Consumers of the world, unite!
In the communications industry, hyperbole is always abound. Having admitted that, I will now make the following statement with absolutely no intention of embellishment: We are now in the business of empowering consumers. Where our predecessors may have focused on less-than-ethical means of driving sales by preying on consumers' fears and desires, today we create new and better ways to grant consumers power in terms of encouraging brand ownership, striving for transparency, and cultivating relationships.
Now, this was not an internal, altruistic revolution within our ranks. I'd be giving us too much credit to claim that. Consumer empowerment was not the product of any effort on our part but rather the opposite. The Web opened up the floodgates of information, and social media connected consumers in an unprecedented manner, the cumulative result being an ever-increasingly savvy consumer. In today's marketplace, our old smoke-and-mirrors magic has been rendered impotent.
As the colloquial saying goes, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! We have. Why shouldn't we?
Who needs focus groups when one can just spend some time on Twitter and Facebook to get candid feedback from real consumers? Why should we continue to push the 30-second spot when digital campaigns are so much more effective? Why pursue traditional, top-down communications when we can have direct dialogue with the consumer? Why am I asking so many obvious, rhetorical questions?
The one trend that I am most excited about, and the one that is most illustrative of my argument, is the use of consumer crowdsourcing. Several big-name brands have launched crowdsourcing campaigns recently, with Starbucks being one of the biggest. Starbucks launched the site, "My Starbucks Idea," and encouraged visitors to post their own ideas on how to improve Starbucks service and products. Visitors were also encouraged to vote on the user-generated suggestions that they thought were the best. Starbucks has pledged to put the top-ranked ideas into action. Also, check out what Dell has been doing in this same vein over at IdeaStorm.
Today and moving forward, our job as communicators is to create the platforms and campaigns that drive consumer participation. I find this an exciting era our industry is entering and am genuinely proud to be a part of it. To be honest, in my youth I used to idolize the spin doctors and ad men who could sell snake oil to cure syphilis, but today I find myself embracing their obsolescence. I'm sure that I sleep better at night than they did.