From all about the company to all about the consumer

Written by Jan Knechtel

A major change in the last ten years is social media. It can be defined as “the communication systems that allow their social actors to communicate along multiple ties (Peters et al, 2013). In it, user generated content has grown in importance. This leads to two questions: What kind of consequences does it have for marketers and how can they best adapt?

First of all, the environment (for marketers) has to be considered. The last ten years social media has placed its roots deep into the culture of the “developed” countries. Elementary school kids play with their smartphones being connected with all kinds of social media. In addition, tablet sales are going through the roof. “We are all connected” (Hanna et al, 2011) is the underlying trend. Marketing seems to become all about going “viral”. Prognosis of what campaign will work or not are harder than ever. The new environment seems to follow unwritten rules. Especially startups can become successful by disruptive innovation. Companies like Uber become worth billions of Dollars

On one hand, Amazon as major global player is not only laughing legislators attempts for fair competition and taxation in the face, they also set new industry standards. New standards are fast delivery, long guarantees, free returns etc. On the other, consumers are more than ever faced by information overload. This is also due to the fact that try to invent new product categories to drive growth. There seems to be endless amount of toothpastes. It is the same with a coffee at Starbucks. Try to get a normal one.

What has changed?

It is the interaction between consumer and brands that has been changed fundamentally by the internet. New standards are set. What used to be a “nice to have” thing is now becoming a hygiene factor (something that doesn`t satisfy the consumer happy but makes him extremely unhappy if it is not provided): the corporate website. “In today’s business environment, a company’s website is the key to their entire business.” Marcus Sheridan, Author of the Sales Lion.

According to Berthon et al 2012 social media has three major impacts:

1. A shift in locus of activity from the desktop to the Web.
2. A shift in locus of value production from the firm to the consumer.  
3. A shift in the locus of power away from the firm to the consumer.

In this transformation process it becomes clear that new marketing strategies and structures have to be defined. This does not mean that the traditional marketing is dead: “Maintaining an active social media presence is commonly considered an alternative to traditional advertising as a means of achieving brand awareness. In our view this is a mistake. Facebook, Twitter and other social sites function more like a cafe than a billboard” (Armelini and Villanueva, 2009).

With so many ads on so many different channels, marketers or online able to communicate impressions. This impression management favors the context over the content. When ads used to be about product feature that offer a solution to a client’s problems, it is now about the user experience. User experience is how consumer interact with the brand or product.

With higher demands from consumers such as convenient internet shopping, is there a shift of the consumer focus?

Consumers are still looking for the value and the brand promise but the point in time at which a company can influence the decision has changed. Traditionally, companies tried to invest a lot for brand awareness. “In the past, marketing strategies that put the lion’s share of resources into building brand awareness and then opening wallets at the point of purchase worked pretty well. But touch points have changed in both number and nature, requiring a major adjustment to realign marketers’ strategy and budgets with where consumers are actually spending their time.”

The traditional consumer decision process involved searching for products and choosing the one that fits those criteria best. Deal is done, end of story. But since there a so many other brands (supported through globalization, free trade, etc.) and therefore alternative choices the consumer is more promiscuous than ever. However, the aftersales part has gained in importance. The consumer can stay engaged, promote the product via social media and becomes part of the brand development by shaping its meaning. One extreme example would be Harley Davidson, where “hardcore”-rocker become the essence of the brand meaning. Abercrombie and Fitch tried it similarly by not offering XXL sized clothes claiming only to be a brand for the “cool kids”. This backfired heavily when a Youtube-clip went viral in which a guy gave A&F clothes to homeless people, encouraging the viewers to do the same.

This raises the question of which role should a company take in social media?

With these incredible fast developments it seems to be rather uncontrollable. In a bowling environment (company communicating to a specific target group), the consumer has a lot more power than in pinball environment (messages become reinforced by others). This is due to their active role in the communication process by sharing and liking it in social media. One could argue that there are no social media leaders: Social media are not about this kind of hierarchical organization. Facebook and the like are tools for building networks, which are the opposite, in structure and character, of hierarchies. Unlike hierarchies, with their rules and procedures, networks aren’t controlled by a single central authority. Decisions are made through consensus, and the ties that bind people to the group are loose.Malcolm Gladwell.

Literature suggests that companies should take the role of a moderator or even an orchestrator.

What are examples of successful social media advertisement?

Here are three examples of how people can take the brand a step further. They all have in common that they are passionate about the product and portray an incredible user experience. Especially exhibit 2 where several products are being praised with “supergeil” shows how important context has become.

Nikes Ronaldinho ad from 2005, in which he hit the bar several times after another with new Nike shoes, was a viral hit. The film was deliberately screened in a bad quality, shaking a lot, trying to create a sense of authenticity. People were actually debating if this was real or not.

Major german retailer Edeka released a video featuring Friedrich Lichtenstein with the song Supergeil. The song was already uploaded a year before. Edeka bought it and adjusted the song so that it related to its products. The song is very much focused on the word “supergeil” which is put in the context of Edeka products in the video. This procedure was used with other artists as well (Scooter).

“The epic split feat. van Damme” was released in 2014 and quickly reached over 50 million views. It made people wondering, how they did it, if he was safe. A lot of question which had nothing to do with the product of company still portrayed the user experience.

In all, “people spend money when and where they feel good” Walt Disney.

“Sell me this pen” vs. the Brand Equity Cycle

Marketing is not a one-sided endeavor in which someone is trying to sell a product anymore. Social media has given consumers a megaphone just as powerful as that of traditional marketers(Jutkowitz, 2015).

A famous scene in the move The wolf of Wallstreetis the pen selling scene. The answer to successfully selling it is supposed to be: “Can you sign this paper for me?”. He is creating a need and directly offering a solution for it. Social media, however, has added a few steps.

This cycle says many things. Most importantly, with loyalty becoming king, the step that marketers should focus on is from “Trial” to “Belief”.

“Up to 90% of spend goes to advertising and retail promotions. Yet the single most powerful impetus to buy is often someone else’s advocacy” (Edelman, 2010).

Jutkowitz argues that the Chief Marketing Officerwill be replaced by a Chief Loyalty Officer. He backs it up by emphasizing Apples loyalty success: earnings report makes clear that intense loyalty to the iPhone87% loyalty, to be precise is what really drives its success.. High loyalty inspires confidence among friends. As a result, Apples marketing comes down to some television spots and billboards.

Consumers more and more define themselves through brands. The products display consumer`s personality and belief. Therefore the best way to establish and reinforce common values is to create content that’s so highly specific it defines not only the brand, but the customer.(Jutkowitz, 2015)

How should a marketer approach social media?
This would need another blog post but here are some suggestions. Barwise and Meehan (2010) suggest the following:

  • Use social media for customer insights.
  • Strive to go viral but protect the brand.
  • Engage but follow the social rules.
  • Be authentic and relevant.

    Taking the pinball environment into account, doing pilot projects and paying attention to the brand experience is crucial for sustainable success.





1. Berthon, P.R., Pitt, L.F., Plangger, K. & Shapiro, D. (2012),”Marketing meets Web 2.0, social media, and creative consumers: implications for international marketing strategy”, Business Horizons, 55, 261-271.

Barwise and Meehan (2010)

Jutkowitz, Alexander: Marketing Is Dead, and Loyalty Killed It, Harvard Business Review, February 2015. Link:

Edelman, David C., Branding in the Digital Age: You’re Spending Your Money in All the Wrong Places”