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Consumer-to-consumer (C2C) marketing is the direct promotion of a product by one consumer to another consumer through peer interactions. It is the evolution byproduct of traditional business-to-consumer marketing, where the message defining a product morphs from a company-controlled campaign to a consumer-driven phenomenon. The consumer in consumer-to-consumer marketing becomes, in effect, a salesperson for the company, whose good, or bad, experiences with a product can often have more weight with other consumers than the endorsement of an industry expert.
Word-of-mouth is the traditional paradigm for consumer-to-consumer marketing. It encompasses the face-to-face interactions between a current customer and a potential customer. The current customer uses his experiences with the product to convince a friend, family member, co-worker or even a stranger of the product’s merit. Word-of-mouth can take the form of personal recommendations, reviews, endorsements, referrals, or any other consumer-driven method of creating “buzz” about the product. Buzz is the holy grail of marketing, where the excitement surrounding a product spreads through the public on a swell of consumer opinion, rather than as the direct result of a company-produced marketing campaign.
With the development of the Internet and the widespread adoption of social networking, consumer-to-consumer marketing has taken on new dimensions. Through many different social networking sites, consumers are now connected to a worldwide forum of consumers that defies traditional geographical boundaries and can be instantaneously responsive. Many retail sites have implemented consumer review options for products purchased that makes it easy for consumers to express an opinion on a product that is available to any other consumer that might want to purchase it. Consumer-to-consumer marketing has expanded to include Internet-based, consumer-created content through websites, forums, reviews, blogs, videos and microblogging-feeds.
The relatively new landscape of the Internet and social media for consumer-to-consumer marketing has become somewhat perilous for businesses. Traditional word-of-mouth was always uncontrollable by the company, but was limited by geographic realities. With the development of social networking, a consumer’s geographical reach is unlimited, and his positive or negative opinion can go viral at any time. This new paradigm rewards products with positive feedback, but devastates products with negative feedback that cannot be easily erased from the Internet. Social networking’s impact on consumer-to-consumer marketing has forced businesses to guard against the single consumer, whose aberrant or erroneous experience might end up at the top of the search engine results for a product, disproportionately affecting the decision-making process of future consumers.