This power shift has far-reaching implications. As Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley noted, "we now have a greater opportunity to move beyond transactions to relationships than ever before, but to do so requires that we strike the right balance between being in control and being in touch. Ironically, the more in control we are, the more out of touch we become. But the more we're willing to let go, the more we're able to get in touch with consumers."
What does this mean to brand managers?
Traditional one-way communications channels are not as effective as they used to be. “Marketers have to compliment their one-way messages with more interactive and collaborative approaches that allow consumers to have a say in their brand strategy and messages,” suggests Desiree Gullan, Creative Director of Gullan&Gullan Advertising.
“While this seems to be terrifying news for brand managers, it's actually an opportunity to be progressive and enhance the value of your brand. Don't worry. You don't have to throw away your brand plans and give your consumers free reign with your brand. On the contrary now more than ever you need to focus on strengthening your brand and then facilitating consumer engagement,” adds Gullan.
Smart marketers are embracing brand conversations and word of mouth (WOM) as a way to get in touch with consumers and involve them in the brand-building process. The result: More authentic and relevant brand promises and messaging that work more effectively in engaging your consumers and increasing market share.It's not all happening online
If you think WOM is all about social media, you may be ignoring one important fact: The real power of WOM is offline, where most conversations still occur.
Research conducted from 2006 - 2009 in the US proves that face-to-face interactions account for 72% of all brand conversations. While phone conversations add up to 18% and interestingly, only 7% of WOM takes place through various online channels.
Marketers who place all their WOM bets on the web, are missing out on the bigger opportunity.
“Don't abandon your current marketing strategies specifically your below-the-line comms as a surprisingly large number of conversations include mentions of below-the-line marketing, such as point of sale and promotions,” Gullan advises.Engage consumer evangelists
What's particularly significant about this finding is that when a consumer talks favourably about a brand and references an ad, promotion or website, marketers gain powerful "pass-along" benefits. Your messages ripple far beyond the first wave of audience exposure, and you gain increased credibility and impact that comes with a WOM recommendation.
“Focus your communication efforts on exciting your current customer base to give them something new to talk about,” suggests Gullan.
Given that WOM is generated across the entire marketing and media landscape, marketers should make sure that all initiatives - from new-product development to big-budget campaigns - work in unison.
“Remain brand-centric and focussed on your brand values as everything affects how customers perceive your brand and ultimately feeds into WOM. If the marketing elements don't consistently reinforce your brand values and positive consumer experience you will not get referrals and your brand will suffer,” Gullan concludes.Create brand experiences online and offline
Given that brand evangelists are talking about brands both online and offline, be sure to engage them where they live, work and shop by seeding products, creating in-store events, and providing opportunities for consumers to congregate and share their impressions. All these offline activities should be supported by facilitating the sharing of brand information online.