Mention the words "consumer empowerment" to marketers, and most will shrink away from you like a vampire from light. Conjuring up all sorts of evils, consumer empowerment is considered a stake in the heart of marketing.

PVRs, pop-up blockers and on-demand media empower people to avoid advertising and make a mockery of advertising scheduling. Consumer blogs, forums and review sites give consumers a global voice that can determine the fate of a brand. (Just say iPod Nano or Kryptonite Locks to marketers and watch them cower.) The myriad product and service choices available empowers consumers to switch products on the most fleeting of whims.

So consumer empowerment means bad news for marketing, right?

Surprisingly, no. Marketers have come up with an ingenious way of harnessing consumer empowerment to unlock sales growth for their brands. The solution is simple—go with the flow and really empower consumers. Let them call the shots on your marketing and innovation. Don't just listen to them through classic market research, but actually empower consumers to cast deciding votes on what gets done.

Call it the Big Brother Effect, Audience Participation or simply Consumer Empowerment... the result is the same: armies of loyal sales-boosting word-of-mouth advocates.

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