I guarantee that if you ask any traditional marketer their opinion on social media, they’ll claim it’s the preserve of young twenty-somethings who get away with gadding about on Twitter all day, all the while claiming that it’s ‘social brand research’. Incredibly, social media still has many doubters – yet a phrase coined by the management at Walmart-owned Asda looks set to dispel the myth once and for all.
Asda’s president and chief executive, Andy Bond, has been talking in this week’s Marketing magazine about ‘democratic consumerism’, which businesses are being forced to adapt to as a ‘direct result of the digital explosion and the trust vacuum’. Not only is this a wonderful phrase; it also sums up the point that continues to elude the grasp of many marketing professionals; consumers now have more of a say in brand direction than ever before.
This fundamental shift in consumer power can be largely attributed to social media and Web 2.0 – if not wholly. Consumers are now the ones conducting marketing activity – not the other way round. A direct marketing piece may sit on the doorstep and quickly find its way to the recycling bin. A social media discussion is a living, breathing, ongoing discussion about your brand – good or bad – that can gain momentum by the hour.
Companies have two options here: they can either bury their heads in the sand and continue spoon-feeding one-way communications to an audience that doesn’t care. Or, they can join the conversations happening in the social media sphere and start building a living, symbiotic brand relationship which, let’s face it, provides infinitely more value and insight than direct mail.
Democracy is the system that grants everyone their right to opinion, representation and rights – and as far as marketers are concerned, their consumer constituents are exercising their democratic rights in social media forums. Andy Bond rightly suggests that we live in an age of democratic consumerism – and brands that continue operating a dictatorship are headed for a fall.