Just An Online Minute... The Tyranny Of The Customer?

Has the Web given customers too much influence? In some cases, the answer might be yes, suggests Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson.

"Your brand is what Google says your brand is, not what you say your brand is," Anderson told staff at Universal McCann this morning in a discussion about his book, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More.

This development, he says, has given rise to "the tyranny of the customer," which can lead to some "really unfair" results, as one dissatisfied consumer can cancel out decades of accumulated goodwill.

For instance, he said, one negative consumer review on Amazon can outweigh an outpouring of favorable opinions by professionals. Or, he proposed, consider Jeff Jarvis, who caused Dell Computer no end of problems with the "Dell hell" blog post, detailing his problems with the company.

But are these really examples of consumer "tyranny"? The Jarvis post about Dell resonated with other unhappy consumers because they, too, had gripes with the company. And an opinion on Amazon is just that--an opinion.

Word-of-mouth has always been able to influence popular culture, but word-of-mouth is more than just one person's opinion. Even the most persuasive consumer in the world can't affect box office returns unless other people have reason to agree with him.

Despite Anderson's claims, it's no more plausible that one consumer's negative reaction could derail Amazon sales than that a bad movie review would kill a film. Just as the spate of mediocre professional reviews didn't hurt this summer's "The Da Vinci Code," it's hard to imagine that one consumer's negative review would damage a good film.

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