Do we marketers have the guts and inner will to reassert our role and influence in the marketer-consumer relationship?
OK, I've said it before but I want to reiterate, emphasize, and boldface the point one more time: we as marketers still have control.
And we have plenty of it! More than we can handle -- or even know about.
We haven't lost control, and the consumer doesn't have us completely wrapped around her finger. Can we please just end the righteous "woe is me" chest-beating? We're distracting ourselves. In fact, I'm going to wade into controversial waters, even reversing things I've said in the past. We may actually have more control than ever before. I'm talking real control, real power, and real leverage.
The bigger question is whether we have the guts and inner will to reassert our role and influence in the marketer-consumer relationship. More important, do we truly recognize the critical levers in our control that can make the biggest difference?
What Can We Control?
Marketers today have a tool kit that would make my late father, a former advertising executive, blush. We can target, message on multiple screens, follow consumers from start to finish, and tons of other stuff. We buy media, place media, revise media, iterate media, pick the messaging platform, select the suppliers, and hired the employees. The list goes on and on.
Most important, and most relevant to today's new rules, is we control the levers that have enormous potential to drive deep, sustainable bonds with consumers:
|What Consumer Control||What Marketers Control|
|Word of mouth||Talk drivers|
|Product feedback||Product performance|
The problem -- and the challenge -- is that the levers that most matter are the most difficult to pull, even prime to pull. But pull we must. For example, we just can't dance around product quality or performance any more. In this friction-free feedback environment, if our products fail, the consumer wails...publicly. The good news is we can control that outcome.
We may need to slow down and shore up before subjecting ourselves to the critical masses. Think about all the brands getting whacked for greenwashing (define). Patience, my friend. Let's get it right. We have the power to get it right!
We also have full control over listening. Listening is the degree to which your brand invites open conversation, is approachable, and, of course, is accessible. "Do you hear me?" we often ask when wearing our consumer hats. This is a big issue today, because consumers in control want to feel respected and valued. Even the simple signal that a brand is open for conversation, a comment, or feedback can improve the relationship. Half the game for marketers in earning respect and credibility with consumers is simply showing we care.
Listening is also the foundation of relationship marketing and loyalty building. Virtually all consumers have an emotional desire to be heard, and the listening process validates that core need. The sweet spot for companies in the listening arena is consumer affairs, and this is also the place where the biggest opportunities lie for organizational change.
The Consumer/Marketing Control Framework, Revisited
We also have plenty of control over how we respond, and this is a really important point I underscore in my upcoming book, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000." Responsiveness is how you respond to, address, and manage specific consumer interactions. It's one thing for companies to be listeners, but if they don't do anything about what they hear, you simply don't get full credit. Consumers today have been conditioned, through years of experience, to believe that companies will always try to put on a great face but in the end will never go the distance to address their concerns. In responsiveness, consumers see the eye of sincerity and genuine concern or appreciation for their problems or suggestions.
Many consumers go the distance to let others know about their frustration with insensitive, indifferent, and unresponsive companies. This is why customer service is so critical for brands and companies to work through. It's also why social media is so important, whether via blogs, online communities, or internal social networking: it fuses connections and facilitates dialogue. It sets a high bar on responsiveness and provides a host of how-to examples on getting it right.
We have much within our control. It may not be the control or influence we're used to, but it might be much more powerful. It's the type of control that has as much to do with business processes as with buying media.
The key is that we get ahead and not allow ourselves to fall behind the currents. Over the past four years, ClickZ has given me platform and credibility to highlight, reinforce, and amplify these critical themes -- and for that I will be eternally grateful! They made this choice, and it was fully in their control to elevate these issues long before they were popular or fashionable.
That's what leadership is all about, and it always pays long-term dividends.
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Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."
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