There were three engaging presentations about the Future of Online Marketing at the Commission Junction University event for advertisers and publishers in London this week. 

The message coming through loud and clear was that marketers need to wake up quickly to the shifting balance of power on the internet.

There is no escaping the fact that consumers will increasingly hold sway in the fast-changing digital environment.

Nigel Sheldon, director of digital at Starcom Digital, stressed the importance of “getting under the skin” of what people are doing online and understanding “increasingly complex decision journeys”. 

As well as getting to grips with the implications of converging technologies, it is also crucial to make sense of “converging behaviour” as consumers (especially young people) get better at multi-tasking, he said.

Think mobile content, gaming, social networking, podcasts etc …. 

We need to understand the complexities of how people respond to digital media,” added Sheldon.

Vinny Lingham
, of Clicks2Customers, told advertisers to be under no illusions that that “the consumer owns your brand”.

He said that the term Web 2.0 should be understood in terms of leveraging different technology platforms “to reach consumers in the way they want to be reached”.

Mark Creighton, MD of i-level, said that marketers need to make sure that they are not just making empty promises. They run the risk of being exposed at a time when user-generated content is becoming more prevalent and visible on the internet.

He added: “Marketers will have to respond to the fact that consumers have far more control … The confidence that consumers have achieved means that they will talk about it and share it if you make promises but don’t deliver.”

He stressed the importance of not just pushing out the right message, but also listening to, and reacting to, the message coming back from consumers.

It’s important that companies don’t put their fingers to their ears,” he said.

The importance of this advice cannot over-estimated. Companies need to make sure that both positive and negative consumer-generated content is being filtered and fed back to the right people across their organisations, whether in operations, customer services or marketing departments.

To repeat some more advice from the E-consultancy Shopping Comparison Buyers Guide:

  • It is critical to keep a close eye on customer behaviour and how changing habits online (including increased use of comparison engines) will affect your business.
  • Build an understanding of how research on comparison sites is influencing online and offline purchasing habits.

Of course, the same advice goes for all types of user-generated comments, whether on price comparison and social shopping sites, forums, blogs or social networks.

The shift of power to consumers may be daunting for marketers but it is certainly not necessarily bad news.

As Nigel Sheldon pointed out, consumers are likely to be more receptive to trusted products and brands as they are confronted with more choices and advertising messages. 

There are plenty of opportunities out there for companies who are willing to embrace the evolving digital landscape.

Those companies who have strong brands, as well as offering value backed up by good service, will be rewarded.