The rise of social customers triggered the devaluation of brand as an asset class. In the past a brand was recognized by businesses as the most valuable asset because they served as a proxy for quality of products sold under that brand. In the vast “ocean” of uncertainties of choice (“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you get”), a brand served as a life raft. The loyalty to a brand reduced uncertainties of the market place.
Today, consumers have unlimited access to better tools for reducing shopping uncertainties – past experiences of socially connected customers.
“The new information environment allows consumers to predict much more accurately the experienced quality of products and services they consider getting.”
The quote above comes from Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information written by Itamar Simonson (Professor of Marketing, Stanford) and Emanuel Rosen (ex marketing executive). This book challenges very fundamental pillars of marketing that include the value of a brand to an organization. The authors argue that an easy assessment of absolute value of a product (experience) is eroding the influence of “relative forces” (branding, loyalty and positioning) that used to drive purchasing decisions. The implications of this transparency on traditional marketing practices are enormous because it accelerates the rise and fall of the brands exponentially:
- It took only few short years for Blackberry and Nokia to reach the top of their category, and fall to the bottom
- Do you remember the last time you’ve seen a Volvo commercial promoting its safety record?
- It took 5 years for Asus to reach the fifth place in worldwide PC shipments at the expense of well established brands without heavy investment in advertising.
The “absolute value” term makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because the experiential value is also relative. However, it is relative to consumer’s expectations and ability to filter information available for making a better (for them) choice. Compared to being manipulated by a brand, enabled by the lack of better information (i.e. “relative value”), the new paradigm is absolutely a better choice for consumers. Surely customer reviews are not perfect quality indicators, but their content provides real help in assessment of experience a consumer can expect.
For marketers, this new reality offers an incredible opportunity to tune in to “natural” customer intelligence uninhibited by your company biases and
manipulations. The intelligence, produced by social media marketing research, delivers significant increase in customer engagement that converts into much greater sales.