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Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Rising: How a new legion of customers are seizing brand power

One of the best movie of last year, as well as multiple Oscar winner, was “Babel”, which talked about how we are all connected now globally through the small musings of our daily life. It sort of sums the tone that all of a sudden we are waking up to a new reality, where the customers are suddenly exercising power that can determine the rise and fall of a brand. It’s this customer rising that is changing the marketing landscape where brand builders are using their customers to create the brand that they like.

It’s not simply the power of buying and consumption. It’s the power of creating brands that customers like – with their own hands, the way they like it. Customers are now creating advertising for their favorite snacks brand. Customers are designing shoes that they like to wear with the help of shoe companies. It’s the kind of scary reality that made “You” – my dear customer – the “Time magazine’s Person of the year” in 2006. To understand that only in 2005 Bill Gates (The worlds most celebrated business personality and the richest man alive for 13 years straight) was the “Time magazine’s Person of the year”, its safe to say that a lot has changed in the space of one year.

All hail the king

If truth be spoken loud and clear, customer is finally the king, a concept much spoken but never materialized. And now this is limited not only in the marketing books – but in reality. But is this is a sudden outburst or a gradual build up that is taking shape? It’s the latter one actually. The signs were there always. What just happened is we finally took stock of them.

Just a quick scan of the shape of things happening around the world.

Procter & Gamble

One of the biggest advertiser in the world, Procter & Gamble CEO A.G. Lafley recently sent ripples through the marketing world at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) conference when he suggested it's time for marketers to "let go."
Come again?
"Consumers are beginning, in a very real sense, to own our brands and participate in their creation," said Lafley. He encouraged marketers all over the world to let go and embrace trends such as consumer participating in advertising and online communities. In fact, Lafley has declared that half of all new P&G products should come from outside P&G. He is inviting brand builders who are traditionally very territorial about their work, let go of their most prized asset and reap benefits of increasing customer engagement in the actual brand building.
The Blog

In recent years, the most searched word in Internet was blog. A Blog, which is a personalized web journal, has taken the power of word-of-mouth to a dimension never seen or thought before. Millions of people have locked their daily musings through the candid expressions of a blog simply for the idea of reaching out, connect and change lives. But in their small ways, they have contributed in changing the world.

The Apple

I-pod and I-Tunes store of Apple has just rounded off a tremendous year. With 60 million I-pods sold in 4th quarter of ( October – December) 2006 alone, this new age
digital music revolution is giving the once omnipotent record labels a run for their money. And it was the customers who were at the center of this revolution. With millions of songs at their disposal at the flick of a button at 99 cents per song only, customers are refusing to pay the big money for CDs anymore which has limited options with high price. Globally the CD sales are on a freefall. And it shows little sign of picking up – ever again.


Google has bought YouTube at a reported price of $1.65 billion. YouTube is a new age web based start-up that has taken home video to a new level. With a reported record traffic generated in record time, YouTube has shown the average people we know will rather watch a poorly made home video made by a high-school geek than a TV show which is backed by a multi-million dollar budget. Why? Simply because he wants to. And thanks to the rising customer economy, now he can


Rhapsody, a subscription-based streaming music service offers more than 735,000 tracks for customers to download. Current convention says that among this huge collection, the “hit” musics of the time like Hip Hop and Rock will be downloaded in huge numbers. And that’s whats happening, so no real shock there. But what baffled many is that the demand for not-so-top tracks are also big. In fact, combined, the not-so-top tracks with niche demand out-downloads the top demands of the mass. Not only is every one of Rhapsody's top 100,000 tracks streamed at least once each month, the same is true for its top 200,000, top 300,000, and top 400,000. As soon as Rhapsody adds new songs to its library, those songs find a customer motivated enough to download it, even if it's just a few people a month. This is the power of one customer over a large company. If a customer wants something, doesn’t matter if he belong to the tiniest niche of all, he can influence the marketing decision of a big powerhouse company.

A new fit for all size

This new kind of supply chain solution treats consumers as individuals, offering one size for one people as an alternative to one size fit for all – in a cost effective way.
And this created the realization and coming of age of one of the biggest fundamental truth of marketing…….which is finally ringing true.

Customer is not destined by the invisible hands of fate to buy your products because you are so good in making them.

You are destined to solve all your customers problem in a way that is beneficial for the customers

What causes this shift of power?

How did the customers all of a sudden had such an upperhand?

Well, first of all it is not at all “sudden”. The tell-tale signs were there for quite some time. It was just a question of a few things coming together, forming a force and gaining momentum.

First, scarcity gave way to abundance, as supply overtook & exceeded demand. As the companies start making more and customers start demanding less, the onus was slowly and gradually shifted back to…. the companies
Technology helped companies to produce more, but it also helped the customers to know more about their options.
Companies think in terms of volume, but an average customer think what is best for him only. Companies design product and market them for segments, like 26-30 year old career women, not looking at individual tastes and differences. But what is good for the 9-5 office going 26 year old career woman with a close-knit family upbringing may not be the same for a 9-8 office going 26 year old woman who is balancing both family and career and living with in-laws. The company views both of them as the same, but they demand different treatments. And now they have a platform to voice that demand
Globalization led to more competitors pursuing the same customers with different strategies.
Customer loyalty to one company ended when it became practical for them to take advantage of bargains that other products from other companies offered.
With more and more products being offered in the same category, cost is driven down, products are little or not at all different from each other. As it happens, products and brands effectively become commodities

The future is calling

In near future customers will mingle with companies that not only understands their needs but actually take drastic measures to do something about it. Here, the operative word is drastic. Initially the efforts can be costly, pointless and frustrating. Companies need to go the extra mile to gain an extra inch. And even more importantly, they need to

¡ Create the situation where interaction with the company and customer is as inexpensive and effortless as possible
¡ Make product delivery and consumption as easy for the customer as possible
¡ Make every word of communication in customer understandable “words” rather than in company related obscure nomenclature
¡ Make customer service actually reduce pains for customers rather than be a decorative item like a company website

If the way your company works is crafted to help you rather than your own customers, initially they will pay the price & in the long run, so will you. Because, the more difficult it becomes for the customer to buy, consume and dispose your product; the greater the problems & the costs that pile on your customer and, of course, the less “worthy” you become in their eyes.

Never in Bangladesh…..

In western countries if your CEO is not conversant with words like “Blog”, and your media manager is not geared up enough to try out new trends like “podcasts”, you are a company dangerously in love with the past. But like everything else, we would love to categorize this new power of customers as a western world phenomenon, not applicable for us. We, with our minuscule internet populations with limited technology exposure, are not part of this global deal.

For those who seek solace in the above theory, the concept of the success of reality TV program like “Close Up 1” in Bangladesh should be example enough to be an eye opener. Not so long ago it was virtually unthinkable that top singers should be nurtured and brought to light not by the industry specialist, but by an average Rahim with the power of one SMS in his hand. But go against it at your own peril. And if you are not convinced enough, just take a look how much time it took from the first launch “Pop Idol” in the western world to the adoption of Close Up 1 in Bangladesh. The result may scare us all from our comfort zone.

Shahriar Amin is a brand enthusiast who is also the creator of the first brand related blog in Bangladesh ( where he disburses branding related knowledge for Bangladeshi business students and businesses.”

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