While there was varied reporting and alternative facts relating to the numbers in attendance at President Trump’s inauguration, the pictures from EarthCam (taken at 12:15 during the inauguration and as the Women’s march was about to start the following day, taken at the same time) show an interesting ‘fact’.

While there are still many people who want to witness and be an observer (the inauguration), there are many more who want to take an active part, who want to shape their own story and who want to feel in control. We witnessed it again days later at JFK, with the taxi driver protests in light of the immigration executive order. Now while we are all already jaded at watching the Trump v Media circus, there is something here that every brand and business can learn from, and that is People Power.

In 1971, John Lennon, released his “Power to the People” anthem, written during his passionate political activist years. 46 years later, his views are as relevant to business and consumerism as they were to politics. In the current age of peer-to-peer, the power lies with the customer, not the producer or service provider. Put quite simply, the customer now owns your brand, what they say and share about their experience is their truth, whether you like it or not. John Lennon’s lyric “you better give them what they really own” has indeed come to pass.

Active v Passive Consumerism

In the past, we witnessed what could be called ‘passive consumerism’, that is we absorbed advertising messages fed to us by eager producers. We trusted the brand messaging and purchased in the nominated channels and stores at recommended retail prices. What we are now witnessing is a more active consumer. While the messages are still ‘fed’ to us via sponsored drop-ins to our Twitter and Facebook feed, the personalisation and curated nature of our social media channels give us a sense of control, albeit that is often an illusion.

This is our life, our decisions, our personal network and therefore psychologically, the advertising messages that come our way are now tinged with a sense of personal activation.

The power of the peer network is everywhere. Last year, Amazon opened their first physical book store in Seattle (and yes, the irony of Amazon opening a bookstore having single-handedly killed the small bookstore industry doesn’t escape anyone). But what is really interesting to see is the real-world physicalization of the peer review system. As you move around the store you come across tables of books, curated not by genre or publishers, but by peer popularity. Reviews by real readers appearing on the shelf edge as opposed to publisher blurb. This is YOUR bookstore, readers like YOU read these books.

Communication v Discovery

The traditional model of marketing communications can best be described as shouting. The TV, print ad, billboard or radio ad, they are all the same. It is a message broadcast to whoever might be there to listen. It really is no different from an 18th century town crier walking the streets, clanging his bell. When a consumer interacts with a brand in this way, they have been ‘told’. The brand message forced on them (and thus back to the passive model of consumerism). Every day I come home and take that day’s direct mail flyers from my mailbox and put them straight in the recycling, as do hundreds of thousands of us all over the world. I’m not interested in being ‘communicated to’, it is simply not relevant to my life at that time.

Compare that to consumer discovery. Here a consumer feels that they have come across your product or service, they have found it. There is a huge difference. An active consumer feels ownership regarding their idea around product purchase. They have come across a product/service that meets one of their needs. They feel empowered as they have come across this solution themselves. The power of this ‘ownership’ piece should not be under-estimated. It doesn’t really seem to matter if it was a sponsored link in their social media feed, a posting by a friend or an active ‘search’ on their part. They have discovered it. And this is why peer-to-peer should become a critical part of any brands communication strategy.

CX Alchemy

Alchemy, the idea that from some base materials or copper you could formulate pure gold, obsessed many 13th century ‘scientists’. There were many side-show con artists but the real thing always remained elusive. Turning stone or other minerals into gold simply didn’t add up.

However today Customer Experience (CX) Alchemy is key for any business. This is the moment we empower our customers to tell our story for us, to give them a sense of tribal belonging to the brand. We turn them from a customer into a brand ambassador, and we create CX GOLD.

The power of someone inside your peer network talking positively about a product/service experience versus the brand themselves cannot be compared. It is like comparing gold to copper. It is why CX is so critical today. We need to delight and excite customers to the point that they share the experience with others. We need to curate the discussion about our brand, not lead it.

One great example is from the Ritz Carlton and Giraffe ‘Joshie’. As often happens a little cuddly toy was left behind and a stressed dad contacted the hotel to have said teddy found and sent back to his son. He had told his boy that his favourite teddy was simply ‘enjoying an extended vacation’ at the Ritz Carlton, but that was the moment the Ritz decided to delight their customer. What followed were a series of pictures from the hotel showing his teddy sunbathing and working in the loss prevention department at the hotel (well he had to pay for those spa treatments somehow…). From such customer centricity, we make CX gold.

Copper V Gold

I’m quite certain that John Lennon and Donald Trump would not have had much in common. Back to gold and copper. Lennon believed in the Power of the People. He believed that we could turn anything into gold working together. President Trump seems to think HE is the power.

To grow your business today, you need to be more Lennon than Trump. The sooner you realise that the power you think you have is just an illusion, that the real power lies elsewhere, the better for your brand, your customers, and indeed the world! But if the power lies with the consumer, then harnessing that power becomes key – leveraging user generated content, co-creation and curating peer-to-peer conversations.

It’s no longer about you, it’s about them. Your Customers. It’s Power to the People.


Ken Hughes is one of the worlds leading Shopper and Consumer Behaviouralists, blending his vast expertise in consumer psychology, social & digital anthropology, behavioural economics and neuromarketing to answer the question to which he has dedicated most of his career: Why do shoppers buy and how can we make them buy more? Click here to read more

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Ken Hughes, known as The King of Customer Experience on the International Conference Circuit, studies emerging consumer behaviour and helps businesses and brands establish deeper and more relevant connections with their customers.

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