Intuit co-founder Scott Cook famously iterated, “a brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is – it is what consumers tell each other it is.” In this one statement, Cook sums up one of, if not the, most significant marketing paradigm shifts in recent years: marketers have lost the control in their relationship with consumers. No longer do marketers have the luxury of dictating what and how consumers should think about brands and products.
The internet leveled the playing field between brand and consumer. While word of mouth has always been an important consumer research tool, now, word of mouth is amplified by the power of the internet. The digital age has introduced forums and platforms that allow real consumers’ opinions to travel far beyond their own personal circles. Through the internet, a consumer in Seattle, WA can impact the purchasing decision of consumers across the country, and also, across the world. Mass word of mouth travels at the speed of light and brands have no control over who shares brand opinions online or, more importantly, who reads those opinions.
Yes, while consumer’s resources for collecting knowledge have grown in spades, so too have brands’ resources for disseminating knowledge. Brand communications are everywhere from blogs, to social platforms and sponsored content on publisher’s’ sites. Brands make every effort to control their own narratives. But despite these efforts, every brand marketer will tell you that the real power lies with the people.
So, is this just a temporary shift in a see-saw-like relationship? No, consumer dictation is here for good and it’s unlikely that brands will ever re-assume the upper hand. But this isn’t necessarily bad news for brands…
Rather than spending money and energy to fight against the growing wave of influence, brands will do better to go with the flow. Through influencer marketing, brands can naturally assert their messaging in a way that complements consumers’ affinities toward word of mouth sharing. It’s not that consumers are averse to brands’ stories and accounts, it’s just that they trust the authenticity of the account more when it comes from another person. For influencer accounts to be genuinely successful, brands must succumb to the consumer’s power status and relinquish some control. What people are looking for is honesty, so brands that approach influencer marketing with the intention to act as puppet masters on a large-scale stage will be in for a rude awakening. With more resources at their fingertips than ever before, consumers have become incredibly savvy. They can spot dishonesty immediately and will be forever turned off by it. To lead the best brand marketing programs is to respect the demands of those in power – the people – and initiate opportunities for authentic word of mouth influence and truthful dialogue. Trust your selected influencers to understand their audiences and put their best foot forward with your brand messaging in a unique and genuine manner. An influencer campaign that is teeming with funny, emotional, and unexpected content will go much further than those that read as contrived and brand-controlled. People today are predisposed to appreciate influencer and word of mouth marketing; as a marketer you can either fight this cultural mindset (and lose) or join in (and win) through influencer marketing.