Here’s my next MediaPost column, where I largely agree, yet still deconstruct, the ANA’s top transformation prediction for 2007: consumer In control. The ANA is a great organization, but it seems this year’s top-ten transformations list walks a fine line between desired outcome and mandate. If you haven’t seen, I offered a few days ago short gut reactions to all ten here. See here for the MediaPost comment string.
Marketers: Itâ€™s Time To Stop Blaming Your Woes On The Consumer!
by Max Kalehoff, December 22, 2006
Bob Liodice, president and chief executive of the Association of National Advertisers, announced this week his organizationâ€™s top-ten list of ways the marketing landscape will transform in 2007. Overall, itâ€™s a smart, strategic list, and certainly among the most significant during this seasonâ€™s avalanche of 2007 predictions.
Most notable was the number-one entry: â€œConsumer in Control: Marketers will abandon their historic â€˜command and controlâ€™ model of brand building in favor of a truly interactive dialogue with consumers. Recognizing that consumers now have the power to control how, when and where they interact with advertisers, brand marketers will radically reinvent their approaches, putting the consumer in the driverâ€™s seat and unleashing a tsunami of interactive campaigns across all media forms.â€
To its credit, the ANA is directing overdue attention to advertisersâ€™ most important stakeholder of all: the consumer. It echoes P&G chief A.G. Lafleyâ€“an active ANA memberâ€“who recently pronounced to the marketing industry that itâ€™s time to â€œlet goâ€ and cede control to consumers.
However, thereâ€™s one quirk with this notion of â€œConsumer in Controlâ€: The consumer is not in absolute control, and marketers shouldnâ€™t be so quick and extreme in declaring so. (And Iâ€™ll admit Iâ€™ve been guilty of doing so in the past.) Sure, consumers are more empowered than ever, and marketers no longer have monopolistic control of voice and information, inherent in purely one-way, mass marketing and communications models, which are fading.
Hereâ€™s the truth: Consumers now have a voice, they have more choice and can hold marketers accountable as never before. Consumers can quickly organize, mobilize, reward and punish. Their gestures and votes are far more impacting. The ANA is right in suggesting that â€œtruly interactive dialogueâ€ is imperative, and those who donâ€™t â€œabandon their historic â€˜command and controlâ€™ model of brand buildingâ€ will suffer.
So are consumers in control? No. They are more empowered, but there are two sides to this relationship. One side is the marketer and the other the consumer. It takes two to tango, and the balance of power is equalizing, to be sure. Contrary to hype and alarm, marketers have tremendous control over the variables and customer touch points that matter most. The result is that marketers must revisit the fundamentals.
It starts with genuine respect for the consumerâ€“the marketerâ€™s partner in the relationship. It is within each marketerâ€™s control to decide how candid and respectful to be. Iâ€™m not suggesting that marketers are generally disrespectful or negligent, but often it is those factors that get marketers in trouble and lose them a competitive advantage, especially as of late. Expectations of marketers increase as consumers embrace their newfound voice, so marketers better be sure to cover this most elementary principle.
The next controllable element is the products and services a company markets. Poor or inferior products may have passed before, but they become far less viable when your customers are knowledgeable and empowered. Today, marketers are more dependent on the true merit of their goods, including innovation and quality. Fortunately, marketers do have control over this dimension, and have only themselves to blame when their goods donâ€™t stack up!
Marketers also have massive control over their storefronts as well as other venues where customers and prospects discover, search and interact with them. Marketers have control and influence over their Web sites and physical show rooms, and other dimensions that actually lure customers in, because theyâ€™re attractive and offer something of real value.
The next controllable is customer service and consumer affairs. When customers cry for help, report a problem, protest or offer feedback, it is within marketersâ€™ control to seize the opportunity to build loyalty and turn already-involved consumers into talkative fans. Perhaps itâ€™s time to think of the call center not as a cost center, but as a valuable touch point and media vehicle thatâ€™s within a marketerâ€™s control.
It is the combination of all these most controllable variablesâ€“and a few othersâ€“that create core experiences and ultimately define a brand in the eyes of consumers. In a world increasingly driven by word of mouthâ€“where reach, awareness trial and loyalty must be earned, not paid forâ€“these factors become the building blocks of your message and your reputation. Your message and your reputation then become the true vehicle of your brandâ€“much more so than any traditional notion of media.
So while consumer empowerment is disruptive and scary, letâ€™s not blame our woes on the consumer. Marketers should embrace this growing period of reciprocity by refocusing on the fundamentals. Those fundamentals mostly likely are what made you successful in the first place!