The Customer Is Your Marketing Department

Written by John Stanley

Remember the days when larger retailers had marketing departments and those departments developed the marketing strategies for the businesses. Companies tried to decide their own destiny.

Today, consumers have changed the rules and marketing is becoming more and more controlled by the consumer rather than by the retailer. The introduction of the smart phone and social media means marketing has become immediate and in the consumer’s hands rather than the retailer’s hands.

One major retailer recently discovered this fact in the UK. The retailer developed a Twitter campaign to increase consumer awareness. Consumers were asked to complete a sentence “I shop at XXXXXXX because….” The company expected positive responses to grow their business awareness. Consumers loved this marketing opportunity and a large number of the responses were distasteful and damaged the brand rather than praised the brand. The message is that when you communicate with the consumer be careful for what you ask for.

Shopping Crawls

Independent retailers in the UK are working with local community groups and individuals to develop Christmas Shopping Crawls. This is where consumers work with local retailers to develop a shopping crawl that can be promoted via social media. The aim is that the crawl makes Christmas shopping fun. Retailers develop suitable promotions and events along the crawl and provide a stamp on a crawl map if the consumer visits them. Consumers who complete the crawl can enter a raffle and prizes are presented to successful crawl shoppers.

This type of marketing means local retailers can come together as a group and consumers can build interest and traffic through their own social media contacts. Details on how to develop a crawl are available from

Cash Mobs

The last trend where consumers are generating sales for business comes from “cash mobs”. A trend that started in the USA and has now spread to Europe. Cash mobs are a development from Flash mobs. Flash mobs are when a group of people assemble in one location and do something unexpected for a few minutes and then disperse. The group hears about the activity through social media. Chris Smith a Buffalo Blogger took this to the next stage in August 2011 when he suggested that it could be developed into cash mobs. The first cash mob I believe was in a wine cellar in Buffalo when 100 people turned up to purchase wine.

The concept is based on a group of consumers deciding to visit a local business. In organised cash mobs, the group ask the retailer if they would like to be selected and an agreed minimum purchase is discussed. The group then congregates at the store, have a spend commitment and then often meet afterwards at an agreed location.

This is an example of where the retailer is not controlling their marketing, but is being led by the consumer. I am aware of one book retailer who saw books sales go up by a factor of 600% when he was involved with a cash mob activity. The great thing about this marketing is that it gives the retailer the opportunity to engage with new consumers in their community.

Develop your Own Currency

One of the challenges for individual, independent retailers is that consumers will often go to multinational companies. If only there was a local currency that could only be used in the community and with local retailers. The communities of Stroud, Brixton and Bristol in the UK have done that and developed their own currency. In September 2012 Bristol in the south west of the UK introduced the Bristol pound. Consumers were encouraged to convert British pounds into Bristol pounds to be spend at local businesses. Local promotions were then focused around the Bristol pound rather than the British pound and more money circulated in the local community.

Pay for the Milk!

The issue in marketing today is to remember that the consumer holds the key to future marketing. My wife and I were recently staying at a fairly upmarket hotel in the UK. We were asked to pay for the breakfast when we entered the restaurant and felt that the charge for breakfast was on the high side. We sat down and my wife ordered a latte. The waiter looked at her and said that only coffee was included in the breakfast, if she wanted latte it would be extra. “Are you telling us that the milk is extra?” we asked him. “Yes,” he replied. We looked at him waiting for an explanation and were told it was company policy to charge extra if a customer ordered a latte. Can you imagine how much damage this is doing to the hotel? The social media conversation on the price of milk in a coffee will do the hotel damage as we will advise friends to stay at another hotel.

We have reached the tipping point where the consumer has the marketing initiative and the marketing department will become less influential in marketing decisions. Increasingly, the marketing decisions will be made by the consumer rather than the retailer.