Survival of the fittest is as true today as in any previous era, but what it takes to be a fit competitor has changed dramatically, even just over the last ten years. It has to do with savvy consumers, the Internet, and an innovation called trust-based marketing — issues that MIT Sloan Professor Glen Urban explores in depth in his new book Don't Just Relate — Advocate: A Blueprint for Profit in the Era of Customer Power.
Urban reveals how the Web has brought about an unprecedented increase in consumer strength. On the Internet, a company, its biggest rival, and its tiniest competitor are all the same distance from the customer, each only an online search away. Consumers can read ratings of your products, compare prices, even review the diatribes of dissatisfied customers.
Surveys show that consumer trust is at an all-time low. In 2003, two-thirds of Americans believed that “if the opportunity arises, most businesses will take advantage of the public if they feel they are not likely to be found out.”
A 2004 Gallup International and World Economic Forum study revealed a marked lack of trust in large national and multinational corporations, NGOs, trade unions, and media organizations around the world.
Forward-looking companies, Urban says, are confronting this crisis of confidence head-on with a mandate of consumer advocacy. They are providing customers with open, honest, and complete information and identifying the products that suit customers best, even if those products are being offered by a competitor.
Urban's research has uncovered one critical rule: If a company advocates for its customers, customers will reciprocate with their trust, their loyalty, their business — and positive word-of-mouth.
As the leader in the field of trust-based marketing, Urban is the expert most prepared to document an issue that has not yet hit the radar screens of many companies or their advertisers. Cofounder and chairman of Experion Systems Inc., he is a legend within the marketing universe for his creation of the Information Acceleration methodology that simulates future sales, an approach that has saved manufacturers millions in development costs. His tools have been used to forecast the success and profitability of three thousand new consumer products.
In Don't Just Relate — Advocate, Urban draws on his research involving the latest customer advocacy initiatives at GM, Intel, Qwest, and John Deere. For each, he documents the keys to earning customer trust, to keeping it, and to profiting from it. The book is available through Wharton School Publishing.