We are now living in the age of the empowered customer. In this blog post, we'll look at the many disparate but related trends contributing to the customer revolution and dissect how they empower your customers today.
In marketing land, we tend to be attracted to the latest trends. But while keeping an eye on emerging technologies is important, what's more helpful in crafting effective marketing strategies is to look at these trends through the lens of customer empowerment.
The empowered customer is a common thread that has rocked - and continues to rock - all industries. Whether you're an established company or a thriving startup, here are 9 trends that have tipped the balance in favor of your customers:
1. Mobile technology.
Mobile has changed how people shop - from the way they evaluate products to the way they actually purchase them. Showrooming, the practice of checking products in stores but checking your smartphone for a better deal online, is now common practice. Mobile tech quite literally puts content and convenience in your customers' hands, allowing them to compare prices and product features in real time.
2. Social media.
Sites such as Facebook and Twitter have given customers a platform to rave or complain about your company. The public nature of many social media sites means customer grievances can reach millions of people within hours. (Just ask Bank of America.) While social media can drive sales, companies that are ill equipped to market and engage effectively in these platforms risk being left out of the conversation.
3. Internet of things.
At this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), connected devices took the spotlight as companies such as Samsung and Intel showed off smart-home gadgets. Connected devices - including intelligent fridges, toothbrushes and thermostats - are just part of the larger trend of Internet of Things, the network of physical objects with technology that allows them to be connected online or the external environment. The Internet of Things provides customers with more data on their consumption. Connected devices give people personalized information about their own activities, helping them make more informed decisions on what they buy.
4. Big data.
The advent of high-volume, high-velocity and high-variety data sets - plus the analytic tools to make sense of that data - has given birth to a new generation of innovative apps and websites that harness big data to empower customers. Sites like Pronto, Nextag and PriceGrabber let customers compare prices across multiple merchants, helping people get the best deal in the most convenient way possible. That kind of empowerment is just scratching the surface, however, as more organizations use open aggregate big data to provide people with more timely and relevant information.
5. The sharing/collaborative economy.
People are getting and accessing what they need from each other instead of going through traditional means. In the collaborative economy, travelers can stay at a local's place using a site like Airbnb instead of booking with a traditional hotel. People buy clothes directly from other customers on a site like Etsy. And some people can get a loan from other people on a site like Kiva instead of applying for one at their bank.
There are already 80 million sharers in the US, but the collaborative economy is set to double in the next year. Because people can now bypass established companies to get products and services, the collaborative economy represents one of the biggest threats to big companies.
6. DIY/maker culture.
The Do-It-Yourself subculture (also known as the maker culture) has moved to the mainstream recently as technology makes it easier for people to create what they need at home instead of buying goods from companies.
Companies need to pay attention to the maker movement because it is transforming the top-down customer landscape to "a more one-to-one DIY culture focused on making." In the collaborative economy, people get what they need from each other - in the DIY culture, they can create it themselves. With the increasing affordability of 3D printers, it is not entirely crazy to think that printing materials for appliance repair at home will be common practice in the near future. When people can just create what they need at home, that can have some serious impact on your company's bottom line.
7. Quantified self.
Wearables technology represents what respected venture capitalist Mary Meeker referred to as the "third cycle" of computing at her State of the Internet presentation last year. Google Glass and fitness-tracking gadgets give the empowered customer even easier access to information. Smartphones and wearables have enabled the emergence of the quantified self, a movement in technology that lets customers track data on practically every facet of their lives.
The concept of the quantified self empowers customers by giving them unprecedented insight on how their inputs result to outputs. The quantified self is empowering customers by giving them access and control over their own data.
8. Location-monitoring technologies.
People already expect a personalized experience on the web - but iBeacon, geofencing/in-store trackers and other location-monitoring technologies promise to deliver the same experience offline. At the Tribeca Film Festival, for example, iBeacons were used to help attendees find theaters, movie times and other offers. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, location-monitoring technologies give customers control over their own experience not just by pushing timely promotions but also by helping people find what they need themselves.
9. Online customer communities.
Customer empowerment is most apparent in the rise of online communities, the most sought-after business initiative according to IDC. More companies are tapping these customer-intelligence platforms to engage customers on a continuous basis. These tools, including VC Insight Communities, empower customers by giving them a voice to provide frequent feedback to companies, providing them an opportunity to truly influence decision-making.
Collectively, these technologies and trends represent a revolutionary shift in the brand-customer relationship. These driving factors have given a voice to your customers, who now expect to be treated as partners. In this new world order, listening to your customers isn't a choice - it's the minimum requirement for your company to survive.