#11, December 2001
For many years
marketers were in control and advertised their
products and services in order to sell as much as
possible of what they produced. However, there has
been a seismic shift in recent years and it is now
the consumer that calls the shots. This change in
the centre of control has substantial implications
for marketing as traditional marketing practices
have been established around the marketer in the
At the same time we
have been witnessing an increase in the
disenfranchised consumer in developed markets.
This shows that marketers now have to take into
account a consumer who is knowledgeable about
marketing and, in many cases, cynical. They may
deconstruct marketing messages or, in more extreme
cases, set up pressure groups to air their views
on specific marketers or marketing practices.
The move away from
mass marketing towards one-to-one and niche
marketing also plays a key role. Consumers will
increasingly expect marketers to deliver what they
are looking for, not a product or service that is
simply designed to appeal to as many potential
buyers as possible.
They are looking to direct a dialogue with
a marketer not receive a monologue.
The consumer in
control is one of the most important Forces of
Change impacting on marketing today as it is
changing so many of the practices and processes
that are established. Through the Loop has been
analysing some of the implications of this as part
of its Knowledge Development Programme.
is there a need for more control?
This need for
having greater control results from a number of
factors. The overriding factor is the rise in
uncertainly in life. This has occurred for a
number of reasons, some of which are closer to
individual consumers and some of which are more
macro but make a clear impression.
Major world events
can impact on consumer uncertainty and lead to
buying decisions being postponed or cancelled. It
is too early to be sure of the long-term impact of
11 September or the foot & mouth outbreak in
the UK. However, research has shown that
short-term uncertainty may not necessarily dampen
longer-term underlying optimism.
Closer to home
there is frequently less stability in consumers’
lives. Changing working practices have meant that
there is a job is no longer guaranteed for life.
Work may not provide the security required for
consumers and their families. Furthermore, they
may find that their journeys to and from the
workplace are taking longer due to traffic
congestion. Some have been looking to downshift,
opting out of the normal working environment for a
different type of life. Others will look to change
how they work within “traditional” employment.
Employers and employees have to work together to
find ways to bring a level of personal control
back into the workplace.
Time pressure is
increasing. A reduction in working hours was
supposed to lead to greater leisure time. Have
working hours actually been reduced? In addition,
there is an increasing number of activities that
make demands on precious leisure time.
Consequently, there appears to be less time to
relax and take things easy. This adds to the level
of stress experienced and a perceived loss of
patterns includes the fact that more women are
working and in increasingly senior roles. This
leads to a shift in how household roles and
childcare are allocated between parents. This
means that there is an opportunity to help
consumers maintain control over their home lives.
On a more micro
level, the personal information that is being
collected from consumers whenever they use a
credit card, visit a Web site or telephone a call
centre leads to a degree of uncertainty about how
that information will be used by the company.
Consumers will look for confirmation about what is
collected, how it is stored and how it is likely
to be used. They want to retain control of their
own personal data.
role of consumer information
newsletters have referred to the issue of
“perfect information.” This alters the role of
marketing communications and has a major impact in
the area of pricing. It is increasingly difficult
to maintain differential pricing, not just across
different retail outlets but also across
countries. Consumers are more aware of what is
charged in different channels and are more easily
able to buy across borders if they can obtain
something cheaper. This is probably the major
driver bringing down prices in some countries such
as the UK and means that, ultimately, there will
be no price wars. Marketers will not be able to
use confusion pricing policies to ensure that
their prices cannot be compared with competitors.
increasingly aware of the company behind the brand
and will evaluate a brand in terms of the wider
picture. Companies are providing more information
to consumers, often through Web sites or
sponsorship initiatives, while other
intermediaries are being established to help
consumers learn more about companies and brands.
intermediaries provide a simple means of
comparison for consumers. These new intermediaries
will be able to act as “reverse advertising
agencies.” The consumer will be advertising his
or her interest in purchasing a product to the
marketer rather than a marketer trying to sell a
product or service to as many consumers as
possible. Web sites are already operating that
enable consumers to group together to obtain price
discounts from suppliers. Other services will
compare companies and brands in terms of ethical
audits or levels of consumer satisfaction or
Even more likely,
buyers will opt for products and services that are
quick and easy to understand. There will be an
opportunity for marketers who talk the
consumer’s language or for intermediaries who
“translate” and compare supplier offers.
Customer loyalty is
the most important factor determining the success
or otherwise of a company. This cannot be
guaranteed. Furthermore, customers talk about
their experiences with companies. If they are
dissatisfied they are likely to talk to more
people. This does not mean demonstrating in the
streets. It could be wider, however, than talking
to friends. Consumers are more willing to complain
about a bad experience and this could include
talking to the media or even creating a Web site!
Ultimately consumers vote with their wallets.
The consumer in
control opens up tremendous new opportunities for
marketers. However, in order to take advantage of
this, many marketers will have to undergo a major
rethink in how they communicate with consumers and
even how they manufacture products or run service
The shift from
broadcast towards narrowcast communications will
become more pronounced. Marketers will have to
learn how to enable and respond to dialogues with
consumers. Intrusive marketing communications will
be shunned, as they will be viewed as trying to
wrest control away from consumers. However,
communications that are requested will be
Products start to
take on a greater element of service. Marketers
will be expected to provide solutions that makes
consumers’ lives easier that can involve product
or service elements. This will often involve the
new intermediaries that will be founded to help
consumers, often by acting as a link with
suppliers or aggregating products from several
suppliers, simply doing the shopping. Solutions
providers will move from the business-to-business
to the consumer sector. Consumers will look for
help in different areas of their lives from
running the home to looking after children and
Time slippers will
look to obtain the maximum possible advantage from
all occasions. The long journey to work will
represent an opportunity to gain time as the car
is transformed from a mere means of transport into
a mobile office or entertainment centre. One
result will be more time listening to the radio
and less time watching television. It is changes
like this that will have a resulting effect on how
marketing communications are developed as
consumers’ media habits are changing
Customer focus will
be the key to success. Marketers will have to
shift their focus from internal processes
(products) or channels (media or distribution) to
the customer or consumer. This could include
restructuring the company around wants and desires
of the market-place so that the appropriate
products and services are developed for the
different customer groups. This also avoids the
situation where different divisions of the same
company are selling different products to the same
consumer with little or no knowledge of that the
other is doing.
We have entered an
age where the consumer not the marketer will
dictate choice. At the same time, the market-place
has become increasingly competitive and so the
winners will be those companies that listen to the
consumer not try to sell to them. The marketing
flow has been reversed.
does the new type of relationship affect how
you listen to your consumers?
mechanisms do you have for listening to
is consumers’ personal data handled?
you develop products and services that help
consumers take control of their lives?
you working with consumer agencies?