Consumers are taking control of their own marketing destinies, creating their own experiences. They are becoming their own brand managers and changing the way marketers go about marketing. They wield considerable and increasing power in an economy that naturally empowers them in natively digital ways that are becoming ubiquitous. We see evidence of this in the response rates, the opt-out rates, and the unsubscribe rates of email and other marketing campaigns.
I discuss opt-out in detail in the next chapter. Is opt-out an inevitable outcome of the transition of the global economy from a traditional one to a digital one—with consumers who are alienated by rapid technological change? Quite the contrary: it is consumers who are rapidly embracing the benefits of the digital economy; it is changing their expectations for brand and customer relationships.
At the same time, however, the promotional activities of marketers are accelerating this tectonic shift that is empowering customers to seize control of their chosen brand relationships, to opt out of those relationships that don’t adapt to the new customer-driven market reality. Many marketers have misinterpreted the meaning of the digital economy—they see it as a more efficient economy, a cost-saving economy for businesses, with digital marketing as a low-cost driver that enables economical delivery of relentless marketing messaging. But this is mistaken. To succeed in the new era of consumer-empowered marketing, brands must learn from the mistakes of the past, to ensure they don’t repeat them in the new channels and new media of the digital economy.
As marketers, we need to upend our thinking about “managing customers.” We need to give customers control, with digital tools and assets to manage their own empowered relationships. If you don’t provide customers with relationship control, customers will seize it anyway—and opt out from your brand. Wharton School marketing professor Jerry Wind was one of the very first to argue that marketers must change their focus from CRM—customer relationship management, to CMR—customer-managed relationships, and his prescient prediction is now rapidly coming to fruition: