If the digital tide has taught people anything, it’s that marketing is no longer a sport. There was a time when advertising was meant to downright trick people. And while the marketing world long ago abandoned that in favor of common decency, the power that has been handed to the consumer is a downright turnaround: digital has forever manipulated the game into consumers’ favor.

It is a shift to digital self-reliance that has created a firestorm of change in the marketing world.

Advertising types love to call it “consumer empowerment” . It’s really just the collision of two important factors: 1) Access to information and 2) A common desire to get more for our money. As buyers, we’ve become savvier at using the tools and services in the marketplace to make smarter choices, bypassing strictly commercialized decisions (Mikey Likes It!). Product reviews, forums, ecommerce, customer service chat — it’s all enabling us to make informed decisions. Beyond that, social media, email, loyalty programs — they all create the opportunity to keep us around.

Without overcomplicating it, relationships with brands go like this: Customer needs widget. Brand X , Y and Z has widget. Brand X appeals to customer because of its design, suitability and corporate values. Brand Y does too, though more people are saying good things about them and they have made the process of buying and learning about their product easier. Customer buys from Brand Y. Customer really likes Brand Y because they deliver on their promise and inoffensively keep them updated with relevant communications, such as coupon offers, promotions for sharing with friends, interesting content on Facebook. 

For an increasing number of savvy buyers, the less digitally available the buying experience is, or rather, the less organizations integrate digital into our buying and loyalty experience, the more encumbered we feel and the more likely we are to move on.

The buying experience for most is blended: in store and out of store and in any number of channels. We might begin a search on our laptops at work, do more research on our mobile device at lunch and go in-store to check a product out later in the day. Right now, for most organizations, these are all independent experiences. In a digital business world, organizations need to break down the walls between channels in order to more closely mirror the way people buy. That is where true differentiation lies. This, however, could spell significant change for some organizations.

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