GLASTONBURY, Conn. -- Brand marketers may worry about point-of-sale data shifting the balance of power to retailers. A futurist here, however, warned that new consumer technologies pose an even greater long-term threat to the status quo.
"The new balance of power stems from the merger of state-of-the-art technologies with newly empowered consumers," said Cornelia Hanbury of the Futures Group consulting firm.
Hanbury argued that as consumers gain access to new technologies and data sources that allow "finite comparisons" between competing products, a "new dimension of competition for brands" will ensue.
Consumers' shift to a value orientation after the close of the 1980s has helped set the stage for acceptance of new technologies, she said. Of particular promise are computerized home-shopping systems, which consumers will use to search out products that meet individual criteria, such as price, performance or other attributes.
In the future, when home-shopping is commonplace, Hanbury said, "the impact of media, package design and shelf space enjoyed by the so-called 'mega-brands' will diminish significantly."
In her scenario, mass marketing will give way to mass customization -- first of the shopping environment, and eventually of products themselves. She cited American Greeting's custom greeting card kiosks as an example. "Consumers want more input into product design, as well as more discretion and choice," she said.
Hanbury said she expects some product marketers to turn the technology threat to their advantage, by using the new systems to understand and predict consumer demands. Companies that have begun to establish proprietary consumer data bases are already moving in this direction.