“No communications contact is more valuable than a friend’s recommendation.” The CEO of Coca Cola Germany, Hendrik Steckhan, summed up the changes in marketing and advertising at the recent German Advertisers’ Association Conference . Classic TV advertising, according to Steckhan’s reasoning, is not only unaffordable for many products; consumers are not responding. “The times of comfort zones with fixed marketing budgets are over,” he said, “and they are not coming back.”
The alternative proposed by the Coca Cola executive: let customers participate in your brand. Coca Cola did this in a project that raised a lot of attention. They replaced their logo on the bottles by names that customers all over the world could hand in online via a dedicated website. Coca Cola found something that gave its customers an excuse to engage with the brand, and they talked about it. Twitter and Facebook turned consumers into brand ambassadors. Steckhan made it clear that only a fundamental change in marketing processes had made this possible. Coca Cola gave up isolated planning in marketing’s ivory tower. Instead, the marketers had to think in much larger systems, integrating sales, even production – across the company’s entire value chain.
This new marketing is not limited to consumer products. Inviting customers to participate in the brand and making them brand ambassadors should be on the agenda of every marketing department. A first step is making sure that marketing gets customer feedback via traditional channels of communication – from sales, customer service, quality control. Social media is an efficient and individual way to get in direct contact with customers or prospects. An essential step is to understand what customers are enthusiastic about when it comes to a company’s product or market.
Forecasts of budgets and outcome will become less predictable than using conventional tools of marketing and advertising. But powerful benefits can accrue to a company that has shifted from controllable marketing to organize an effective and credible chorus of brand ambassadors by having a two-way dialog with its customers.
by Inés Gutiérrez