Are consumers taking over?

An article in Marketing Week led to recent discussions on whether companies have given control of their brands to the users and consumers of those brands or is this the future for marketers.

Last week I attended the excellent DigitalSurrey where Heather Taylor from mobile comms company GiffGaff was presenting. Their business model was built through establishing an online community which investigated what users actually wanted from a mobile comms company. They did this before actually providing anything, so their product/service has been determined by their community. It has worked incredibly successfully for them.

However, I think this is very different from saying the consumer has control of the brand. Surely best marketing practice is to gain as much customer insight as possible to be able to provide products and/or services to your target market successfully. In the old days (and still used of course) we would undertake qualitative and quantitive research to achieve this. However social media tools provide a new platform from which to do this. In light of the economic and competitive business environment we are currently in, it makes absolute sense to find out as much as possible about our markets to keep our businesses buoyant.

However this research and online feedback does not control the brand, unless we choose to let it. There still needs to be a robust business behind the social media buzz which decides which of the ideas, complaints, recommendations to take forward and act upon. This can benefit the business by not unnecessarily investing in areas which do not have a waiting market. Hopefully the global network we now live in allows the consumer to get a better service from businesses who can no longer afford to be complacent in their provision of services or products.

We must always take into account the fact that certain sites, such as Trip Advisor for example, are sometimes criticised as they attract outbursts from unhappy travellers whereas as satisfied users are less likely to contribute unless incentivised. Therefore feedback needs to be carefully considered before a business takes responsive action.

I believe that the consumer is able to influence a brand towards better things IF the brand choose to accept that mission, however, ultimately the business behind the brand always has ultimate control of it’s destiny. Hopefully the reminder of the importance of customer insight will benefit us all.

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