It is a bitter pill for many brand managers to swallow. It may even sound absurd but truth is stranger than fiction.
No longer are brand managers in control of the brand but the consumer. Welcome to the brave new world of social media ushering in the power shift from marketers to consumers. It is the end of marketing as we know it as consumers increasingly wielding more power than marketers. Thanks to Social media, brand managers lost the power to control the way brands are perceived from the consumers end. What has led to this unprecedented transformation? What has changed between the era of mass media and the era of digital media? What forces led to this change? The answer is debatable nevertheless obvious.
Though one cannot rule out the relevance of mass media, the challenges are increasingly becoming complex today. Declining traditional media consumption especially among youth, media fragmentation and ad avoidance behavior among many consumers are forcing marketers to find newer, better and effective channels to get the message across. On the other hand, the era of digital media gave marketers plethora of opportunities to understand consumers better, connect and engage them with the brand all at a granular level. Brands cannot simply be intrusive even in social platforms and should really earn the trust and permission of consumers. At the end of the day, it is not about us (company) but about them (consumers). Social platforms are not for pushing messages but for facilitating conversations surrounding brand ideals. For instance, P&G’s http://www.beinggirl.com/ is a classic example of engaging target audience in a meaningful manner. Launched in the year 2005 by P&G, this site is a branded community for young girls to discuss, share and comment on issues related to period, health and wellness, beauty and relationships. It is a great way to understand the underlying motivations that triggers consumer behavior to buy or not to buy a product. The site also offers experts advice, fun and entertainment through games, quizzes and horoscopes. The insights generated by listening to consumer conversations can be used in myriad ways such as new product development, product improvements or refinement or even tackling consumer problems that are unstated.
Consumers trust earned media more than paid or owned media. The way I see it, consumers are actually shaping and influencing the brands today. Social networks, blogs, tweets, video sharing, photo sharing and online community empowered consumers like never before providing them a platform to create, disseminate and share content any time any where in any form with any one. This has led to “democratization of brands” from the clutches of marketers. According to IBM Global CMO study 2011, Data explosion, customer collaboration and influence, growth of channel and device choices, shifting demographics and social media are the top factors impacting marketing today.( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPZru8g12G4)
An angry blog post or a tweet can damage the reputation of the brand in seconds and the reverse is also true. Brands simply cannot be unreal, creepy or arrogant. They cannot spin apocryphal stories hoping to garner quick share of mind or eyeballs. The truth will be out sooner or later. Consider the backlash against Dell (http://www.webip.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/dell-hell.png), United Airlines (United Breaks Guitar viral video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-QDkR-Z-69Y), and British Petroleum oil leak. Instance like these are aplenty. But it is not all bad news for brand managers or marketers. Companies that consistently deliver on the brand promise, create memorable experience for its customers across various touch points, partner stakeholders in the whole value creation process and engage them meaningfully would mightily benefit by social media due to its amplifying effect.
The way I see it, consumers are performing the role of creation (Content creators) destruction (Brand critic: United Breaks Guitar) and maintenance (brand advocates) of brands. Here are some examples:
According to Hinduism, these three roles are believed to be performed by the three gods namely Brahma – the creator of universe, Vishnu – the preserver and Shiva – the destroyer. They are not three different entities but three different aspects of one.
How marketing executives respond to the increasing influence of social media, big data, shifting demographics and empowered consumers determine their success in terms of better ROI, improved customer engagement and strong brand advocacy.