Study: Empowered Consumers Resist Social Marketing Efforts

Aug 14, 2013

Companies that empower consumers by involving them in important processes such as product development shouldn’t also try to influence them through social media, according to a new university study.

The Dual Role of Power in Resisting Social Influence was published in the Journal of Consumer Research. Authors Mehdi Mourali (University of Calgary) and Zhiyong Yang (University of Texas, Arlington) wrote in a press release that empowering the consumer has become a popular business practice. M&M’s, Mountain Dew and other brands have sought to empower consumers by giving them some control over product development — customers vote on new colors, flavors, brand names, etc.

Previous research had assumed that empowered consumers either pay no attention to the opinions of other consumers or dismiss them entirely when judging a product, the authors noted. However, the research found that consumers who were made to feel empowered didn’t always ignore the opinions of others. In fact, some empowered consumers deliberately expressed opposing views and rebelled against attempts to influence them.

"Peer-to-peer marketing and consumer empowerment may not be compatible," wrote the authors in a press release.

Companies that succeed in empowering their customers may find it difficult to implement a successful social media campaign. Empowered consumers will either ignore or rebel against any perceived attempt to influence them.

"Many companies have embraced the concept of consumer empowerment," the authors concluded. "However, they should consider whether attempts to integrate social influence (word-of-mouth marketing, social network marketing, buzz marketing) might backfire with empowered consumers."

Do the study’s findings around the risks of empowering consumers make sense? Do you still see more upside than downside to encouraging consumers to get involved in aspects of the product development process?

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6 Comments on "Study: Empowered Consumers Resist Social Marketing Efforts"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
8 years 9 months ago

I’m wondering how many people (a) get empowered then (b) become rebellious? Can it be enough people to matter?

Lee Peterson
8 years 9 months ago

My opinions on things like this make my 17 year old daughter roll her eyes, but here goes: I think companies are nuts to have consumers develop product and design (like logos). You have to lead consumers by being a master of your own brand, including (obviously) the product. No one should be in a better position to create something fresh that really resonates with consumers than you. No one. It’s your job, so don’t hand it off.

By ‘open sourcing’ some of your most important work, you’re doing the opposite; letting customers lead. Brings to mind Henry Ford’s quote about a faster horse, doesn’t it? It’s a cop out to me, so it’s no surprise that those same consumer-creators would be upset with other input. It’s NOT what they do!

Jonathan Marek
8 years 9 months ago

What matters is what consumers do, not what they say. I don’t know whether social media influence truly works that often or not. But I do know that for many vehicles that are clearly proven to drive sales, first and foremost TV, consumers will say in surveys that they personally would never be influenced. This is why measuring outcomes is so much more important than surveying.

Lee Kent
8 years 9 months ago

There is certainly some value in having consumers participate in some aspects of products as long as the process of selection is communicated clearly.

Ask a consumer to vote on something and they will understand that the highest vote wins, for example. But if you just ask for opinions, then you are opening a can of worms. One consumer’s opinion will be vetted over another, thus causing some stir.

Ralph Jacobson
8 years 9 months ago

The overwhelming majority of people who truly get involved in the new product development processes as described in the article are not the ones to make huge negative impacts in the products’ social channels. They tend to be very loyal and supportive of the brands’ positive traits and, if anything, will post positive sentiments in their channels online.

Getting consumers involved with NPDI is a win-win for CPGs and shoppers, alike.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
M. Jericho Banks PhD
8 years 9 months ago
If anyone watched the (interminably long) video included with today’s Walmart discussion, you had to endure the first section touting WM’s in-house social media arm, Collective Bias. It’s clear that WM pushes suppliers to engage with Collective Bias, the CEO and COO of which trumpet some pretty weird ideas such as this: Customers used to make most of their purchase decisions before they got to the store, but now they can make those decisions by standing in the aisles while consulting their social media networks on their smartphones. (Apparently they overlooked the age-old and regularly updated research which shows that, even without smartphones, supermarket shoppers have for decades made 70% of their buying decisions at the shelf.) Collective Bias uses their dedicated blogger network to seek both product development input/research and consumer purchase opinion support from the same folks. Clearly, Collective Bias would disagree with this study in the Journal of Consumer Research which supposedly shows that if companies involve consumers in product development, they shouldn’t also try to influence them through social media. So-called… Read more »

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