Who’s in Control of the Marketing Message? (Guess What. It’s Not You!)

There was a time when advertisers and marketers were at the center of the marketing universe. Messages were broadcast in a one-way fashion to largely passive consumers.

Today, thanks to social media, our prospects and customers are talking to each other about our company, products, services, industry, and competitors, whether we are present or not.

What’s worse, we may not even be aware that a conversation is taking place!

That head in the sand mentality may work for the ostrich, but not for business.

Who is in control of the marketing message? One thing is certain, it isn’t us.


Classic command-and-control marketing and advertising involved creating a message and distributing it through every available channel. If it feels a bit militaristic, that’s because command-and-control has its roots in the military.

The general barks orders to the colonel, who hands them down to the major, who passes them along to the captain, then to the lieutenant, and so on down to the lowly private.

Not unlike that, marketing executives, working in tandem with ad agencies, carefully craft messages that get syndicated through multiple changes until they reach the consumer, who is supposed to be inspired to do just what the ads direct. Simple, really.

If one campaign doesn’t pan out, another may come along behind it. If that one fails, then a new agency is hired to replace the one that faltered, or maybe the CMO herself gets the ax.

Social media has disrupted that structure and put the message in the hands of the consumer, who remixes it to suit their liking. The brand’s message becomes whatever the community dictates. It is no longer the sole property of the brand.

Smart companies respond favorably and create ways to incorporate the consumer in spreading the message. However, many are still motivated by fear of losing control, negative feedback, legal repercussions, and just plain fear of change itself.

The “we’ve never done it that way before” mentality governs a lot of business owners’ and executives’ thinking.


Consumers aren’t just insurgent, they are also empowered. Social media has granted them the authority to speak up, and their voices are being heard loud and clear. While companies may want them to “pay,” as in buying their products, these empowered consumers want those same companies to pay attention and give them a seat at the table.

They no longer want to be merely passive consumers of products and services, but active participants helping to co-create them.

If the old command-and-control structure no longer works, what might serve as a suitable alternative?

Fard Johnmar, digital health futurist and founder of healthcare marketing communications firm Enspektos, LLC, suggests “Engage and Encourage” as the way to go.

“In a world where social media is very influential, complete message control will be impossible,” Johnmar says.

Instead, he recommends reaching out to influencers on social media to solicit their help in spreading the word, then producing social media content that will help enrich and expand the dialogue. He sees it as a collaborative effort between the company and the consumer.

Call it a truce, healthy compromise, collaboration, or partnership, the best thing companies can do considering this paradigm shift is to share ownership of the message.

Brands assume the responsibility of creating a strong message but find ways to engage the consumer and encourage its viral spread.

Digital marketing strategist Mack Collier offers this advice:

“This isn’t a war with the ‘consumers’ over who has control of the marketing message. Neither party has total control. Marketers have control over the marketing message that they send to their communities, and the communities have control over how they relate that message to others.

“Communities need marketers just as much as marketers need communities. The role of marketers isn’t to cede control to our communities and get out of their way. Instead, our job is to join our community and clear a path for them to help them reach their destination as quickly and efficiently as possible.”


It takes courage for companies to turn loose of their marketing message and share ownership of the brand with consumers. Those that are willing to do so will be met with greater trust, attention, and loyalty. You’ll know those that don’t. Their heads will be firmly planted in the sand.

A version of this content was originally published in chapter three of my book, The Digital Handshake: Seven Proven Strategies to Grow Your Business Using Social Media.




Freelance B2B writer and editor, digital marketing instructor, and author.

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Paul Chaney

Paul Chaney

Freelance B2B writer and editor, digital marketing instructor, and author.

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