Listen to Consumers; Don?t Control Them

Written by admin on April 16th, 2011

One of the basic components of marketing is simply “the message.” It can take the form of an advertisement, direct mail, an email, a news release or a blogger outreach attempt.

In the big scheme of business, that message is a company or product’s brand. While there are many definitions of brand, let’s look at it in this perspective: A brand is a unique collection of values that a product or service brings to the marketplace. It exists within the mind of its audience.

Some companies think they are in control of the brand that you are trying to communicate. Some marketing individuals, particularly those heavy into social media say the consumer is in control of what a brand is.

What do you think? Do companies or consumers have control over a company’s brand?

From a company’s perspective, if the company didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be a brand. If it didn’t market itself, there wouldn’t be any brand projected. If the company didn’t interact with customers – via sales and customer service personnel – there couldn’t be any consumer reaction to the brand.

Those actions – the company’s very existence, its marketing, its customer contact points – all impact its brand. And, consumers just react to the brand projected, and reflect their opinions.

Ah-ha, some would say. Consumers have the real control. It is what consumers say and feel about a company’s brand that ultimately controls what the brand is. Customers make shopping decisions based on the marketing, and talk with neighbors, coworkers, family, etc., based on how they are treated by sales and customer service personnel. And, that word-of-mouth communication can spread and even take on a life of its own. The customer is king!

Neither company nor consumer has control

I’m a firm believer that the company is the one with more of the control over its brand. The company is the one that develops and projects its brand, and decides whether to adjust based on the reaction of consumers.

However, it’s not matter of degrees or even who has more control. Ultimately, it’s a give and take. Both the company and consumers share in what the brand ultimately is. Professional marketers, no matter if they’re entry level or a VP, need to understand the relationship.

Consumers react to the brand, and can create their own company brand, based on communication and contact from the company. Smart companies adjust their outward brand projection based on consumer feedback.

And, the process repeats.

Monitoring consumers

Historically, companies received feedback on their brand via various channels. These include anecdotal from customer contact with sales personnel, calls into customer service (typically, complaints), letters to a local manager, and through focus groups and other market research.

Today, companies still have those same channels to receive and obtain market feedback.

Plus, the online worlds opens up so many more options:

Website surveys: Surveying users of your Website offers many benefits. You can determine the usability of your site (if users are finding what they need, etc.), as well as feedback more directly related to your company and products. Companies like Vovici and Usability Sciences Corporation (which my employer has used) are just two examples of companies that can help plan and implement site surveys.
  Online surveys: Rent an industry list and/or use your own customer list and find out what they’re thinking. Brainstorm what you want to discover, and then carefully plan the questionnaire that will ask what you want to know. With surveys, be careful that questions are not skewed to imply a certain answer. You want objective results. Various companies like Zoomerang and SurveyMonkey offer free online surveys. Most cities have at least one solid market research firm. Contact them to help develop and even implement the survey.
  Discussion boards and forums: If one person can talk about it, there’s a good chance that there’s a discussion board or forum where groups of people are talking about it. Yahoo! and Google offer easy ways to form groups devoted to a topic. Search there for your company or terms related to what your company offers. Do a search for your company or key industry term and “+forum” for other opportunities. Once you find some active forums, register and monitor what members are saying. Even search discussion thread archives to see what’s been said.
  Social media monitoring tools: Within the last year, several companies have begun to develop effective social media monitoring tools. No more do you have to rely on Google Blog Search or Technorati. Those are fine, but not too manageable on a day-to-day basis. Besides, you want to monitor more than just blogs to really track word-of-mouth about your company or industry. These new tools track not only blogs and boards, but also photo- and video-sharing sites (Flickr, YouTube, etc.), as well as new social media tools and technologies. Think of these as being equivalent to traditional print clipping services. My company uses Techrigy’s Social Media Manager. However, there are others like Radian6 and Visible Technologies that monitor social media.

In today’s world, smart marketing professionals don’t worry about “who’s in control.” What we need to be concerned about is what’s being said and what consumers think of our company and products. Then, we need to take what’s been said, weigh it against the potential impact of our company, and react accordingly.

And, repeat the process.

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