Social Media & the Creation of Consumer Voice
If one thing is known about the future of product marketing, it is that consumers want more power over the products they buy. They want to have a say in how products are made, or the ability to customize or personalize products specifically for themselves – even if it comes at a premium. Consumers want to feel that brands they are loyal to are also loyal to them, that they have a voice and that their voice matters.
Years ago, this wasn’t necessarily the case. Those who may have been particularly market-savvy saw a trend toward customization, but it was still a niche market and wasn’t standard by any means. Brands conducted market research, produced goods they believed would sell well, and then consumers were given options between products that were fairly standardized – no one product necessarily stood out more than the other. So how did we get here, where consumers have such power over product and packaging design and customization?
Two words: social media.
When social media platforms began to take off, most people created accounts to stay connected with friends and family — it’s still the number one reason users stay active on social media today, and there are 176 million more of them this year than there were last year. But once social platforms saw the need to monetize, and knew they could call upon brands to pay for access to that audience, social media activity took a decidedly different turn. Now that brands had pages for their fans, they could communicate directly with their consumer base about new products, company updates, sales, new advertisements and more. What resulted was that consumers could get real-time updates on their favorite brands…and they could say something about it.
Suddenly, brand consumers had voices. In the past, if a consumer had a complaint about a product, they may have to dial a 1-800 number to address it. Maybe they went to a website and filled out a complaint form. Or maybe, and most likely, they just sucked it up, moved on, and perhaps wrote a review online to make their complaint known. Unfortunately, those complaints ended up just being noise in a void: the brands would rarely, if ever, see and respond to those reviews, and didn’t really have to, considering it didn’t really affect a large market share.
Now, however, everyone with a social media account has a direct line to the brands they buy. If they love a brand, they can follow that brand’s page and talk to the brand directly. If they are angry about a brand experience, they can use the power of their newfound voice to make their experience known — and they expect something to be done about it. As a matter of fact, 78% of social media users now expect responses to their comments on brand pages within the hour; 77% of those who talk about their brand experience on social media look more favorably on a brand who responds directly to them.
When everyone can give and receive information in real-time, it means everyone has a voice. And when consumers get more and more used to having a voice that 1) is heard in real-time by the brands they buy, and 2) has a direct impact (ie: can be responded to or a problem can be solved) on those brands, they will want more.
As the curtain between brands and consumers gets drawn back inches more every day, brand managers need to be aware of exactly how they can keep their customers happy and evangelizing for that brand. While it may be harder for brands to do what they want and please everyone, the elevation of the “Consumer Voice” can have positive impact for companies:
- by getting out in front of bad PR situations with real-time communication, or
- by actively engaging consumers in their positive and negative brand experiences, brand and product managers can walk away with data that would be hard to acquire elsewhere, in stark contrast to the days where market research dominated.
When brand managers listen to their customers giving real-time feedback, they can bring new, user-centric, and user-generated ideas back to the design drawing board, showing their customers that their brand listens, responds, and acts in favor of their customer.
Brands don’t need to shy away from the Consumer Voice, nor do they need to be reactionary, bending to its every whim. Instead, they can get out in front of the pack, using that Consumer Voice to harness new product power through customization and personalization, increasing sales and improving brand loyalty by giving consumers what they want.