How Consumers Are Rewriting the Rules for Brand Accountability Street Fight

Voices Amplified: How Consumers Are Rewriting the Rules for Brand Accountability

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Today, consumer voices can be magnified across channels with the click of a button. The power of the consumer is undergoing a seismic shift, providing both opportunities and challenges to  businesses around the world as they rewrite the “rules” of brand accountability. Traditional online review sites are no longer the only medium to share opinions. With social media activity on the rise, consumers are posting freely in an effort to be heard. And they need to be.

What was once a seemingly harmless 1-star review is now a potentially devastating TikTok video that becomes an overnight sensation. One person’s experience suddenly speaks for the whole – and as a result businesses are paying attention.

A Revolution in User-Generated Content

With roughly 85% of American adults owning smartphones, the majority have access to the digital megaphone that is social media, and they are not holding back. Platforms like TikTok, where roughly 34 million videos are posted each day, have become home to endless crowdsourced information that evaluates the quality of nearly every product or service.

What does this mean? According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, 45% of Gen Z respondents named TikTok and Instagram as the top platforms influencing their purchasing decisions. Additionally, over 67% of consumers believe reading online reviews is an important part of deciding what to buy, and for 51%, social media is the most popular place to find and post reviews. Brands are reacting to these trends by funneling funds into influencer marketing; Insider Intelligence forecasts Instagram influencer marketing spend to surpass $2 billion in 2024. TikTok is poised to cross the $1 billion threshold.

Consumers want to interact with sources and businesses they trust, and it’s become clear that the craving for authenticity isn’t going anywhere.

The Age of Virality: Consumers Are Making and Breaking Brands

Social media has created a new frontier where consumers are taking charge. Viral sensations across platforms are providing information beyond what’s hot and what’s not, with the goal of giving both praise and derision.

Take the example of Panera Bread, which fell into a legal battle in October after the tragic death of a 21-year-old college student who went into cardiac arrest just hours after drinking “Charged Lemonade” from the quick service bakery-café chain. What the company didn’t pay attention to were the countless warnings and ongoing commentary from customers that circulated on social media for months preceding the incident. Many users dubbed it ‘crack in a cup,’ which should have raised red flags around consumer behavior and brand accountability. In December, news broke that a second individual had died. The story continues to trend on social media, with hundreds of TikTok videos, tweets, and Reddit threads gaining strong traction. Customer voices are now the bellwether for consumer-facing businesses and the

It’s difficult to tell how Panera will recover. Consumers will hold them accountable in their own ways – its impending IPO will have a lot to say.

The “Charged Lemonade” example is one tied to a specific product, but consumers are reacting elsewhere, too. As corporations creep into social movements by touting “eco-friendly” or “rainbow-themed” products, consumers have taken to social media with strong opinions. Recently, Starbucks saw tangible losses from customer boycotts after standing too close, or not close enough, to political conflicts affecting the global public.

Consumers are seeking genuine brand accountability and are unafraid to call out businesses of all sizes and types, even if that means permanently altering reputations in their wake.

Brand Accountability: Be Aware or Be Gone

We live in a world where consumer opinions are democratized and one post today can be headline news tomorrow. Consumer voices, long regarded as the barometer of success, now wield unprecedented power in building or negating success. The good, the bad, and the ugly are on display for everyone to see.

Failure to listen – and adapt – to consumer voices will not bode well for businesses. Consumers are firmly in control and they know it – and avoiding this fact could mean denying the chance to stand out as the exception—a brand that authentically cares about its customers.

As CEO of Chatmeter Mazur brings decades of experience to the position. He joins Chatmeter from CoStar Group, where he was President of Residential, responsible for its marketplace business since 2020. Previously, Mazur was CEO of Homesnap, which he helped build into a market leader before selling it to CoStar Group for $250M in 2020.
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