Why consumers will trump advertisers (and why Facebook has it right)

Image: The Economist

The recent Facebook/GM arm wrestle just prior to the Facebook IPO raised an important issue as to whether Facebook should reformat its advertising to suit marketers or continue to let users drive its advertising. I believe Facebook has it right as power continues to shift towards consumers as a function of our business and personal lives becoming increasingly shaped by social technology.

Here are five reasons I believe socially networked consumers will continue to shape advertising and why marketers would be wise to listen.

1. Awareness: As a function of access to information of the web and the ability to share it across social networks, citizens and consumers are profoundly aware of the multiple social crises we face and how corporations are contributing to the problems or solutions. As such, the old rules of marketing apply less than ever as authenticity and transparency increasingly trumps image, and marketers are forced to comply.

2. Amplification: You can’t unring a bell. Citizens and consumers around the globe have been given a voice through social media. That voice will only grow louder as our business and personal lives become increasingly social.

3. Co-Creation: The future of service and product development, as well as marketing, is co-creative. The intel offered by engaging your audience in the development process mitigates risk, saves brands, and ensure consumers are invested in the result before and after the launch.

4. Turnover: Havas Media’s, ‘Meaningful Brands” Report from the end of 2011 cited that most people would not care if 70% of brands disappeared. Consumer loyalty and trust is at an all time low increasing the onus on brands to listen to the customer demands.

5. Money: There’s a new transaction taking place between brands and consumers today. It’s an exchange of time, attention, goodwill, loyalty and money (from consumers) for personalized, socially responsible, empathetic, transparent, and trustworthy goods and services (from brands). While the burden on each side is substantive, consumers still hold the wallets and purses that marketers want to open, and must adjust to their new demands just as they must integrate new social technology.

In January this year I wrote that 21012 would become the year of consumer activism, and many cases of customer pushback bear this out from Bank of America’s debit card fee to Bank Transfer Day to Verizon’s online payment fee to Netflix’s Quikster debacle to SOPA/PIPA protests and beyond. By extension, I believe that erring on the side of consumer demands and prioritizing the user’s (over the  advertiser’s) experience is the smarter long term strategy. Advertiser’s would be wise to learn this from Facebook and revisit how they could bring their creativity to bear on their current advertising to make it more consumer friendly. That doesn’t mean all their ads must become postage stamps. It just means they must approach advertising in a way that puts their customers first.