Embracing Consumer Networks

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THE EVOLVING CONSUMER: Connecting with a changing target audience requires a new engagement model

Bringing a brand together with its consumers has never been a harder prospect than it is right now. And beyond the prospect of bringing them together is the even more difficult endeavor of crafting a relationship of engagement between them.The world of the average consumer is awash with never-ending, overwhelming brand messaging.They see, hear and are subjected to thousands of branded communications every day, but the value of such a firehose of input is in some doubt. In short, the marketplace is overloaded, but despite that fact marketing directors are getting mandates to produce more and more attractive content than ever before. Consumers have almost unlimited choice in where and when to consume media, and they choose to do so in the ways that present them with the least number of branded communications. The truth is that advertising, in its traditional format, although efficient, is not as effective as it once was at reaching the modern consumer.

To make a brand a real part of people’s lives is the challenge of the day, and the path to future success. Consumers live their lives in small groups of like-minded, or similar people. We can call these groups communities. Brands need to make themselves useful, and helpful members of these communities in order to earn the respect, and ultimately the business of modern consumers.They can do that by creating a network.

People today are in control of their media, with respect to what, when and how they get it. They have tools at their fingertips like DVR and internet television that entirely outwit advertising, and when they can’t avoid it, they have personal devices in their hands and pockets thanks to smartphones and tablets that will fill in the time and prevent any need to see that 30 or 60-second spot that cost so many thousands of dollars to deploy. Single-digit returns are all too common and not at all effective at establishing a relationship with a consumer that will lead to sales. The key for marketers is to be wanted, not unwanted by consumers. They can tune out the unwanted, and will do so faster than ever before. Thousands of channels flip away, along with thousands of advertising messages by thousands of brands competing for just a few seconds of time that the consumer doesn’t want to give away.

The industry of communicating with and reaching out to consumers is changing. The old 80/20 rule is becoming obsolete. The scale is shifting even more sharply so that more like 90 percent of a brand’s business comes out of about 5 percent of that brand’s most avid and influential customers. They not only buy, but they advocate and convert other customers through their advocacy. And this 5 percent wasn’t made through advertising. They came from somewhere else, through some other channel that made them feel a personal relationship with your brand. Sitting in a building on Madison Avenue and shouting to the world won’t create those people or draw them to you. Those days are over.

Brands need to come out from behind the curtains and try to get closer to their consumers, and that’s scary for many of them. In the next few pages, this paper will allay those fears and outline exactly how to approach and appeal to your potential brand advocates and craft them

into a powerful network of loyal consumers that will begin bringing that 90 percent back into your brand’s coffers. In this executive briefing, we will provide:

1. What is a network, really?

2. Why and how do they form?

3. How can you use a network to build your brand?




Modern consumers are hungry for connections: with each other, with trusted influencers and with brands that are tuned into their needs and desires. Brands that can provide those connections can inspire loyalty and, in turn advocacy that grows out of that loyalty. Consumer relationship management is not a new platform, but understanding that CRM is important is only the beginning. True progress comes out of the study of human behavior and groups. This study leads to strategic, focused campaigns that produce results.

So, at it’s root, what is a network? A Network is a community of a brand’s most valued consumers.

These are the 5 percent of customers who will always advocate for your brand, and thereby drive a much greater volume of business than anyone gives them credit for. Job one is going out and doing the research to find out who these people are, and where they are. A measure of the power of experiential marketing is that a well-crafted strategic campaign will bring them to you, clamoring for attention and identification as members of the 5 percent.

The secret to understanding the essential nature of a network is to begin by forgetting any thought of the physical, traditional concept. A network is about a relationship between people of a common cause or interest, like a tribe or a clan. People self-select to these communities and they want to belong, and to be looked upon as key members of their groups. They are out there, and brands just need to look for the ones that make sense for them.

A community of emotionally connected brand advocates should be treated as a proprietary brand asset. By developing a variety of engaging, multi-touch point experiences across digital, sensational and experiential platforms consumers come to feel as though they have a real interactive relationship with a brand, resulting in more effective spending of marketing dollars that generate real, measurable sales through increased trial and loyalty.

It’s not about shooting and praying anymore, either. There is a science to understanding consumers’ need structures, and tapping into them to meet those needs. The study of anthropology and cognitive science leads to strategic deployments of customer experiences that are effective and measurable in terms of deeper engagements and increased revenue.

Networks of consumers coalesce around a few passion points, typically. They group together by demographic and lifestyle similarities, professional and personal interests or skills, and around brands. To create or tap into one of these communities is a matter of leveraging experiences tailored to specific existing groups that drive deep levels of engagement with the brand, within that network.

Bringing together networks of consumers with brands that want to be part of and host to their relationships with each other is about creating multifaceted experiences across digital and live event channels. The marriage of the digital and physical generates deep emotional connections for the consumers that will drive advocacy from the peer-to-peer networks. And the positive experiences and associations generated through well researched and endemic brand activations get transmitted through those loyal advocates to new customers, growing your brand and bottom line.



The basic science of marketing, and specifically creating consumer experiences, is still the same, when targeting consumer networks. It’s the science of what makes a person take action, make a choice, make a purchase. Determining how they make those decisions and why they stop for your brand comes out of an understanding on anthropology, cognitive science and experiential expertise. Study of those disciplines leads to building activations that make the consumers stop, and pay attention by helping a brand understand what makes consumers tick and use that understanding to create campaigns that make them engage and emotionally bond to the brand’s proposition so that they stay engaged over time and develop a trust-based relationship.


At its roots, a network is a tribe or community. It’s an extended group of people with similar interests and concerns who interact informally in a mutually beneficial way. They are united by common characteristics, be they demographic or self-selected, and they share those common experiences with one another. Tribes and communities are about emotional bonds, not physical ones, and through those bonds people connect with one another in long-term relationships.

Of course, not all relationships are the same. They exist on a continuum. The scale begins with a transactional stage, where little or no trust is required, and progresses through neighborliness, friendship and finally to family, where trust and bonding is total and lasts a lifetime. Developing any relationship on the scale is a matter of emotional investment and time. Like in dating, a relationship can begin with an engaging first interaction, then progress through familiarity and comfort, until true trust is established.

Once a tribe accepts a new member, and an emotional connection is forged, a relationship can begin to develop. Relationships are emotional bonds, and advocacy, which is public emotional support, comes out of trust in the strength of those bonds. So, creating an advocate boils down to joining the tribe and establishing trust with its members.


People have two distinct and independent systems for decision making housed within their brains: rational and emotional. Cognitive science teaches that there are seven basic emotions that drive behavior, and four of them — joy, surprise, fear and guilt — can inspire action.

A simple question is: which of the four do you want driving your relationships with consumers? Of course, the answer is joy and surprise. Well, developing positive emotional experiences with a level of frequency that inspire back and forth dialogue between parties from a multi-sensory standpoint leads to relationship-building thanks to one simple cognitive truth: we want to be happy. The more positive things we can share with each other, the more we can feel good about our contributions to our networks and the happier we are.

It’s important to understand that creating delight that excites all five senses leads to engaged consumers who hold solid positive memory of branded experiences in contextually joyful and surprising ways. And that creates a love for your brand that will make advocacy a necessity for the members of your networks.


CRM is evolving. It has to, because consumers are more and more unwilling, and disinterested in being ”managed.” Instead, think in terms of consumer relationship development, or CRD. As we’ve seen, turning consumers into advocates and friends, if not family, requires reciprocity. By thinking in terms of CRD, brands can deliver what a consumer wants,

in addition to what he or she needs. Of course the first step is getting to know the community in a granular way. Almost all of the group will want you to publish information, but less than half will have a proclivity to share that with others. A still smaller subset will want to collaborate with you, delivering feedback to you about your brand, and the smallest, and most valuable microcosm will actively seek to co-create your brand’s image and experiences along with you. You need to know who they are, and seek them out in order to give each segment what it needs. That way, every piece of the community works together in the way that it most wants to, and you forge deep, lasting relationships by knowing who wants what.


While at Procter & Gamble, I led the creation of VocalPoint, a community of women that,by promoting dialogue, developing trackable messages and sharable experiences, would generate statistically significant volume increases through activating Word of Mouth. The VocalPoint network now has more than 650,000 members, and the experiences they share on the platform are designed to turn those members into strong brand advocates. P&G still engages the members with 30 to 35 campaigns per year, each with multiple touch points, including weekly newsletters, dedicated brand microsites, in-home mailers, Facebook and other social media, blogger outreach, in-home parties, consumer research and in-market local experiential events.

These interactions, by focusing on the members’ stated needs and wants, generated huge, and measurable results for P&G. Recruiting periods result in 25- 50,000 unpaid acquisitions, newsletter open rates of over 40 percent, thousands of respondents to quantitative research efforts and a staggering 95 percent success rate in meeting or exceeding stated business goals of all participating brands.

VocalPoint is successful because it focuses on relationships, instead of service or sales, and it creates experiences for the members that improve their lives, rather than seeking empty metrics such as “likes” or “followers.”


Building a network of your own can seem daunting. The questions ask themselves: Where will I find these people? Will they want to join? How will I find out what they want from my brand? Well, that’s all putting the cart before the horse. First, get your brand into a position to create the space. If you’ve done a good job, they will already be there. There are six basic things to keep in mind as you get going.

  1. Shift your brand’s mindset. Creating a network of consumers begins with you, and your brand. Think about who your brand puts first: the brand, or its consumers. The consumer has to be the first concern. Once you have a true and dedicated consumer mindset, you can interact with them on their terms, not yours. Get to know them, and not just in reference to your brand.
  2. Don’t be afraid of your consumers. To become a trusted and relied upon member of the network, you have to be willing to talk to and engage with your consumers. This does require some courage from your brand, because having a true conversation with a consumer exposes you. They can get to know you, too. But you can’t just sit behind the glass anymore. Only by letting them get to know your brand, can you get to know what they want and need from your brand.
  3. Building it isn’t enough to make them come.There is a belief that if you go do something — anything — the consumers will be there to try it out. “Building advocacy is not ‘Field of Dreams’,” De Jesus says. “It’s not automatic. It’s work.” You have to be continuously engaging, talking, listening and contributing. If you’re not doing that, be prepared for the consumers to bail. No one wants to be in a one-sided relationship.
  4. Don’t forget the How. Brands need to engage consumers not just where, and when, but how they want to be reached. Your consumers will want to develop their relationship with you the way they want to, not necessarily the way you think they want to. So go out and ask them, listen to them talk to the. They’ll tell you how they want you to reach out. Too often brands are shouting, “Be here!” when they should be asking, “Where should we go?”
  5. Take action. Once the plan is in place and the strategy is ready, deploy it. Provide members of your burgeoning network with the online content they need to learn about your value propositions, open the social media channels that will facilitate conversations and deploy the experiential events that will give your brand a face, make you part of their real lives, and real networks.
  6. Ask for help. This is tough stuff. It’s complicated and time consuming, and you may not have the experts on hand who understand it all. That’s OK. Get down into the nitty gritty of how to get consumers to engage with you. Marketing through networks is not the cold war, and there is no arms race. The numbers don’t matter, the relationships do.


Pampers used networks of moms to drive the brand… and the business

Pampers launched a new diaper with “Dry-max” technology and was looking to create some buzz in the marketplace. And since the babies were excited- but perhaps not the best Brand Advocates, blame the whole ability to talk thing – they elected to engage the Vocalpoint panel to help spread the word. Historically, Pampers had focused its messaging around the functional benefits for baby, with Moms as an afterthought. However, our research uncovered a talk-able insight – with a functional benefit for Moms.

Since the thinness of the diaper allowed moms to easily fit 2-3 diapers in their favorite purse, Pampers Dry Max gave Moms the freedom to be fashionable. No heavy diaper bags for a short trip to the store or park here. Our creative execution focused around the whole notion of a purse. Product information, coupons and product samples were all housed in a fashionable bag – reinforcing the functional benefit for Moms. Connectors were also directed on-line to see a product demonstration and pick-up other useful tips on how to be more efficient on the go. And we had this activation in the bag. Tremor connectors opted-in for 30,000 samples within two days. The purse execution was heralded by Tremor CEO Steve Knox as having the most stopping power of any execution in Tremor’s 10 year history.


Networks form the framework of both society and business. Groups of peers will dictate not only what products brands create and sell but also how they sell them and to whom. Consumers will leverage networks to make purchase decisions. Brands will activate networks to engage and convert consumers. And agency partners will need to have a razor-sharp understanding of networks in order to help clients stay ahead of the curve.


Building Consumer Centric Communities

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CMOs are continuously looking at their marketing media mix to improve ROIs.  The simple difference between traditional Media such as television, print, radio, direct mail, outdoor and even much of digital (web properties and banner ads) and Consumer Centric Communities is the difference between one way communication (or monologues) and two way communication (or dialogues).

Traditional mediums of communication are perfectly designed to drive simple awareness of a product or service in an efficient, scalable manner.  As a result, traditional media is measured by CPM as well as Aided and Unaided Recall measures.  Traditional media serves a vital role in a brand’s marketing mix as it serves to drive the first pillar of the consumer purchase cycle.

Mckinsey 2009 Loyalty Funnel

McKinsey 2009

The downside of Traditional Mass Media is that is focuses on simple awareness and struggles with driving familiarity and consideration.  So although television is designed to drive media efficiency, it is not perfectly designed to drive familiarity and consideration.  How familiar can a consumer really get with a product within 30 seconds.

Equally as important, with the documented fragmentation of television as a result of the proliferation of channels and shows and the ability for consumers to choose to avoid media measures with the ability to switch channels during commercials or block pop up ads, Traditional Mass Media or monologue messaging is becoming less effective in driving purchase.

Conversely, Consumer Centric Communities may not be as efficient in driving simple awareness as Mass Media but it is highly effective in driving consideration and purchase.  Why? Two way communication or dialogue helps drive greater familiarity and hence trust much faster than repeated monologue communication.  Familiarity with a product is akin to Effective Awareness rather than Simple Awareness.  Effective Awareness or Familiarity means that a consumer is fully aware of the benefits of the proposition.  Potential consumers may or may not be appreciative of the benefits but they are aware, however they are aware enough of the proposition to move directly into “consideration”.



Networks provides marketers the opportunity to drive conversations, participation, engagement and interactions with product propositions and companies completely changing the purchase funnel.  This change in purchase dynamics helps to drive greater affinity and eventual advocacy for a product or service. Ultimately, it is advocacy that every goods and services provider seeks.  Imagine a large network or “tribe” of emotionally charged people singing the praises of a product or service.  This can be generated more readily through a network than a Traditional Mass Marketing Medium.

To be clear, I do NOT advocate the complete replacement of Mass Media spending with Consumer Community Building.  I do believe that the infusion of Networks into a brand’s marketing mix will generate increased ROI through increased marketing efficacy.


Incorporate Robust Experiences into your Marketing Mix not Just Social Media

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Social networking has been a “hot” topic for several years.  Manufacturers of goods and services have been trying to figure out how to best use “Social Media” to drive consumer engagement and loyalty.  Most marketers have relied on “Social” technologies (Twitter, Facebook etc.) to engage consumers in hopes that they can become members or “friends” and have their respective message spread throughout the consumers’ on-line networks.  The ultimate desire is to have a consumer become an advocate for their brand proposition and spread it via word of mouth.

Social Networks have been around since the beginning of time.  They were called “tribes” or “clans”.  These social units were developed and nurtured over the years for the survival, growth and development of the tribe.  Over the years, tribes have grown less important as societies have evolved to create laws and protection for members within geographic boundaries.  Although most humans no longer live in tribes, humans are still tribal in nature.  Humans are still social and seek to be part of collectives for emotional survival and growth.

As consumers have evolved over the centuries, marketers have evolved and moved from local marketing efforts (traveling town to town) to mass marketing (television).  The 90s began the digital age.  Marketers became enamored with the ability to leverage technology at a modest expense to reach consumers.  A couple of Harvard University students created a social networking site and the world changed forever.. or did it?

The problem with the technological solutions to social networking is that it only leverages a portion of the brain’s primary communication function.  Humans were perfectly designed to communicate using five sense rather than just a couple.  Digital communication and networking currently lacks the capability to drive all five senses particularly taste, touch and smell.  Digital communication has facilitated the ability to quickly and efficiently send communications.  However, it has not been able to truly drive consumer engagement.

Traditional on-line networks or communities only create visual experiences (many of them not very good.)  The human brain was perfectly designed for multisensory communication.  Taste, touch, sight, sound and smell are all important in truly appreciating any product or service proposition. Think about it, you walk into the home and your senses perk up when you smell a heavenly meal cooking, hear the happy sounds of children playing and receive a warm touch from a loved one. Each one of these components is part of an overall communication that results or elicits an emotional response. Verbal communication is only one component of overall communication. In some cases, it may also be the weakest and most confusing and least effective.  If a picture is worth a thousand words; a personal experience must be equivalent to War and Peace by Tolstoy.

Creating experiences that delight multiple senses will drive deeper cognitive engagement and hence product or service appreciation. Any brand or company, with the right knowledge, can drive a competitive advantage in the marketplace by developing consumer networks/ communities and delivering robust multi-sensory experiences.


The Relationship Continuum

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Developing deeper relationships with consumers should be a key priority for every CMO in the country. Common sense dictates that the greater the emotional bond a brand can develop with a consumer, the stronger the loyalty to the brand. So many wonderful business building benefits come from this.  Deeper Relationships result in Brand Advocacy.  Brand Advocacy results in Word of Mouth recommendations.  Word of Mouth recommendations creates trial amongst new users.  New users can create a new audience for Brand marketers to develop deeper relationships.  This results in a wonderful upward spiral.  Ultimately yielding a scenario where Advocates beget Advocates.

This all sounds great, right?  So why don’t more Brands focus on developing deeper relationships with their consumers?  There are many reasons however, the first reason is the fact that many brand marketers loosely use the term relationship.  “My brand already has a relationship with my consumers.”  This statement is actually true.  Every brand has a relationship with consumers.  The problem is that most brand relationships do not go beyond a Transactional Relationship with the consumer.

Relationship Continuum

There are the four types of relationships people form. Understanding these relationships help marketers create experiences that are relevant to consumers and their communities. The deeper (or further right) the relationship becomes, the greater the level of trust between Brand and Consumer.

Transactional. In many respects, the most basic relationship. Most brands have established this relationship with its consumers. This is a basic quid pro quo arrangement with a consumer. There is very little “experience” beyond product performance expected or provided. You have a product and they give you something in order to get it. For most consumer-brand relationships, this is where it starts.

Neighbors. At this level, you and your consumers are not exactly friends, but you have a deeper relationship. An emotional tie begins to develop. Belonging to the neighborhood creates a bond and a point of specific relevance. You are cordial to one another when you are both out in the yard and sometimes you talk for a few minutes over the fence line. You will help each other by providing advice or recommendations. Sometimes your neighbor (customer) will even ask to borrow something, perhaps a tool or a helping hand, which your brand is happy to lend. And perhaps, after a while, you will move on to the next level of relationship. Developing a “neighborly” relationship with your customers will provide significant benefits to both you and your customer.

Friends. This is where reciprocity becomes interesting. There is greater emotional connectivity leading to “altruism.” You do things for each other without expecting anything in return. If a consumer needs something, they expect you can provide it, without expecting something in return. And equally, you can go to your passionate “friends” among your fans and ask for help on a project, or for input, or for the all-important pass-along on a key piece of content, and they’ll do it without even asking for a small gift in return. Developing a friendship relationship takes many years of interacting with your consumers. The benefit of this type of relationship is tremendous.

Family. There is no quid pro quo at all expected here. You can always borrow from your mom, and she will always lend it, even if you don’t pay her back. Most brands are never going to make it to this level of relationship with a consumer. Here there is complete trust and open sharing and giving, with no need for reciprocity at all. And you can talk about anything, anytime. The Holy Grail. A member of the family will actively support another member, no matter what. And will want to share experiences with them, too. How to get into that tribe? Can a Brand develop a Family relationship with a consumer?  You will be surprised how powerful some Brand-Consumer relationships can be.

Driving deeper relationships is not easy.  It takes time, effort and sustained commitment.  Developing a deeper consumer relationship is not much different than developing personal relationships.  If Brands really want to drive to Brand Advocacy; they have to first focus on building relationships.

Make your Online Communities More Effective by Incorporating Physical Experiences

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Developing and nurturing online communities can be a powerful way of developing deeper consumer relationships; if done properly.  The problem with many online communities today, is that they are only online.  They rely on technological solutions to facilitate communication to drive relationships.  The problem with this strategy is that online technological solutions only leverage a portion of the brain’s primary communication function.

Humans were designed to communicate using five senses rather than just a couple.  Think about it, you walk into the home and your senses perk up when you smell a heavenly meal cooking, hear the happy sounds of children playing and receive a warm touch from a loved one. Each one of these components is part of an overall communication that results or elicits an emotional response.

Online communities currently lack the capability to drive all five senses particularly taste, touch and smell.  Digital communication has facilitated the ability to quickly and efficiently send communications.  However, it has not been able to truly drive consumer engagement.

The solution is very simple.  Incorporate Experiential Marketing into online communities.  It makes sense (pun intended).  No other marketing form can satisfy basic human desires for multi-sensory appreciation. Experiential Marketing allows community members to connect physically, and establish new relationships and deepen existing ones.  It allows greater appreciation for the benefits of products and services and even discover new benefits.  Adding Experiential Marketing helps to nurture your online community so that it can grow stronger or deeper relationships with members of the community that will yield significantly higher levels of engagement and loyalty.  This should be the objective of all online communities.

The opportunity to add physical/ experiential to the marketing mix may be perceived by marketers as an added expense.  Online communities have always been touted as an efficient marketing spend because of the ability to connect with consumers in a low cost manner.  However, adding experiential marketing into online communities should be considered as “priceless.”  Driving multi-sensory appreciation through experiential marketing is more effective at driving deeper relationships than digital only.  Everyone tells stories based on experiences — events provide a purpose for content and give community members something new and fresh to talk about, photograph and share, especially products. Again, this is simple common sense.  The more anyone gets to engage with someone physically, the greater the familiarity and the greater the trust.  It is only through trust can we develop meaningful relationships.

3 Tips To Implementing Physical Events into Your Online Communities

1.  Keep it a continuous cycle. The physical should drive the online and the online should build excitement for the live events. It should be one continuous cycle of consumer touch points.

2. Integrate Always.  The live experiences and online dialogue with consumers should be closely related, as such they need to be developed in concert with one another. Consumers don’t want to feel like they have one relationship with the brand online and another in-person.

3. Make the physical meaningful. We all know events and live experiences are costly when compared to social media but they are necessary. To get the most bang for your buck, make sure that the physical experiences are where consumers have deep, personal and educational experiences with the brand that they can not get through online interaction. When supplemented with social and digital these bigger ticket live events bring the depth of experience needed to keep consumers properly engaged.

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