All hail the empowered consumer.

by Holland-Mark | August 23, 2010

“Social media” (the myriad of online, interconnected communities and communication portals) has had a profound impact on the way that brands view the consumer. It’s the gospel here at Holland-Mark: this is a new age, consumers are taking control of conversation and demanding that brands, products, and companies listen, take note, and make changes in the way they speak and treat them (us). As a consumer, the shift in engagement tactics and tone is evident. More common than ever are stories like that of Domino’s and Comcast, stories that give huge brands something that’s evaded them for decades: humanity.

On the surface, it seems simple enough: face the truth, admit your faults, and start building real relationships with your market. The complicated underbelly is that these brands didn’t have a choice. The voice of the consumer — the power of the consumer — became too much. Eventually business as usual would be a death sentence. For Domino’s it was a realization that people hated their pizza. Interestingly enough, people had been hating their pizza for years and years, but it wasn’t until social media gave those Domino’s-hating pizza consumers a megaphone that their shitty pizza gave way to the worst-case scenario: the public opinion became the truth. And then people decided they’d just buy Papa John’s.

For Comcast there came a point when size and market share were no match for disgruntled customers who were ready and willing to walk. They were angry, tired of being mistreated, and all too aware of their choice. The alternatives (Dish Network, Verizon) were going to start eating at Comcast’s pie because they were willing to give the customer more than a service, they were willing to add intangible value.

But for every empowering brand experience there is an equal number of disenchanting and disempowering brand experiences. These experiences are made worse by the assumption on the part of the consumer that he/she is empowered, that his/her voice should always matter, that someone is always listening. As a consumer it is exponentially more frustrating to feel powerless in this economy. It seems inevitable that brands, companies, and products who refuse to prove their value cannot and will not subsist. At Holland-Mark we equate this to being imperative to your customer. Getting to and being imperative is about more than providing a good and/or service, but delivering value. And while the extinction of these consumer-opinion-ignorant brands seems inevitable, many of them will choose to die a slow death by refusing to acknowledge the power of the consumer.

In many senses, we’re returning to a simpler time. Before capitalism became about goods for the sake of goods and services for the sake of services, goods and services were valued based on the… value. Monopolies, mega-chains, and monster discount stores distorted the value equation.┬áBrands became entitled and eventually the cost of a good was the cost of the good and did not promise a positive experience. Building brand loyalty didn’t really matter because the game wasn’t about relationships, it was about size and price. That’s changing. It has to. The people have too much power.

Choosing to die a slow death is more than just stupid, it’s shortsighted. Many brands — our clients included — have found that delivering value is more interesting and more gratifying than simply offering a service or product. Being imperative is about building relationships, fostering brand loyalty, and delighting in the satisfaction of your customers. Loyalty translates to brand ambassadors and genuine, word-of-mouth marketing. In place of expensive market research there is good old-fashioned listening, and real-time customer interaction becomes a breeding ground for new product ideas and organic service improvements. The danger of ignoring the customer isn’t just because they’re vocal, it’s because they’re empowered and more often than not they are empowered in ways that can drive business forward. When asked, they are willing to share. When treated with respect, they are willing to share with others. And when convinced of the imperative value of your product, they become a delighted annuity, a rich source of information, insight, and the occasional constructive criticism.