Corporate America, meet ‘Generation C’


A view of Times Square in New York City. (Matthew Peyton/GETTY IMAGES FOR NOKIA)
June 28, 2012

Brian Solis is the author of The End of Business as Usual. He is also a principal analyst at Altimeter Group, a research based advisory firm in San Francisco where he studies the impact of new media on business and consumer behavior.

You’re at a concert and you notice nearly everyone in the audience is either looking down at their phone or holding it up in the air. A question slowly dawns on you: “What’s the point?”

Going to an event is about being in the moment and enjoying the experience to the fullest, right?

Yes.

But, while these people may seem distracted, they are, in fact, very much a part of the occasion. Multitasking is a way of life for them, but there’s something more to it than just a love affair with smartphones and tablets. These “always on” audiences share real-world experiences as they happen with friends and acquaintances who, in turn, respond in real time.

This means word-of-mouth has evolved from one-to-one to one-to-many conversations. Shared experiences become a formidable currency in the networked economy where the influence of an individual is significantly augmented. And, it’s this influence that changes the game for how consumers and organizations connect in the future.

In the age of social media, we are witnessing a C-change (as in “C” for customer) in the balance of power between consumers and businesses. This increasingly empowered generation of connected customers, which I often refer to as Generation-C, is changing the face of engagement and is re-writing the book for how businesses market and serve them in the future.

Think about this for a moment. Have you ever noticed that it’s almost always social media experts who have problems with companies or products on Twitter? Here’s why, they figured out that, by leaning on the reach and volume of their networks, they can make a difference. They can also jump ahead of traditional service queues to earn attention over one-to-one channels. Businesses are more inclined to respond quickly to these types of complaints in an effort to limit the extent of negative sentiment and improve perceptions.

Today, customers realize that social networks give them influence over how other consumers view a company and they are learning how to influence companies to listen, respond and resolve problems directly. At the center of this evolving customer landscape are shared experiences. People share just about everything and, whether we believe it or not, the activity around these shared experiences influences the impressions and behavior of other consumers in social networks to varying effects.

Services such as Klout, Kred, and PeerIndex now measure social media activity and translate it into an “influence” score. This, for better or for worse, introduces a social consumer hierarchy, creating a new standard for consumer marketing and service – and connected consumers know it. A report by my employer, Altimeter Group, titled “The Rise of Digital Influence” takes a look at precisely this phenomenon.

Dissatisfied customers are not the only ones getting attention. Many businesses also take a very important next step, which is to acknowledge happy customers. This form of positive reinforcement serves as a form of “unmarketing” where consumers feel appreciated and are encouraged to share what they love about the business, product and overall experience.

Individuals with the largest, most loyal, or actively engaged networks form a powerful and connected consumer landscape. What they share or don’t share contributes to a collective brand or service experience that, without engagement, is left for the connected audiences to define.

Suddenly, the audience with an audience becomes a formidable foe or ally for any organization. As such, the proactive investment in positive experiences now represents a modern and potentially influential form of consumer marketing and service. But to engage in the new realm of digital influence will take more than tweets or participating social media conversations. Connected audiences demand that marketers and executives alike rethink the entire customer experience before, during, and after transaction. But remember: No amount of responses can fix a broken product or service.

Read more news and ideas on Innovations and Brian Solis on “Digital Darwinism and why brands die.”

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