Embracing Consumer Networks

Posted by | April 25, 2013 | Communities | No Comments


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.

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