Bakers Journal

Features Business and Operations
Power Shift


November 5, 2007
By Michelle Brisebois

Topics

Get connected with your customers…blog it!

powerEvery savvy dictator knows that he or she who controls the communication controls the populace. Knowledge is power and we know that totalitarian systems are based on the concentration of power. The Internet disseminates knowledge and decentralizes power; and if ever there was a tool poised to eradicate the existence of authoritarian regimes, it is the Internet. 

Consumer behaviour has traditionally been driven by effective communication.  The business (us) chose the message, which was translated into a creative execution (TV, radio, flyer), which was then presented to our audience (the customer).  Many of us responsible for the marketing decisions in our businesses are still employing traditional marketing strategies, and while our flyers, newspaper ads and radio spots may still be important ingredients in the marketing mix – the rules of engagement are changing. You see, while we were sleeping, the inmates took over the asylum. Communication is no longer the domain of a few powerful governments or businesses – it’s being controlled by the consumer.

Time magazine selected “you” as their person of the year for 2006.  This was based on the fact that technology has armed us with knowledge, and the ability to share it with each other. It may be easy to assume that this power shift will only impact big businesses. It may be easy to think that small, locally focused, (rural) businesses have more control over messaging and won’t be as affected by this change. Wrong. If cave-dwelling terrorists can plot international destruction via the World Wide Web, you can bet that the customers living in your market area are connected, and reading about trends, products and services all over the world. 

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The more involved a consumer is in a category, the more likely they are to spend their free time reading and learning about it. If you run a bakery that sells quality, artisan baked goods, then you already know that your customers are “foodies.”  Those wanting a belly-filler baked good can easily get that elsewhere. Foodies will spend their free time learning more about food, and will be very interested in understanding what’s trendy. They will find each other on the Internet: on blogs, podcasts, YouTube and organized lists, and they will share experiences and recipes. They will even talk about you – meaning your business and the products of yours they love, or love to hate.

There are upward of 48,000 food bloggers in the United States. The blog, www.chowhound.com, was voted one of 2007’s best blogs by Time magazine. It’s here that foodies gather to share their love of the category. A series of postings from July 14, 2007, shows a reader asking for “a great bakery in downtown Toronto.” Of the several replies, one person recommended a bakery at Yonge and Queen. Another reader responded they did not recommend this bakery, and suggested another Toronto-based operation. What are being exchanged here are simply opinions – nothing different from what might happen at a cocktail party. It’s not the conversation that’s so dramatic; it’s the “reach” this conversation has that makes it worth noting. This virtual conversation is being eavesdropped on by thousands of others. 

Legions of foodies planning to travel to Toronto will likely type “good Toronto bakeries” into a search engine, and this virtual review will be in full view for months, if not years to come. According to a recent Ipsos Reid survey, 10 per cent of adult Canadian Internet users say a positive comment about a product or service on a blog would make them much more likely to purchase the product, and 51 per cent say it would make them somewhat more likely to purchase.   However, the effect of negative comments in a blog is a little stronger, with 12 per cent saying negative comments about a product or service would make them much less likely to purchase, and 54 per cent say it would make them somewhat less likely to purchase. Blogs are powerful venues for messaging, but they’re not the only forum available to consumers. Have you heard any good podcasts lately?

Now that most computers come with a built-in microphone, regular people have begun to record their own amateur radio shows which can be played on a computer or mp3 player. These shows have been dubbed “podcasts” because so many consumers download them to their Ipods – listening as they commute and go about their daily business. Research done by the Diffusion Group predicts that the U.S. podcast audience will increase from 840,000 last year to 56 million by 2010. They estimate that by then, three-quarters of all people who own portable digital music players will listen to podcasts, up from less than 15 per cent in 2006. This techno-babble scares some of us who are old enough to remember only having three TV stations, but we need to look past the bits and bytes to take a higher level view. Whether we are using technology to support our marketing campaigns or not, we need to accept that our customers are gathering here. If we don’t continue to evolve in an ever-changing world, then we are in fact, regressing.

Whether you operate your own small-to-medium-sized business, or you are chief marketing officer at a large multi-national company, you need to start spending time online, tapping into these consumer conversations. Today’s marketing is about engagement — listening and learning. It’s about embracing consumer values, and not forcing them on “audiences.”  It’s time to get truly connected.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at OnTrend Strategies by e-mail at: briseboismichelle@ sympatico.ca.