The Consumer Is Boss: A 10-Year Perspective

  |  May 6, 2011   |  Comments

Companies don't need to worry about keeping up with their competitors; they need to worry about keeping up with their customers.

On October 15, 2000, A.G. Lafley, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble Co., delivered a prophetic speech entitled "The Consumer is Boss!" to the Association of National Advertisers. In his presentation he emphasized three main points:

"We're moving away from the current mass marketing model, away from push and toward pull.
Consumers will only become more demanding.
They want to have a conversation, to dialogue, to participate, to be more in control."

These points may seem obvious to marketers and other business people today, but they still confound us. We only now begin to realize the implications. Recently, Rich Green, CTO at Nokia, said companies should stop trying to think of using social media for their own ends: "The big 'a-ha' moment is when enterprises finally realize that their digital existences are being defined by the consumer world, not the reverse. It is hubris to think that an enterprise can 'use' social media for its advantage."

There is no question that marketing has been completely redefined, and understanding the impact of social and mobile technologies on customer behavior is still unclear for many. While we know people are engaged with our social and media efforts, the return on investment is still hard to define. In fact, according to the just released Forrester/'s State of Retailing Online 2011 report (SORO 2011), 68 percent of retailers said if Facebook went away it wouldn't impact sales at all in 2011. Also, 62 percent of retailers agree that returns on social marketing strategies are unclear. There is some good news: 72 percent of retailers will increase their spend in social. However, 36 percent of retailers are pursuing a social media strategy mostly because their competitors are.

In IBM's State of Marketing 2011 study, we learned that 60 percent of marketers identified "turning data into action" as their top organizational issue. We suffer from data overload. It's unclear what a lot of this social data is telling us, because we can't directly correlate that data to sales in most cases. The true ROI of social media is unclear for many.

The study shows our frustration with social media:

"This year, social media is no longer the adorable baby everyone wants to hold, but the angst-filled adolescent – still immature yet no longer cute – who inspires mixed feelings. All things social continue to hold intense interest, with 53% of marketers currently applying it to their marketing efforts. But as tactics rise and fall, a more sophisticated approach is emerging."

As quoted in The Wall Street Journal, Jean-Philippe Courtois, president of Microsoft International, said: "The explosion of social networking with consumers has changed their (consumers) expectations about how they can and should connect with businesses. 'Real-time' is a new imperative, which is causing many businesses to rethink their customer relations strategies via digital marketing."

We have had 10-plus years of warnings about these changes and so few are prepared. Companies have totally missed the point. They don't really need to worry about keeping up with their competitors. Nevertheless, they must worry about how to keep up with their customers.

We have either entered or passed the year when mobile became a critical issue for business. The SORO 2011 reports that only 29 percent of retailers say they have a mobile strategy, are implementing it, and are already optimizing. Meanwhile, only 12 percent of the Internet Retailer Top 500 websites had mobile websites in a mid-2010 study, and only 7 percent had mobile apps.

I think every digital marketing executive should watch this video produced by Best Buy (be sure to replay the part from 1:20 to 1:30 many, many times):

Companies will continue to be slowed down by their slow corporate metabolisms. Their inability to collect the right data and act, analyze, react, and optimize based on the data continues to provide opportunity for those companies that have a faster metabolism. I no longer wonder how dinosaurs became extinct.

Where are your consumers headed? Where are they today? Will you truly serve them as they want to be served?


Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is co-founder and chief marketing officer (CMO) of IdealSpot. He is co-author of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times best-selling books Call to Action, Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?, and Always Be Testing, and Buyer Legends. Bryan is a keynote speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as Gultaggen,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others for the past 10 years. Bryan was named a winner of the Marketing Edge's Rising Stars Awards, recognized by eConsultancy members as one of the top 10 User Experience Gurus, selected as one of the inaugural iMedia Top 25 Marketers, and has been recognized as most influential in PPC, Social Selling, OmniChannel Retail. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of several venture capital backed companies such as Sightly, UserTesting, Monetate, ChatID, Nomi, and BazaarVoice. He works with his co-author and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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