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Who Really Has the Power? Marketers, Consumers or… ?

The rain pounded on the roof of the conference center and thunder boomed in the background to create a rather ominous setting as presenters offered their predictions on the state of digital media marketing. Presenter after presenter shared ideas to help the audience engage with and understand their customers in a digital world. It was all part of a day-long conference I attended yesterday at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. And while one speaker declared that mobile technology is the most pervasive technology ever invented (beating out television, the Internet and even electricity), it was clear before the day was over that perhaps he spoke too soon. (I’ll get to the irony later.)

IBM Shares Why Consumers Have More Influence 

One of the first speakers, Ellen Shiflett from IBM, proclaimed that a recent study of CMO’s suggests consumers have more power today than ever before to influence their experience. There were three challenges for chief marketers in this new reality that rose to the top:

1. Use of advanced analytics for customer insight (we know about big data)
2. Design rewarding customer experiences (that’s right up our alley)
3. Effectively executing on the customer promise (provide customers value)

Shiflett also said the CMOs are not embracing the new realities at the same pace; in fact, the study identified three distinct CMO profiles. For all the marketing professionals out there, ask yourself, “Which group are you in?”

• Traditionalists
• Social Strategists
• Digital Pacesetters

Let’s concentrate on the pacesetters since Shiflett says they are the only ones who focus on the customer’s desires and actions. While traditional marketing efforts are often guilty of tunnel vision by concentrating on just one transaction, pacesetters focus on the later stages of the customer lifecycle and want to strengthen customer relationships. Shiflett noted that consumers actually want companies to engage with them through multiple touch points.

Audible Reminds Us of the Power of On-Demand

Another speaker, Rosie Dorcie of Audible (an Amazon company) took the evolution of marketing a step further by saying that businesses don’t have the power anymore. Long gone are the days when they would push messages to a captive audience. Information is on-demand now and companies no longer have leverage in deciding when to interrupt the consumer. Consumers now have an, “I’ll engage with you, Mr. Marketer, when I’m good and ready, thank you very much,” mentality.

Ghostery Gives Consumers More Privacy

All responsible marketers need to discuss the issue of privacy. Does more information mean more power? Andy Kahl is with a company called Ghostery that developed a tool to see which companies are tracking you online and block them if you want. But as marketing professionals we know that cookies (the online kind, not the chocolate chip ones) aren’t all bad — that their intention is to improve the user experience, not detract from it. Kahl insists it’s a matter of transactional transparency by disclosing what information is being used and how. He also reminded us how the movie Minority Report demonstrated how personalized advertising can go too far and get creepy. Check out this scene from the movie.

Trendrr Talked About Second Screens

As the audience listened to tales of this power struggle between consumers and marketers, and the race to embrace these new technologies, Michael Galbe of Trendrr.tv talked about the demand for high quality content in a live, interactive environment. For example, consider how television shows are using live tweets to engage viewers. Here’s where the irony I mentioned earlier comes into play… 

Just as Galbe was sharing the example of the selfie Ellen DeGeneres took at the Oscars to demonstrate the powerful marketing combination of TV and Twitter — BOOM! — thunder shook the building and the room went completely dark. A collective chuckle filled the auditorium at the irony of being without power in the middle of a digital conference. 

UMSL blackoutFor about fifteen minutes the digital media marketing conference powered on without any power, with the light of a lantern to guide the speaker on the pitch-black stage. 

The entire conference – ironic power outage and all – begs the valid question of who really has the power. We certainly didn’t. 

What do you view as your greatest marketing challenge?