CEO at Bazaarvoice, the leading provider of product reviews and user-generated content (UGC) solutions.
There is one thing all brand marketers, e-commerce professionals and social media managers are experiencing in the current stage of e-commerce evolution: The content that drives awareness and purchases of their products is increasingly being created by their customers, not their marketing teams. This has led to what I call the influence economy.
One of my favorite quotes is from Scott Cook, the co-founder of Intuit. He once said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is. It is what consumers tell each other it is.” In today’s e-commerce environment, virtually anyone can get online to talk and show their experience with your brand, products and services—and today, that content drives what your brand represents to other consumers.
Think back to a recent purchase you made online. What helped you find and form an opinion about a brand or product? It was user-generated content (UGC), right? Today, in addition to a brand’s content about your products, there are millions of consumers writing reviews online. And there are bloggers, influencers and just everyday social media users sharing opinions, photos, how-to videos and lifestyle content involving your products. In essence, the discovery of your product content has been democratized across all these content creators. This is what I mean by the influence economy.
It can be scary to lose that control. It has the power to affect share prices and refocus the strategy of companies in our industry. To respond to this, a significant change is needed in how brands organize, listen to and engage with consumers. The business to consumer (B2C) model has really become consumer to business (C2B)-driven, as the consumer is telling us what to do. With more places than ever for your customers to discover and purchase your products, the consumer is—now more than ever—in control of their buying journey, and brands that fail to acknowledge this shift will be ignoring it at their peril.
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When you hear the term influencer economy, you might initially think about influencer relations, like when brands work with celebrities or social influencers to promote their products online. But in reality, the influence economy is made up of two important factors.
1. A Continuous Feedback Loop
The influence economy takes a wider look at influence, beyond just a single content type or channel strategy. It looks at all the ways that consumers are influenced by content. Then it listens, measures and optimizes the interactions between three groups: consumers, brands and retailers.
Brands and retailers have traditionally focused on what they want to sell versus what consumers actually want from them. If sellers take the time to truly listen and gather the insights from content interactions and experiences between each of these groups, and take a data-led approach to said insights, they will be able to know with confidence what to prioritize to create a better customer and product experience.
If you take the time to gather data and listen, you have an “always on” feedback loop. If you can measure what content you have, who is creating it and how it influences others, you have a powerful recipe for success. You can answer the most pressing business questions and understand where and how you can improve your customers’ experience. Maintaining a pulse on consumer perception empowers your whole organization. Listening to and learning from customer sentiment improves marketing messaging, identifies product flaws and gathers ideas for new products or service improvements
And it’s a full-funnel feedback loop, providing actionable insights at each stage of the consumer’s buying journey. From awareness to loyalty, measuring and understanding when you can influence others and being influenced in return are crucial. If you understand how you stack up against competitors, you can gain or maintain a competitive edge and have intel at your fingertips that sets your brand apart.
2. Content-Driven Commerce
The second part of the influence economy is embracing content-driven commerce—all content, not just your content. For every consumer who leaves a review, shares a photo, asks a question or posts on social, hundreds—even thousands—more are listening and being influenced one way or the other about your brand or product. We see increasingly that consumer-powered content is the catalyst in the e-commerce engine, igniting consumer confidence, inspiration and discovery. Why? Because trust and empathy between consumers are what drives conversion and commerce, today more than ever.
Your content needs to be a mix from a wide variety of sources. Yes, you have your internal content team. But increasingly, it’s also coming from your external content creators—from your everyday consumers, subject matter experts, social media influencers and even celebrities. When brands encourage and enable external content creation, they are capitalizing on channel efficiency and consumer scale for their businesses.
We’re living in a world where we’re being forced to embrace the loss of control over what our brand represents. The influence economy is our future, where brands can gain back some control by measuring and optimizing all the ways content can influence and then acting on that insight.
Forward-thinking brands will start preparing for and taking part in the influence economy now. To be successful in your organization, your industry and your career in the future, you need to focus on influence. With the shared ownership of what your brand represents, businesses that optimize and adapt to the influence economy by investing in technology, telling a story and leveraging customer advocacy and consumer feedback will reap the rewards.
The speed of change that we’ve seen since the pandemic began has taught us that we can’t afford to fall behind in e-commerce. Online shopping is evolving at speed, and the influence economy is a big driver of that change. The sooner brands and retailers embrace the fact that customers are in control and begin working alongside them, the sooner they’ll see success.