Now the customer really is the king

Agency view

Mass communication is dead. When are we all going to realise this? You can no longer broadcast the same message to everyone. Brands must be at one with the consumer.

We are living through a marketing revolution centered around collectivity and connectivity on the internet. We have watched a new king being crowned in the world of Web 2.0 – the consumer. By the time you finish this article someone, somewhere will probably have invented a new piece of technology that will empower the customer even more.

So how do marketers address this? Brands need to have one-on-one conversations with consumers. They must harness consumers’ fighting power and profit from building communities not just exploiting them. Make the consumer part of the brand and see them as an individual.

When a consumer is happy the passion can be conveyed to millions but slighted consumers can also draw on an army of millions. Did you hear about the customer in China who had a complaint about his Mercedes-Benz? When he didn’t get the right response from the company he took a baseball bat to it and then dragged his battered car around China, pulled by a donkey. The story ended up damaging the brand on a global scale.

These days brands are in the hands of the consumer. Word of mouth, viral and buzz marketing is huge. Yet companies underestimate how interconnected the world is. They need to let consumers be the marketers, the brand advocates, the sales rep, the audience and the performer.

What worries me is that brands seem to be moving in the wrong direction. Becoming more global, more anonymous, more generic. They are losing touch with their identities. They should be going the other way.

I know it’s tough for companies to keep up. All the time customers are changing behaviour and marketers can no longer label them. Clothes no longer indicate how much money someone has and pensioners are now becoming one of the largest group of buyers on the internet.

So companies and brands must realise that the customer is king. This isn’t just a matter of talking about it at conferences and over the boardroom table but acting upon it. With customers coming together on the internet, companies need to involve them in the daily running of their company, they need to put humility back into their brand. We’re all learning but those who do it fastest will survive.

Norm Johnston is managing director of Modem Media

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