Brands and consumers: Are you in control?

In a video that was produced a couple of years ago about the relationship between advertisers and consumers, there was clearly a huge gap.

Today, in the age of total transparency, brands have no more excuses not to understand how consumer feels about them.

Instead of being at the receiving end of the ‘interruption’ marketing tactics, we eagerly give consent to it by offering our ‘permission’ to connect.

Our tweets are being followed, sometimes without ourselves knowing it. Apparently, in the near future, our tweets can be used by brands in their advertising too.

We become fans of brands from social media platforms sometimes out of ‘the fear of losing out’ mentality. We eagerly give out information about ourselves to brands who are just ‘fan’ of a friend.

e-commerce websites know what we are searching for simply by tracking the pages we view on the website, and periodically send us ‘you might also like this’ messages.

We think we have more control now but sometimes we feel the opposite.

At the same time, however, brands are experiencing the same challenges. They are exposed to all kinds of consumer reactions.

Brands are increasingly being urged to give up the control to consumers. Embrace user-generated contents. Nurture consumers as brand advocates.

Major TV commercials all have ‘making of’ videos produced so everything behind the scene are exposed and maximised as viral content.

Consumers take any issues to the social media platform and voice their opinions. Brands understand the power of the consumers’ voice and sometimes take advantage of that as catalyse of public relation activities.

In a bold move, HTC will plan to gather positive and negative user feedback of its phones from retail sites and social networks and will host the results on the product pages of its website. Feedback will also be used in digital banner advertising and could potentially decide the future content and direction of television campaigns.

This strategy not only reflects the original positioning of the brand’s objectives in putting ‘you’ (the consumers) in the centre, it also reinforces the importance of user-generated content in today’s integrated marketing activities. It also further signifies the changing role of creative teams and agencies as a whole.

In the book ‘The Superpromoter’, Rijn Vogelaar explained how most brands and services spend far too much time listening to people who do not really like them. Instead we should champion the ‘Superpromoter’, people who love your brand, people who will advocate it, people who will defend it, people who will be very keen to work with you to co-create a better future.

The marketing team in the UK is also looking to explore using more creative forms of marketing to encourage consumers to share their own HTC stories. Examples include installing a touchscreen unit in a cinema foyer for consumers to add their recommendations, which could then appear in the trailer of the film they are going to see minutes later.

But how far should we embrace the consumers’ voice?

In the age of social media centric world, it means very far.

The recent “Mass Effect 3”, the third game in the popular alien-war trilogy from Electronic Arts, had caused a global storm of feedbacks on Twitter and Facebook. Fans of the game demanded “happy endings” and had organized a social-media war to voice their opinions. Within just about a month, the “Retake Mass Effect” page has gathered more than 5,600 followers with followers tweet their demand under #RetakeMassEffect hashtag. Consumer action group has never reacted so quickly.

Their declaration on the dedicated website stated:

To Bioware and EA: Video gaming is a flexible medium. We believe this flaw can and should be corrected, so we request that you produce for the Mass Effect series appropriate conclusions of significant and coherent narrative merit which adequately reflect the choices players have made throughout the series.

Mass Effect deserves it. The gamers deserve it.

Bioware cofounder Ray Muzyka has already announced that the Mass Effect 3 team is now working on “a number of game content initiatives” that will help answer the questions so many fans complained about having. From what it seems, the consumers win again.

The shifts of power between brands and consumers have various implications on how we all operate.

The challenge for every brand is how to generate and attract consumers’ feedbacks and no matter positive or negative, turning that into opportunities. Key to success is to orchestrate the most effective consumer engagement roadmap to trigger attention, share, recommendation and influence.

The challenge for every creatives is to have empathy for consumers and the community around them. Creatives are more than just originator of ideas but conversations, stories and movements. It’s about having the ability to create a platform for ideas to flourish. The creative execution needs to be the starting point of consumer engagement and participation; and the job doesn’t stop there, it is just the beginning.