Hear Me Roar: Consumers Make Their Voices Heard, Brands Take Note

Brands that listen to consumers thrive

(Editor’s note: This content is provided by ThinOPTICS, a Next Avenue sponsor.)

Imagine cracking open a cold one with your friends as you relax poolside, knowing that you’re drinking a beer that is exactly the taste you’ve always wanted. How’s that possible? Because you helped craft this beer by making your voice heard.

You aren’t the owner of the company, and you’re not part of the brewery’s R&D team. Instead, you hold a new position: the consumer marketing director. A position that’s becoming more influential with brands as they recognize that consumers are more powerful than ever before. Brands that thrive today are taking note and listening carefully to consumers.

They’re seeing that consumers, through their buying behavior, social sharing and direct communication with brands, are strong influencers that can’t be ignored. The brands that know this use this feedback to co-create products or, in this case, beer, that consumers want.

It wasn’t that long ago when companies told consumers what was best. They produced a product and hoped it would sell. Their tastebuds were the only ones that mattered. The company was the mighty powerhouse. But now, thanks to technology and social sharing platforms, consumers are in the driver’s seat, and brands are being shaped at nearly every level by consumer input. Companies that thrive use their social media channels as more than just a giant megaphone, instead they listen to and engage with consumers.

You see this in crowdsourcing; think about the way Kickstarter campaigns are designed. The startup or inventors share a concept and test the interest level. Ultimately, consumers help bring the product to market by contributing financial backing for as little or as much as they like. They can make product suggestions too. The fundraising works because it’s a collaborative venture that allows consumers’ voices to be heard. They also like being part of launching a great product.

Creating a Unique and Unparalleled Customer Experience

MobCraft Beer built its company this way. It describes itself as the world’s first and only crowdsourced brewery. Based in Madison, Wisc., the company uses key insights from its consumers to produce every new beer in its portfolio.

The brewery turns to its consumers to get recipe ideas. Based on consumer feedback, the company’s brewers craft beer recipes and add them to their recipe vault on the MobCraft Beer website. If the recipe contains uncommon ingredients, it will first be sent to the government for approval. Then the rest is up to consumers. The recipes are tracked based on page-view data. The top beer recipes are listed for consumers to vote on every month during a 21-day voting period at the start of the month. The number of pre-orders determines which winning beer will be produced (typically as a limited-edition variety) and released four weeks later.

The founder says this level of engagement is fun and contagious. Consumers look forward to voting and influencing the brand’s product development. For companies, this type of listening is a key way to harness wisdom from the marketplace, find financial backers and grow loyal brand fans. For consumers, it’s the ultimate unique and unparalleled customer experience. It’s a chance to steer a company in the direction that consumers want without having to go out and start a company or develop a product.

Eyewear That Solves a Common Problem is Designed by Consumers

 A couple of years ago, the founder of ThinOPTICS solved a problem for a friend.  When he did that, he found the solution was just what a million-plus people wanted too. Teddy Shalon was on a long bicycle ride with a friend when his friend asked Teddy to read a text message on his cellphone because his friend had left his reading glasses at home. In that moment, Shalon knew he had to design readers that would always be with you. Hundreds of prototypes later, ThinOPTICS stemless readers were developed. The Pince-Nez style of armless readers sit on the nose, and because they’re as thin as two credit cards, they retract into a keychain or fold into a lightweight case that attaches with a small piece of adhesive to the back of smartphones or anywhere else that easy access to reading glasses is needed.

The company has sold more than 2 million reading glasses. The success of ThinOPTICS comes from its relationship with its consumers. “Our customers are more than just users of ThinOPTICS, they are essentially brand consultants and co-creators for our company. Our consumers help us design reading glasses they desire,” says Darren Lancaster, co-founder of ThinOPTICS.

ThinOPTICS uses social media and its large email database to engage consumers to understand what they want in reading glasses. The brand has curated collections from celebrity musicians like Quincy Jones that also support charities. Every time a curated collection is launched, ThinOPTICS surveys its consumers via email to get feedback from its consumers to decide which readers should be developed.

The company also has an active Facebook fan page that builds trust and rapport with its consumers. The page is used to support the brand’s guarantee, which gives purchasers a lifetime replacement of their readers. Consumers can voice their opinion about the ThinOPTICS readers, share suggestions and ask for customer support in real time on the fan page. “It’s a faster service than dialing an 800 number, and it gives our customers complete satisfaction to know that we’re there to help them get a new pair of readers or receive their feedback about product design,” says Lancaster.

While these brands go above and beyond to hear the consumer’s voice, all too often, consumers feel brands don’t listen. According to one study, consumers believe that 78 percent of brands don’t hear them.

So, their roar goes unheard. But not anymore. Savvy consumers are using social media, online reviews and direct communication to tweet out their complaints and their praise for brands. They’re telling companies who are frozen in time, that there’s a new marketing director who won’t be silenced. And, when they don’t like the way a company behaves, they let their voices be heard in great numbers. Remember the United Airlines fiasco where the passenger was dragged from the airplane?

If you want to make a brand pay attention, you have to speak up. Here are three key tips to make your opinion count.

  1. Do it in writing: you can do this old-school style and write a letter, mail it or, yes, even fax it. Better yet, head to the companies’ website and find their social media channels. Many brands actively listen online for their company’s name to be mentioned in online forums and feeds. Talk to the company publicly and then direct message them. Use common hashtags to get noticed by the company and other consumers who might have an issue or praise for the company.
  2. Give a review: most social media platforms have a place to write a review. This is a great way to get attention if you’re being neglected. Make your review detailed and keep it to the facts. If you have a suggestion or complaint, be specific. Today, companies take online reviews very seriously.  And, if you’re pleased with a brand, an online review is a great way to show some love. It helps others make purchase decisions and it spreads the word about the company. Of course, repeat business is a nice thank you as well.
  3. Talk to a competitor brand: businesses troll their competition. Sometimes you can chat with a brand that listens, and you’ll find you will soon hear from the brand that wasn’t listening. We saw a lot of this happen during the United Airlines fiasco. Other airlines chimed in and responded to consumers who wanted to talk about the shocking removal of the passenger.
By Phoebe Chongchua
Phoebe Chongchua is an award-winning journalist (TV) based in San Diego, a top 50 podcaster to follow (Cision) and a writer on lifestyle, entrepreneurship, travel and healthy living. Find her on social media.@PhoebeChongchua

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