launched shorts.

Immediately after the single and video release, Taylor launches the #TSAntiHeroChallenge via YouTube shorts. She makes a 15-second soundbite from the song (the chorus) and uploads it, challenging fans to make their own video using her soundtrack and sharing their own anti-hero perceptions and stories.

Taylor leads by example. She makes a serious one, about self-isolation

and then makes a more light-hearted one about her cats

What then follows is a tsunami of fans making anti-hero videos. Have 45 seconds of fun:

And then watch the emotional reaction when, of course, there is the occasional moment of interaction between artist and fan (as Taylor will always strive to do)

This is a collaborative space, a collaborative product. This song and video are no longer owned by Taylor Swift. It is now owned by both, artist and fan. Taylor lives in the MY WORLD space for her fans and this recent #TSAntiHeroChallenge is a fantastic example of how all brands should be leveraging collaboration. Your product is not the end, it is just the beginning.

You do not want a line of separation between your brand or business and the customer. Regardless of what it is you are selling, the industry, sector or B2B / B2C. Collaboration is key. Pushing our way into those MY WORLD and OUR WORLD spaces is critical.

Consumer collaboration.

Today’s challenge is to think of a way to break down those boundaries, invite your customer in and create a sense of together. If we are serious about tribal belonging, brand communities and customer lifetime value, we need to up our game.

We can all learn from Taylor Swift.

On that note, I’m off to put on red lipstick and a sparkly dress. If you watch the accompanying video to this blog on my YouTube channel then you’ll find out if that was an empty threat or the truth ?.

Ken Hughes is now considered one of the World’s leading speakers on the subject of customer experience, consumer values, change, leadership and agility. His live keynotes are famous for their high-energy, thought-provoking content as well as their impactful and inspiring delivery.

Ken Hughes is also secretly dating Taylor Swift, but ssshhhh, don’t tell anyone.

A blog to  inspire and delight

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A blog to  inspire and delight