From push to pull: The empowered consumer

Wednesday, July 27, 2005 at 1:00am

Just how much have you embraced today's consumer-centric world?

Do you own an iPod? Have you ever bought or sold on eBay? Do you have satellite radio or TiVo? Does your cell phone send and receive e-mails? Is your laptop WiFi? Is your home WiFi? Do you Google more than once a day? Do you buy books from Amazon or book air travel online? Do you read blogs to keep up with friends? Have you gotten a wedding invitation online? Do you no longer have a landline for home phone service? Have you cast a vote for American Idol? Do you know what the Subservient Chicken is?

None of these questions could have been asked 10 years ago. Amazon is just 10 years old, and Google is only six. The world has changed and the consumer has changed with it - from a passive receptor for advertising to an empowered consumer who calls the shots.

Marketers are trying to react. In the old marketplace, consumers were easy targets for marketers who pushed advertising to them. In the new world, consumers can pull required information from many sources. Their limitations? Their bandwidth and their number of waking hours.

While many marketers have kept their traditional ways, consumers were changing right before their eyes, taking advantage of a bumper crop of new technology that not only allows them greater access to information, but also allows them to weed out and prioritize messages. The ability to "edit" has the advertising industry spinning and broadcast networks losing audience while Google gives us instant gratification at warp speed.

Just consider these new technologies that put consumers in charge: personal or digital video recorders like TiVo, on-demand cable television, satellite television, satellite radio, broadband Internet access, WiFi Internet access, iPods and the Blackberry.

We live in the perfect world of information. In the democratic world of the Internet, consumers can get details on pricing, products and performance in just seconds. Ten years ago the big retail consultants were predicting the world we live in now - but no one predicted it would come so soon.

So what characterizes the new consumer? She (yes, women continue to spend the largest percentage of dollars) is very intelligent and can detect genuine versus hyped communication.

The new consumer can comparison shop for almost everything, and she doesn't take information at face value. Movie and book critics are being replaced with community reviews like those on Amazon or Fandango. And there is a connected community for almost every subject known - from morbid obesity groups to woodworkers.

The new consumer expects instant gratification. Perhaps most importantly, the new consumer can be without loyalty - because the new consumer relationship is only as strong as its last interaction.

What's a marketer to do?

The good news is that branding has never been more important in this cluttered, fast-paced, fragmented, segmented, consumer-controlled world.

Brands rise above clutter. They are the shortcut to the category, feel like old friends, treat us like best friends, know our preferences and, for that reason, are worth more and occupy more space in our lives. Brands help define us. You are either Mac or PC, Nike or New Balance, Starbucks or Donut Den, Coke or Pepsi, Hertz or Avis, Lexus or Cadillac.

Brands are not defined solely by advertising, but by every contact point and experience a consumer has with that brand. Marketers must focus on how a brand fits into our lives.

The Internet has to be part of every brand's strategy to allow for information flow, consumer dialogue, commerce and entertainment. In fact, advertising may become advertising on demand - if you have a strong brand and vibrant relationship with your customer.

By the way, Subservient Chicken was part of an online Burger King campaign that has gotten more than 396 million Web hits. The last American Idol received 500 million votes, meaning that Carrie Underwood got four times the votes that President Bush did in 2004.

As I finish this article, I am leaving the office to buy an Apple AirPort for home WiFi so I can access recipes off my computer, look at my e-mail and Google from anywhere in my home.

I am empowered! Heck, the women's movement was nothing compared to this.

"Marketing Insights & Trends" is written by staffers at BOHAN Advertising/Marketing. This column is by Jamie Dunham, BOHAN Brand Consulting.

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