Sites offering price comparisons and other social networks have handed considerable power over brands to individual people. This trend underlines the need for companies to adapt.

Interview with Philippe Jourdan, Marketing Director of Panel On The Web, and co-author of "A nouveaux consommateurs, nouveau marketing" (New Marketing for New Consumers).

L'Atelier: In your book you speak about the emergence of a new type of consumer you call "consumer-combatants". Is this a kind of reaction to brand names, which derives its attitudes from social networks?

Philippe Jourdan: Consumer-combatants are a class of consumers which is emerging in response to a general trend towards lower purchasing power. These consumers, who for the most part are middle class people, are really feeling the downward trend, but refuse to let it affect their rather hedonistic consumption habits. As a result, they are engaging in a kind of war against brand names, which is made easier by the increased availability of information on these brands. It's a fact that online comparison tools are the most effective tools available and at the same time they can use the new media – such as social networks, which are the favourite channels for diffusing information – to play a more active consumer role.  In short, these new consumers have access to information, are enthusiastic about voicing their opinions and changing things, and nowadays have the means to do so.

L'Atelier: So how is this changing the relationship between company and consumer?

Philippe Jourdan: Nowadays the major role played by social networks means that the relationship with the consumer needs rebalancing. Brands can no longer afford to treat the consumer as a mere target, a passive buyer. The consumer has become a multiplier, a link in the chain of communication who has to be wooed - a real 'brand-adjudicator', in fact. Basically, these days, any change in a brand's positioning or policy which is not to the liking of the consumer could lead to the brand losing some of its appeal. In the spring of 2010, the New York Times revealed that H&M had destroyed its own merchandise rather than give it to charitable organisations. This led to a media frenzy, which was strongly taken up on the social networks, and the Swedish firm's image was severely dented.

L'Atelier: What organisational changes will this trend bring about?

Philippe Jourdan: Basically, I think a return to Marketing fundamentals is required, i.e. companies must find a communication message that is transparent, accessible, and above all consistent. The same message should be used internally and externally, and must be adhered to at all levels of the company. In terms of the form communication will take, it's now an absolute must to be social network-savvy. The company must become a kind of advisor, using these networks, guiding consumer choice rather than trying to impose it. It’s vital to conduct a dialogue with the consumer, based on equality, since the consumer can now not only compare and change supplier, but actually influence what's going on around him.