Mention the words "consumer empowerment" to marketers, and most will shrink away from you like a vampire from light. Conjuring up all sorts of evils, consumer empowerment is considered a stake in the heart of marketing.

PVRs, pop-up blockers and on-demand media empower people to avoid advertising and make a mockery of advertising scheduling. Consumer blogs, forums and review sites give consumers a global voice that can determine the fate of a brand. (Just say iPod Nano or Kryptonite Locks to marketers and watch them cower.) The myriad product and service choices available empowers consumers to switch products on the most fleeting of whims.

Letting Consumers Call the Shots

So consumer empowerment means bad news for marketing, right?

Surprisingly, no. Marketers have come up with an ingenious way of harnessing consumer empowerment to unlock sales growth for their brands. The solution is simple—go with the flow and really empower consumers. Let them call the shots on your marketing and innovation. Don't just listen to them through classic market research, but actually empower consumers to cast deciding votes on what gets done.

Call it the Big Brother Effect, Audience Participation or simply Consumer Empowerment... the result is the same: armies of loyal sales-boosting word-of-mouth advocates.

Here are a few guidelines on how to organize a simple consumer empowerment program designed to unlock growth in your own company:

  • First, set up a simple poll—online, SMS, telephone, or on interactive TV—that allows consumers to vote on some aspect of your product or marketing. It could be a vote on which fashion model or background music to use in an ad, or a poll on the packaging, name or design of the product itself, or a vote between variants for promotional posters, merchandise, logos or taglines.

  • The key is to keep it so simple that people can make their wishes known by a simple click of a mouse, remote control button, call or text message—hassle-free voting is what they will want.

  • Keep options to a minimum—by only having two options to vote from, you'll keep at least half of your voters happy when you act on their wishes. Alternatively, you can always go ahead with both variants, and make everybody happy.

  • Invite consumers from your target market to participate in the poll. Opinion leading consumers and brand fans are a priority, but all target consumers should be welcome. After all, numbers are important—the more participants, the more advocates, the bigger the impact on sales.

  • Nonetheless, try to give the poll an air of exclusivity, creating the impression for voters that they are VIPs—very influential persons. When you exclude people outside your target market, the participants will feel special and privileged, and this will help foster loyalty and advocacy.

  • Finally, when the votes are in, act on them—and let voters know you have acted on them.

Consumer Empowerment: The Tremor Experience

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Paul Marsden is coauthor of the consumer empowerment blog ( and contributing authors to the new book Connected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz and Word of Mouth Revolution. He is also a market researcher at the London School of Economics. Oetting is a researcher at ESCP-EAP European School of Management (Berlin).
Martin Oetting is coauthor of the consumer empowerment blog ( and contributing authors to the new book Connected Marketing: The Viral, Buzz and Word of Mouth Revolution.