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True or false: On the Internet, consumers are guaranteed friends and forums to engage with said friends, be they real, imagined, or somewhere in between. If you answered “false,” you’re either living in the original “Age of Aquarius,” or well, you don’t get out much — virtually speaking, of course. This is the Age of Apple and Facebook and Quora, and believe you me: friends are abundant in places low and high. Last month, Trendwatching.com published a brief dedicated to what it christened the “F-Factor,” or that not so little ability modern consumers have to tap into their online networks — and the friends, fans and followers those networks create — to discover new brands and the goods and services they provide. At Vertical Marketing Network and Blogging Out Loud, we’ve spent a good deal of time over the past year counseling marketers on the myriad reasons why engaging in social media is not only relevant but also necessary to compete in today’s marketplace. The benefits of social media simply cannot be denied. But if we take ourselves — marketers — out of the equation and examine the consumer trends that are developing outside of our influence, the market landscape proves to be a little more challenging and a lot more varied. What Trendwatching.com calls the F-Factor, we like to think of as the Power of One, or the ability one consumer voice has to create positive word-of-mouth campaigns and launch new business opportunities for brands looking to compete in today’s fast-paced, competitive world. The Power of One is about more than engaging consumers on Facebook and Twitter; it’s about first creating product lines that inspire consumer conversation, then empowering shoppers to share their knowledge with the people they seek to connect with online in the first place — family and friends, followers, and depending on the consumer, yes, even fans. According to a June 2010 Cone Inc. study, 63 percent of consumers trust family members for product recommendations; 31 percent trust friends. Beyond that, 81 percent of U.S. consumers do additional online research when exploring brands and products, with 55 percent looking at user reviews (such as those offered on sites such as amazon.com, tripadvisor.com and Yelp) and 10 percent going straight to their social networks for advice. Among consumers ages 25-34, this last number jumps to 23 percent. The Power of One is real alright, and marketers must harness it to let a new kind of sunshine in.
Maybe I’m just blogging out loud, but it seems like The Power of One can be a brand’s secret weapon. Brands that give consumers incentive to advocate on their behalf, while providing the tools to do so, are prime for prosperity.
The number of websites and mobile applications that have emerged for consumers to share their opinions is dizzying. Beyond the major social media players and commerce websites, there’s now sites that solely encourage consumer curation (Pinterest, Polyvore) and — more importantly to marketers — personalization. The fashion industry is especially making out big, with websites like boutiques.com, thefind.com and kaboodle.com, among others, enabling consumers to connect with existing contacts and make new ones — all with a common goal. But The Power of One isn’t all jumpers and tricked-out shoes. No matter the industry, savvy marketers can gain advocates and increase their power by following five tips:
1. To Each His Own — You know what they say about opinions…Everybody’s got one. Does that mean consumers should be free to bash brands they dislike as much as they praise the ones they do? No, but they will. Brands and marketers should be considerate of opinions that differ from theirs, and address them in a proactive way. Engage with disgruntled consumers online in a way that suggests you do care and you do want their business.
2. Share And Share Alike — Don’t just let consumers have all the fun, marketers, too, should be using their personal networks to tout not just their brands but other brands they like. For most consumers, less isn’t more, more is more. And the more ideas and products that come their way means the better chance your brand will have of being noticed (yours is the best product, right?). Channel your inner Joe Girard, the Guinness Book of Records “World’s Best Salesperson” and sell!
3. Take It Personally — Nothing makes a statement like a heartfelt response. Happen upon a great review online? A favorable tweet? Say thank you, and make it public! Reward has always driven an emotional response, and a quick “danke shoen” will inspire consumer loyalty in both the recipient and onlookers.
4. But Not Too Personally — Let’s face it, not every brand or product is for everyone. Know your target demographic and be true it. There’s no sense in barking up the wrong tree, or for distracting yourself from more important matters (i.e. the friends, fans and followers you do have).
5. Keep New Ideas Coming — Variety is, after all, the spice of life, and the secret to holding consumer attention. Not only should brands be on the lookout for new ways to engage consumers, they should also consider implementing programs in which consumers can interact with each other. Be fresh, be inspiring, be original and — most of all — be true to your brand, and consumers will respond.
It’s summer — harness the power and let some sunshine in.