Sources of market dominance have changed with time. 1900-1960 marked the Age of Manufacturing, when companies like Ford and P&G enjoyed the advantage of dominant manufacturing facilities. Next came the Age of Distribution, 1961-1990, when efficient supply chains like those of UPS and Walmart were most envied. Then of course came the Age of Information, when companies like Google and Microsoft that distributed information to the masses best found market share.

Today, we enter the Age of the Customer: When companies that best acquire, understand, engage, and retain customers in a collaborative loyalty loop will rise. The best way to understand customers in this Age is to start a dialogue, and incorporate it into every consumer touchpoint.

The Age of the Customer opportunities for leading brands to cement their stronghold on marketshare – or conversely, for quick-moving players to enter the marketplace and overthrow any change-resistant giants.

Accelerate customer acquisition by letting customers sell for you

In this Age of the Customer, the consumer is more powerful than the brand. Their voices are more trusted, but that doesn’t mean brands should stop talking. Brands can piggy back on the natural trust consumers have for each other by incorporating their words into their own branded content.

USAA boasts extremely loyal customers for a financial service provider. The firm’s customers are current and former military members and their families, and these consumers praise USAA’s dedication to their needs. Recognizing the power their member voices carry, the firm opened the brand site up to member feedback, to great results.

USAA now has an all-star Net Promoter Score of 87%, and an average member rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars. Through these glowing member testimonials, USAA saw online account initiation increase by almost 16,000 new accounts across 5 services. USAA even now reads real member words in radio ads.

Deliver brand intimacy across fragmented consumer touchpoints

Consumers today are always in contact with brands offline and offline. A new loyalty loop has supplanted the old purchase funnel – a brand relationship with a consumer is ongoing, from discovery to exploration to purchase and on to post-purchase engagement which, when done right, leads to discovery among current and new consumers.

When launching its new Dark Spot Corrector product, Clinique crafted a multichannel campaign with a built in loyalty loop from the start. They tested the product with select consumers before launch and kept the relationship going post-trial by gathering feedback. When these early reviews revealed that consumers were confused about how long the product should take to show results, Clinique updated the packaging and education materials immediately and informed reviewers of the timeline – encouraging them to rediscover the product again.

The brand also officially launched the product with feedback already integrated into TV, print, and digital marketing – so that new consumers who discovered the product immediately saw others’ opinions.

Create breakthrough mobile marketing using earned content

The ubiquity of mobile devices today means 42% of consumers are always addressable via web, mobile, TV, etc. They’re always available to brands in one or (more often) multiple channels. Recognizing the opportunity to connect with consumers at the point of sale, cold sore medication Abreva created a mobile app that included customer feedback. An overwhelming 96% of cold sore sufferers who’ve tried Abreva would recommend it to others, and the brand incorporated this stat into print and in-aisle ads that encouraged consumers to scan a QR code or visit the mobile site to read reviews.

Fast-track innovation using consumer insights

Consumers are evolving more quickly than businesses. As, CEO of Deep Focus puts it,

“Innovation needs to be part of your culture. Consumers are transforming faster than we are, and if we don’t catch up, we’re in trouble.”

The only way to keep up with consumers is to listen to what they’re saying, find the trends, and act on those trends more quickly than competitors.

Dell invites consumers to review their products, and uses that content to constantly improve. All products must meet a 3.5-star minimum average rating, or are discontinued. From one generation of laptop to the next, product teams updated 20 different features using feedback – uncovering the attributes consumers most desired. The brand has seen double-digit growth since it began gathering consumer product opinions.

We discussed these stories and the macro trends guiding the Age of the Customer in our recent webinar with David Cooperstein, Vice President and Practice Leader for Forrester. You can download the full webinar and slide deck here.