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Have It OUR Way: Giving Customers Control Will Dramatically Boost Your Business

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Back in the 1950’s, leading rental car company Hertz marketed itself with the slogan: “Let Hertz put you in the driver’s seat.”

This catchphrase was a direct appeal to our natural desire for control, a theme that’s played out again and again in advertising. In 2010, for example, National Car Rental ran ads that showed how customers could register online, avoid the counter, and pick any car in the lot. The campaign featured tennis brat John McEnroe, famous for his mid-match tantrums who, when he discovers he can select any car he wants, shouts, “Choose any car? You cannot be serious!”

The American road represents freedom and autonomy, and the most successful rental car companies position themselves as facilitators of the driver’s autonomy. Most car rental companies had already given drivers some control over the rental process, letting them choose the size of a car or request a specific model. But National went a step farther, letting the customer choose any specific car they want!

Companies Tend to Their Wants

It’s intuitive that companies and businesses naturally tend to their own wants –mainly the desire for profit­­– and this frequently happens at the customer’s expense or an employee’s needs. Corporations thrive on carefully structured organizations which allows them to control outcomes as closely as possible This often means that customers are given as little autonomy as possible, i.e., an uncustomizable product that is sold in only one way. But when companies give some degree of ownership to consumers, when they are willing to cede control and empower, such action can easily become a vital support on the bridge connecting consumer and company. Simply put, giving control is one of the best ways to foster a consumer motivation that supports a company’s brands.

Consider the “self-determination theory,” developed by psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, which postulates that positive behavior is in part a consequence of intrinsic motivation.  The difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be illustrated through the example of cleaning a house. Teenagers will begrudgingly vacuum the living room because they are told to, not because they care if the room is clean. This is extrinsic motivation, coming from an outside source. Adults on the other hand will vacuum for the personal satisfaction of getting their house clean. In other words, they are intrinsically motivated.

Give the Customer Control

For businesses, this translates into providing customers with greater control over their purchasing decisions so they may experience their buying behavior as self-determined and internally motivated.

Affording consumers some measure of control over the brand relationship isn’t only a smart marketing practice because it helps customers “feel good,” it offers customers the opportunity to internalize their decisions, to feel that the outcome of their buying decisions is genuinely self-directed. Not only will they experience a greater sense of satisfaction (and achievement) from their purchases, but will hold themselves accountable for a purchased product’s success or failure. As well, when customers view themselves as in control, they will often take risks like trying new services or taking a chance on a new product.

For example, when the Apple iPod came on the scene it was a radical innovation in terms of allowing consumers to control what they listened to. Music consumers no longer need wade through an entire collection of songs to enjoy the two or three that they want to hear. iPod users  are their own their own DJs putting together their playlists as they skip from album to album, or experience a sense of discovery by setting their iPod to “random.” Apple innovators showed a clear understanding of the deep desire for people to control their musical taste.

However, control wasn’t just reflected in the product itself when the iPod appeared. Control also played a key role in Apple’s ad campaign. A highly successful series of iPod commercials spotlighted artists like Eminem and Lady Gaga, artists known especially for individuality and nonconformism. These ads contained neither pitchman or slogan –only silhouettes of iPod users dancing wildly– which let the personality of the featured artist or song make the point: listen to the music you want to listen to, be the person who you want to be.

Satisfaction Equals Loyalty

Satisfying customers’ desire for control offers the highest potential for a company to build enduring loyalty.  Should enough people buy into a brand’s products or services out of intrinsic motivation, growth will follow. Contrary to traditional “wisdom,” the key is to making that happen is to relinquish control to your customers.

This guest post is courtesy of Mark Ingwer. He is the Founding partner of Insight Consulting Group.

“Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

About Gresham Harkless Jr.

Gresham Harkless is a Media Consultant for Blue 16 Media and the Blogger-in-Chief for CEO Blog Nation. CEO Blog Nation is a community of blogs for entrepreneurs and business owners. Started in much the same way as most small businesses, CEO Blog Nation captures the essence of entrepreneurship by allowing entrepreneurs and business owners to have a voice. CEO Blog Nation provides news, information, events and even startup business tips for entrepreneurs, startups and business owners to succeed.

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