My youngest son is learning to drive. He sat in the driver’s seat of my Jeep Wrangler the other night for the first time and, as he began to move the Jeep forward, he smiled. It was no ordinary smile. Although we had taken many trips together in that Jeep, he had always been a passenger. This time was different. He was no longer a passenger. He was driving. He was empowered.
As he drove around the parking lot, I began to see how this story might apply to brands and their marketing strategies. With traditional marketing, customers are passengers. The brand is in the driver’s seat and its customers are merely along for the ride. As marketers, we tell them who, what, when, where, how and why to do something. Our goal is that they will jump in and stay for the ride.
Times are different. Our customers have grown up. They no longer want to be marketed to. They are educating themselves. They are using the Internet to find their own answers to the challenges they face. In many ways, they are in the driver’s seat. They are empowered. As marketers, we need to transform the way we engage and connect with them.
This transformation begins with trust. We must trust that our customers will interact with us and each other in a way that is responsible, respectful and beneficial. Putting them in the driver’s seat means asking them for input on our future direction (products, services and even our brand positioning), encouraging them to post online reviews of their experience with our brand (good and bad), or inviting them to participate with us in our community service projects. In a sense, it requires us to put customers first and take a seat – on the passenger side of the car – while they drive.
Take a look at your marketing strategy. Are you empowering your customers?