“The most important thing is to forecast where customers are moving, and be in front of them.” Philip Kotler
In the late 2000s, internet was incorporated into virtually every aspect of our everyday life. This new communications media redefined or even bypassed most traditional media, including telephony, radio, television, paper mail and newspapers (Wikipedia, sd). As a result, marketing needs to adopt to this new reality, taking into sincere consideration internet as a new channel to access consumers and its implications.
One of the most important feature of internet as a marketing channel is its interactivity.All other channels, such as press, radio and television, act as one-way communication. Traditional marketing thus resembles to the “bowling” environment: activities are like bowling strikes, where marketers target static pins, the consumers. The consumers receive the messages (bowling balls) with only one possible reaction: accept the hit and buy or not, in which case the pin remains standing (Hennig-Thurau, et al., 2013).
The Internet channel though, is really stepping up this game, from bowling to pinball. Consumers now are active targets and pass the ball unpredictably, like bumpers and slingshots. They react, comment and they can even undermine a marketing campaign or skyrocket it within a few clicks (Hennig-Thurau, et al., 2013). Now all consumers have access to information and a “microphone” to comment – they are interactive. Their voice gets interconnected across the web, leading to full consumer empowerment (Deighton & Kornfield, 2009).
With the introduction of internet and the use of mobile devices, ordinary consumers not only get access to vast amounts of information but are also able to create content. So additional to their demand-power comes information power. On top, networking and interconnectivity amplifies their voice across the globe. They become marketers themselves, promoting and demoting products with their reviews. (Labrecque, et al., 2013). See the example on the left where consumer uses Capital letters to a negative product review.
Now, with crowd-power we see influencers who can mobilize crowds or crowds who can decide the fate of a project or campaign. A popular YouTuber can, with one video, reach a million viewers and influence in the same time the opinion of its viewers. The crowds of Kickstarter fund and lead to realization of individual projects! (Labrecque, et al., 2013)
Did we see it coming?
Is this consumer empowerment a new, unanticipated development? More like history repeats itself. The dialogue existed in markets from ancient times, when the producer was selling his goods directly to a small community. As production and distribution evolved with the industrial revolution, goods were produced massively and reached consumers across continents. However, communication instead of equally evolving and promoting dialogue, turned to one-way direction. Now there was a wall separating seller and buyer, creating distance and impersonal purchase.
The dialogue converted to monologue with the marketers passing their messages without receiving feedback anymore. In absence of dialogue and interactivity, and hidden in anonymity, marketers became unaccountable and greedy. Now internet changes these rules and restores the order. Did we see it coming? The suppressed consumer was longing for a microphone and the internet is the perfect channel to give back the power.
How to get the most out of it
Should marketers feel scared of this development or can we turn this into a win-win situation? A dialogue driven by transparency and honesty can restore the market relationships. Internet can be an incredible free communication tool to drive this change and Big Data, with the right analysis, could offer real added value to the marketer.
The first easy win is to make it personal again. With a personalized content, marketers can speak directly to the consumer and restore face-to-face contact instead of the previous anonymity. B2C companies adopted faster the digital tools and they are leading the way to this personalized approach (Michaelidou, et al., 2011).
“Thanks for choosing Uber, Gina. You rode with Sabri. Rate your driver”. Names come back to communication material, together with a personal photo, purchase data and a request for customer feedback. This all makes it more personal and relevant.
Second win is Big Data collection and analysis. With the right use of data, we can convert meaningless information to useful service and provide value. We can now compare previous consumer searches with buying habits, GPS location, user subscriptions and keep a timeline of activities.
Many companies already come back to the consumer with alternative offers, reminders and helpful tips exactly when the consumer is looking for them! We now receive emails right after our search “Still looking to book in Paris? We can help! See today’s prices”. We click on a product and Amazon comes back with proposals “customers who bought this brand also shopped for…”
As per Kotler’s quote, the most important thing is to forecast where customers are moving and be in front of them. Internet is the tool we dreamed of and it is up to us to use its full potential.
Third win is to address our activities to the targeted audience. Previously it was a television advertisement acting as an interruption to the viewer’s program. Now marketing can offer the right product, based on specific needs and right on time to the consumer. This proprietary audience is interested and appreciates this service instead of dismissing it as a promotion.
Final advantage is the fact that marketing has now become more measurable. We are now able to access, collect, process and report data. We can calculate leads generated, we automatically collect data, measure effectiveness and drive marketing messages accordingly (Järvinen, et al., 2012).
In this digital era of the empowered consumers, marketers need to embrace the change. This powerful group can act as brand ambassador and amplify the message. Ignoring the change and playing pinball at random, may prove risky and complex. Success lies in putting the people, not products, at the heart of marketing strategies again (Clark, 2016). Let’s make the empowered consumers our best marketing partners instead of our worst critics.