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Data Science

Do You Empower or Influence?

Dr Michael WuMichael Wu, Ph.D. is 927iC9C1FD6224627807Lithium's Principal Scientist of Analytics, digging into the complex dynamics of social interaction and group behavior in online communities and social networks.


Michael was voted a 2010 Influential Leader by CRM Magazine for his work on predictive social analytics and its application to Social CRM.He's a regular blogger on the Lithosphere's Building Community blog and previously wrote in the Analytic Science blog. You can follow him on Twitter at mich8elwu.



Over the past few weeks, several friends in the social CRM industry have pointed me to a provocative post by Lisa Petrilli: Three smart reasons to empower instead of influence. They were seeking my thoughts and point of view on that subject. Subsequently, another friend, Wim Rampen, has written a follow up article at Customer Think, which led to yet another post by Barry Dalton on this topic. Now I felt compelled to offer some clarification on the subject between empowerment and influence. So I must apologize for another interruption on the cyber anthropology mini-series.


Empowerment and Influence are Orthogonal Concepts

First, I must clarify that empowerment and influence are not mutually exclusive as implied by Petrilli. They are related, but in an orthogonal way. You can empower people in a way so they become more influential, but you can also influence people in a way that they become more empowered.


If you must compare these two different concepts, at least compare them on the same ground. That is, you must specify who you are empowering (or influencing), and what you empower (or influence) them to do. One cannot compare empowering employees with influencing customers. Likewise, one cannot compare (a). empowering your customers to become your brand advocate, with (b). influencing your customers to buy your product. They are apples and oranges that should not be compared. The comparison is only fair if you compare between (a). empowering your customers to buy, and (b). influencing them to buy. I urge you to think hard and creatively about how you are going to empower your customers to buy. Do you give them money, or do you lower the price and have a lower profit margin? How do you give people more power to buy?


Both Empowerment and Influence Can Be Good and Bad

Although the word “empower” may have more positive connotation than the word “influence,” both can be positive or negative. Empowerment is simply the act of giving power, authority, or permission to someone; it does not dictate what they do with that power. We are all empowered by the internet and social media, because we, as individuals, are given great power to spread idea, coordinate, self-organize, and act.


But what if some people use that power to do something that is “not so good.” For example Pro-Ana, which is a support movement (enabled by social media) for anorexic girls to continue their clinically diagnosed eating disorder. A more extreme case, what if people use that power to spread racism, suicidal religious cult, or terrorism? Still think empowerment is positive? Do not be fooled by the mere words that people use.


Empower and Influence Are Both Necessary

If the posed question is “should businesses empower or influence?” My answer is they should strive to do both! The concept of empowerment is more appropriate for the customer service and support organizations; whereas the concept of influence is more suitable in marketing and sales. But any healthy company in a competitive market is going to need both (see Figure).




You certainly want to empower your customers to become your advocates. This is certainly more impactful than continually influencing them to buy more, because they are already your customers. So the task of empowering is probably most appropriate for the service and support teams in your company. However, for people who are not your customers, you want to influence them to try and adopt your product. Therefore, this job is for your marketing and sales teams. You may empower non-customers, but probably don’t want to do that, because they may be your competitor’s customer.


No doubt customer empowerment is very important, because it can turn your customers into brand advocates. But why do you want these advocates? Treated well, they are probably going to buy more and become your most valuable customers. But ultimately, you probably want your advocates to influence their friends and followers to adopt your product, so you get more customers, scaling your sales reach. So empowering your customer is like building a passionate external marketing agency that will partner with your company’s marketing and sales team to drive awareness and conversion. And they are doing this for free. But don’t forget that when you empower your customers, you are empowering them to be more influential.



Empowerment and influence are really two orthogonal concepts that have their own place in every business. To choose only one between the two is like asking companies to either shutdown their support/service arm or halt their marketing/PR functions. That, to me, sounds pretty absurd.


The final reason Petrilli argued in favor of empowerment rather than influence is that there is no proof influencers actually exist. Many have cited the famous study by Watts and Dodds 2007 as scientific validation that influencers either don’t exist or don’t matter. Although I have great respect for Dr. Watts, and I’ve personally learn a great deal from his research, his results on influencers are often misinterpreted by people who are not mathematically savvy enough to dissect his model. Since this analysis will be rather involved, I am saving it for my next post, which I will dedicate to the discussion on whether influencers really exist. So, if you are interested, come back next week (BTW, you can also vote for my SxSW proposal to hear me talk about this topic).


For now, let’s further our discussion on the topic of empowerment vs. influence. Kudos, comments, critiques, and challenges are all welcome as usual.




Micheal Wu,


My issue revolves around how both empowerment and influence are being used at the corporate level. And you pointed this out in the good and bad portion of your article. I am a communication graduate but not a (Ph.d). I believe empowerment and influence are being abused more and more at the corporate level. Copywrite from a legal perspective is at the time of inception and communication of that idea validates your right to be protected. The problem is where the key influence and empowerment is derived from and how it effects the privacy of that user.  Was the information obtained legally from the originator of the idea or was it mutated with the general intent of the messages and disseminated to the internet? In the internet my concern is the growing enterprise of collecting and using information without a real depth of understanding of sources. It is like a newspaper not being able to accurately know all it's sources. I believe that corporations and users need to be more transparent in their collection and use of information. I would also like to better understand ways of protecting myself and my business. Perhaps you could direct me to some resources.





Hi Michael,


As I said on twitter I largely agree with what you're saying here. I probably makes sense to explain what I mean with empowerment and how I see this in relation to influence, because I believe their is a very important link between the two..


As you may be aware, I'd like to take my angle from the Customer's point of view. Central to my thinking is that Customers become advocates as a result of experiences that result in meeting their desired outcome (of the jobs they are trying to get done)..


Since experiences, and valuation of the outcome of these experience, are always personal by definition, I believe it to be the best way for companies to cater for experiences that are customizable by the Customer, or to put it another way: provide platforms on which Customers can co-create their own experiences, or to put it in your words: provide platforms that allow Customers to influence their own experience as to influence their personal desired outcome..


Secondly, the Customer's experience is not limited to service & support. It is a continuum (to use Esteban Kolsky's - good choice of - words for a change) of interactions with the firm, it's products or services - in use - or even through others outside the firm.. and it is not "access only" for Customers either..


Thus, the challenge for companies today is to design experience platforms that allow Customers to influence the way they experience their interactions with the firm('s product & services).. And the best way to do that is to empower Customers to design (parts of) the experience themselves..


And - this is where I don't agree with your statement above - that is very well possible even in the process of decision making by Customers to choose products or services and to become your Customer or not.. e.g. you can empower your Customer to read/view reviews of your and competitive products, you can empower them to buy by providing them multiple options to purchase or payment options.. you can empower them to tailor your product in the buying process, you can offer them the choice to talk to a live agent help when stuck in the online ordering process etc etc.. All methods of empowering the Customer to buy the product/service.. and to influence the way they are able to meet their desired outcome..


And yes, you can also empower them to tell their friends about their great experiences.. but that is the last thing you should worry about (unless you have Customers complaining they can't be good advocates Smiley Wink.. And I just have a feeling that marketers worry too much about this last "feature of influencing" instead of empowerment, even in the sales-funnel..


I very much look forward to your next week post.. and please share your views or questions on the above comment.


Thx for the platform & a great post to further the discussion.


Wim Rampen








Data Science

Hello Brian,


Thanks for the comment.


Yes, both empowerment and influence can be good and bad, and if companies are not using data in a responsible way, that can certainly lead to something bad undesirable. But remember the customers and other end users have a voice too. If they feel that companies are collecting data about them in  ways that are not transparent enough, or if companies are using their data in ways that violate their privacy, then they can and should speak up.


I think a good example of that is Google's reaction to consumer's concern about how Google Buzz violated their privacy. Since social media has empowered use to share information efficiently, coordinate among people with similar perspective, get organize effectively and act collectively, the consumers and end users also have a lot of power.In fact some consumers may be abusing their powers too.


I think that both companies and consumers need to learn to use their power responsibly. If so, I think that both the companies and the consumers have much to gain from this. If consumers are starting to abuse their power and complain irresponsibly, then companies will start ignoring the consumers (including those who have legitimate reasons), this will turn into a vicious cycle where both parties will lose.


But companies should definitely act responsibly as an example. They should verify their data source, analyze it carefully and understand them before using them.


Thank you for the comment again, and hope to see you around.


Data Science

Hello Wim,


Thank you for dropping by and commenting.


I think your definition of empowerment is quite different from the kind of empowerment that Petrilli mentioned in her initial post on this topic. I definitely agree that in an ideal world, companies should empower people who may not be customer yet. But the ultimate goal still seems like influence to me, because you are trying to change the consumers' thoughts, sentiments, decisions, and action about your products/services, regardless of whether it is the marketing team telling them how great the product is or letting them read reviews about how great the product is. If you want to call the latter a form of empowermen, that is perfectly valid.


Personally, I think this may be a bit idealistic. Let's talk about the idea of empowering customer by providing reviews about competing products (just as an example, since you mentioned it first). I think this is a bit idealistic, because

1. Companies are not ready for this

I don't think companies can be 100% objective about this. I don't think companies can objectively display every competing product and all their reviews next to every one of their own product. If they cannot be completely objective, they are in some ways providing a biased view in favor of their own product. If that is so, then this is just another form of clever marketing. Until companies can get to a point where they actively turn away customers that they feel they cannot serve well, I think this is still just a clever marketing tactic and it is still a form of influence. Companies only made it seem like they are providing views on both sides to make consumers feel good about the fact that they’ve seen both sides and therefore feel confident and good about their choices. But if companies cannot do this objectively, I think it is better leaving this to an independent 3rd party. Consider what happen when the consumers find out that the reviews they read were pre-selected and biased.


2. Consumers may not be ready for it too

There is already a problem with information overflow. By artificially giving consumer more choices is sometimes not helpful and counterproductive. Have you read The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz? (Here is a great TED talk given by him on this topic). Some savvy consumers may like it, but according to Schwarts, the majority may simply find it more confusing.


All that being said, I still think it is a good thing to having an idealistic view, because it drive the industry towards a more ideal world. I am very much of an idealist too when it comes to research and academics.


I like your point on different payment option, but again I think this can only extend so far, what if customer want to use your product for a few years, before they make payment. Whatever flexible payment plans that companies come up with have to make financial sense for the company first, because consumers ultimately have the final say by choosing the company or not. But I do agree that a more flexible payment plan do give consumer greater power to buy. Definitely creative thought. This is a great point.


I also agree that helping customer through the buying process is a form of empowerment. But that is usually after they’ve decided buy, so they are virtually your customers already (so you are essentially empowering your customers). I guess in the real world, there will be some overlap between the end of marketing’s influence process and the beginning of customer services’ empowerment process. I should have drawn those red and blue arrows with a color gradient. Smiley Happy


Thank you for the "rather lengthy comment." I love your impeccable customer perspective. Glad to discuss more. I learn a great deal through this process. And stay tuned for next week's post on whether influencers exist?


Hi Michael,


I think it's a matter of perspective.. I don't think we disagree to a large extent with regard to influence.. although I like to see my examples as ways to empower the Customer to make their own choice and providing them with the tools and knowledge to personalize the experience, from the initial "orientation" to the actual use of the product/service.. Neither example I provided is a "must have" in all situations, but an example of what could be useful in a specific situation (e.g. the payment options)..


I suggest you also read this paper by McKinsey on the Customer Decision Journey. Very insightful and clear in it's call to action from push to pull-marketing.. I see influencer strategies (defined as strategies to influence Customer decision making via the use of influentials)  as push-strategies with by large no proven & repeatable effect on Customer and company value created.. Whereas I see empowerment strategies as pull-strategies..


Furthermore I don't think the ultimate goal is to influence people into buying.. the ultimate (intermediate) goal is to get people to buy.. Understanding the Customer Decision Journey specific to your business, and more importantly where you fall short compared to the Customer's alternatives and her expectations, is a vastly more important understanding than to understand who are the influentials.. (assuming they exist, but we'll talk about that next weekSmiley Wink). because a recommendation may just get you as far as having the intention to purchase, which can all just vanish in seconds if the experience of attempting to purchase is just too difficult, unpleasant or otherwise disrupted..


Now.. to end with a positive note: friends do influence purchase in a Social Network.. but not as you may have expected..


I'm enjoying the discussion. Talk to you soon!


Wim Rampen






Fantastic topic.  Thank you kindly for inclusion in the conversation.


Ha! Wim. You beat me to the punch on the McKinsey study.  If we accept the conclusions in that study of the changing behavior of consumers and the errosion of the traditional decison funnel and the corresponding marketing funnel, influence fades in importance to the empowered consumer.  Consumers are empowered by many factors.  They are empowered before they even enter the decision path to a purchase; empowered by the proliferation of technology and easy access to information. 


As McKinsey observed, the returns from efforts to influence the consumer in that new model are diminishing.  There are too many other competing sources of influence that studies are showing consumers rely on more, with influence by brands fading in effectiveness.  In order to have a value proposition to the consumer in that new decision journey that rises above the din and potentially trumps the value placed on other sources, companies need to focus on delivering measurable value before the sale, co-creating value with the customer, rather than focusing on trying to influence.  Value co-creation changes the game.  Value co-creation empowers the consumer, engages the consumer at a level that arm-length influence cannot; at a level that other competing sources of influence or simple information decemination cannot. 


Thanks again


Empowrment versus influence.... A really great debate, for sure, and, as Wim recalled, mostly a matter of push and pull. But are they orthogonal? I'm really not sure, as I see them as both poles of a linear relationship, where influence (push) and empowerment could be seen as the psychological requisites for... a conversation between a customer and a company, the kind of relationship Charles Handy described well as subsidiarity; empowering the customer up to the point where he is need for the company to give him more, up to the point where influence begins.


I thus see influence and empowerment as traction principles which determine the amount of created value. But is this enough? This is merely a dyadic relationship, where the Customer (or community, or stakeholder...) is facing a company to get a job done through a service. But this is a pro-active position. Staying in the psychological field, don't we forget the power of symbols? By symbols, I mean... brands, which impact is neither in push nor in pull. At the risk of being iconoclastic, I would say that both influence and empowerment are too customer focused, and that we require a broader view (more complex?) to encompass the whole ecosystem involved. Customers might be influenced or empowered, but what about internal stakeholders? What about the behavioral changes involved by introducing*strange attractors* (brands)in the system?

Data Science

Hello Thierry,

Thank you for stopping and commenting and introducing me to the idea of subsidiarity. I look at the linked content briefly, but probably not enough to get a full understanding. But it seems interesting.

I like your idea about influence and empowerment being the two poles. This is exactly what I meant with influence being a marketing concept and empowerment being a customer support/service concept, and there is really a continuum between these two poles. When I said orthogonal, I didn’t meant it in the geometric sense. I simply want to say that they are not mutually exclusive and you can empower and influence, and empower to influence, and vice versa.

With your bipolar image, we can view consumers spanning the range from being a detractor to an advocate of a brand. In between there may be your competitor’s customer, people who are not aware of your brand, and your customers (more or less in that order from detractor to advocate). What I see is that the more you move towards the advocate end of the continuum, the more you should empower. That is, give them the power to co-create value with you. And the more you move towards the detractor end, you need to exert influence. And that is to change their opinion, sentiment, or behavior around your brand. As I said before, influence may be exerted via collaboration between your marketing team and your advocates to draw more consumers towards the advocate end of the spectrum. This is the view from the perspective of your own brand. But you can look at it at the other end of the spectrum too. If you look at it from your competitor’s brand, the detractors are constantly trying to influence your customers and turn them into their customer and their advocate (your brand detractor). I wish I have time to draw this figure. I will try to cook up a figure this weekend.

I totally agree that this is a consumer focus discussion concerning influence and empowerment. And it is only a part of the bigger picture for the Social CRM transformation that I’ve described in an earlier post. And that will definitely involve internal stake holders, business processes, and cultural changes. Finally, I like your strange attractor analogy, and I think Zappos, as a brand, is a very good example of a powerful strange attractor. BTW, do you have a background in nonlinear systems analysis or physics? I’m just curious from the vocabularies you use.

Thanks again for the insightful comment. Hope we can have more discussion on Lithosphere.

Data Science

Hello Barry,

Thank you for the great comment.

From your comment, I get the sense that we may have a very different definition about what influence is. To me, influence is simply the ability to change a thought or an action, it doesn’t matter who is doing it. When you co-create value, the value proposition to the customers is changing their behavior and sentiment, so in a way, you have influence them. Empowerment is simply giving power to someone that s/he normally doesn’t have. By letting customer co-create value with you, you empower them. A side effect of this value co-creation empowerment is that their own sentiment and behavior changed, and it can also change the sentiment and behavior of other consumers. Therefore influence of the brand also increased.

So marketing effort can be view as direct influence by the company. The company’s marketing tactics are doing the influence. But empowerment, customer advocacy etc. (whatever you want to call it) can be viewed as indirect influence by the company. Because the company is not directly influencing consumer behavior or sentiment, they are only empowering their customers, which indirectly influence their own sentiment and behavior as well as those of other consumers.

Although indirect influence through empowerment may be more effective, you do pay a price. Since companies are at the mercy of their advocates, their influence may have limited reach, or may reach a different audience than what’s desired. Since companies are not in direct control of when the advocates will exert their influence, such influences may take longer. This is where company do it themselves. Although it may be less effective in terms of driving purchase, they are still very effective for driving awareness. So there is still a role for direct influence exerted by the company marketing efforts (whether it is push or pull). The McKinsey report states that about 1/3 of touch points still involves company driven marketing.

There is no doubt that consumer behavior has changed, and there is an erosion of the traditional decision funnel. Companies should definitely empower more. And it makes sense, because the brand’s influence actually increases as a result of customer empowerment. Whether this is a marketer job (as imply by the McKinsey report) or customer support/service is another debate. Even the authors of the McKinsey report stated that “the full scope of the consumer decision journey goes beyond the traditional role of CMOs.” But the roles of marketers are changing due to all the social CRM, e2.0 movement. However, before the walls go down between the different organizations within a company, there will probably be a marketing department, which does the traditional push-marketing. A there will probably be a customer support/service department, which may be a logical place for many organizations to implement pull-marketing, since customers have always contacting the company through this department.

Hence, marketing is doing the direct influence, where customer support/service is doing the indirect influence, in another word empowerment.

Thanks again for commenting. Hope to see you next time.

Data Science

Hello Wim,

Thank you for coming back again with more comments. And thank you for the linked reference. I finally got a chance to read it late last night. I feel that a lot of functions that are described in the paper for marketers maps better to roles for the customer support/service department, at least in most of the less evolved companies. Even the authors say it themselves. Although I totally resonate with the consolidation of roles and breakdown of organization walls within enterprise (that is part of the Social CRM transformation), the reality is that companies are still not quite there yet. The very fact that we are still in the business that we are in, means that companies still need help. They still have a marketing department, a customer service/support department, and everything in between (as you mentioned, consumer touch points form a continuum) depending on how granular you want to look at an organization. That being said, I think empowerment and influence does have a complementary role at different stages of the customer lifecycle.

If you define influencer strategies as strategies to influence customer decision making via the use of influentials, then it may seem like a push-marketing. Because you may be telling the influentials to influence their follower/friend about your products/services. What if you don’t ask them to do anything, and they simply tell their friends themselves. Do these influentials look more like advocates now? So cultivating advocates, maybe this should be call an advocacy program then? Wait, but isn’t customer advocacy a form of empowerment? So this is a pull-marketing?

What I’ve have found over and over again in our community data, that influentials and advocates correlate strongly, there are usually over 75% overlap between the influencers and advocates in our communities (we identify them using completely different methodologies and different criteria). In fact, our communities are built with the reputation engine and ranking structures promotes advocacy and cultivates brand advocates (we call these superusers). So, influencers do exist (at least in our data), whether they matter or not, or if an influencer strategy is repeatable is another discussion for next week. Smiley Happy

Whether something is a company’s ultimate goal depends on how far you look. If you have a lot of time before you run out of money, then a lot of things can be the ultimate goal. Otherwise, I think most companies only have two ultimate goals.
          1. Make money
          2. Cut cost
And you can move further away from these 2 goals if have either a long time horizon or lots of cash reserve. And I would say that goals that are closer to these 2 are ultimately more important and goals that are further away from these 2 are nice-to-haves. But this is a subjective question. People can definitely run companies very differently.

I’ve seen that Harvard study last year. At first, I was delighted and surprised, but then I realized that it has only 208 users. Trying to generalize a result from 208 people to ~20 million users on CyWorld is a bit stretching it. Moreover, the sampling is necessarily non-random, because they have selected 208 users that are connected (If you randomly sample 208 users from 20 million node social graph, the probability of getting connected graph is virtually zero). I’m just not sure if I can trust the generality of their result. I believe this is more of a methods paper, as they devoted the majority of the paper to the discussion of the data and the model. It’s basically a proof of concept for the method, but the result is probably not generalizable.


Thanks again for the comment. See you next week.


Hi Michael,


Excellent and very thorough post!


I just wanted to say that I agree with you and believe we are looking at this simply through different colored lenses.


I think that for a leader to be successful they must excel at both influencing and empowering.  When I wrote my post I was reacting to some of the rhetoric online that gave the impression that being an "influencer" was something to aspire to and that there was some value in being named "the most influential online..."


I was trying to express that, whereas being able to influence is an important skill, it is not nearly as fulfilling (in my own experience) as empowering others or feeling empowered to go make something amazing happen.  I have found it more effective for me as a leader to empower my teams than to simply influence them to do something my way.  And when I've been empowered to lead a team in my own unique way I've been a better leader.


I hope that allows some of the nuances in my post to be a bit more clear.


I genuinely appreciate the fact that you wanted to respond to my post and found it provocative. Smiley Happy


All the very best,

Lisa Petrilli

Data Science

Hello Lisa,


Thank you for stopping by and writing such a nice clarifying comment.


Definitely there has been a lot of mis-use of the term "influencer" and what it means. I think part of it is due to the hypes created by Fast Company's Influence Project. And I've written two post on them already. If you are interested, you can take a look at them here:

  1. The Fast Influencer Myth
  2. Social Fame, Social Shame, and the Accounting of a Game: Fixing Fast Company’s Influence Project

Inter-personal influence and empowerment are quite different from companies and brand trying to influence or empower consumers. I believe the confusion was that you were talking about these concept at the inter-personal level, but people have over-generalized it an apply it to business.


Nevertheless, (as I've mention in my reply to Barry), if you empower your customers, you get indirect influence through your advocates too. So it make sense to do more empowering. However, this only makes sense for customers (or people that about to become your customers. I learn this from Wim Rampen's comment that it is actually possible to empower people who are not customers yet). There are still a lot of consumers out there that are totally unaware of your brand, or even your competitor's customer, or competitor's advocate (your brand detractor). For these people, a concerted effort by marketing tactics that drives brand awareness (one kind of influence that can be effective for changing consumer sentiment) and indirect influence through your advocate (another kind of influence that can be effective for changing consumer behavior) would be very effective for driving conversion.


I'm glad you think that this post clear up some confusions. That is why we discuss and debate.  Smiley Happy  At the end we'll all have a better understanding of these concepts (influence vs empowerment). I always remember what Jimmy Wales once said at a TED talk that it is through endless debates and arguments that Wikipedia became so good. I like that approach to knowledge exploration.


Thank you again for the comment and see you again next time.


Hello Michael,

no, I have no background in physics, but the more I work with companies to help them understand and dive into collaborative behaviors, the more I see analogies between business ecosystems and CAS.

Blurring organizations' boundaries come at a cost: instead of roles (employees, customers,... or influencers) we now have to understand what are the forces at work which keep the system in place. Empowerment and influence, are, for me, some of those. But there are other, internal as well as external, which shape the journey from creation to consumption. Push, pull, gravitational (as we could formulate customers expectations),... It gets definitely mpuch more important to understand WHAT influences customers (or wannabe customers) than WHO.

Thanks for this great article and convo.


Data Science

Hello Thierry,


Thank you for coming back again to keep the discussion going.


I totally agree with you that business is more like an eco-system. And there is more to it than just the externally focused effort of empowerment and influence. As I mentioned in my view on social CRM, there will be changes both internally and externally, and moreover culturally.


I like your holistic view and it is a perspective that I like to take (just that it is sometime hard to put it all in one blog post).


I've learn a lot from the great discussion with you, Barry Dalton, Wim Rampen, and Lisa Petrilli. So, in light of all that I've learn on the topic of influence vs empowerment, I've drawn a revised diagram to explain where influence and empowerment might operate.


Empower vs Influence_v02_Small.gif


In general influence and empowerment operates as two poles on a continuum that spans all types of consumers: from your brand advocates, to your ordinary customer, to consumers who are not aware of your brand, to your competitor's customer, and their advocate (your brand's detractor). Influence more of a marketing / sales concept that operates on one end (your detractors), and empowerment is more of a customer service / support concept that operates on the other end (your advocates).


However there can be an overlap in between these two extremes. As customerstart to enter your purchase funnel (note this is the purchase funnel, not the marketing funnel that's talked about in the McKinsey report), you can start to empower them with value co-creation. As they move deeper down the purchase funnel, they can be empowered more with payment options etc. All these empowerment occur before consumers become your customers. And of course, you can further empower them after they become your customers and eventually turn them into your advocates.


Empowerment is more effective in terms of ROI, because you automatically get indirect influence through your advocate too. But it is limited to customers and people who are about to become your customer. Influence is still needed to change the opinion, thoughts, sentiment, or behavior of the unawared customers, your competitor's customers and their advocates (your detractors). So you want to influence thse consumers, who can potentially move into your competitors' purchase funnel. And there can be many such funnels for all the different competing brands out there. So the audidence or target for influence can still be quite large.


Thank you for all the discussion. I've definitely advanced my thinkings from the customer service perspective. Hope to see you all next time.



I'm completely there on the distinction.  when I read this - "and empowerment is more of a customer service / support concept that operates on the other end (your advocates)." something hit me on top of the head...and I might completely contradict myself here (I hope not). 


In the context of customer support communities, influence I think DOES matter.  That is, the influence gained from credibility, which is In turn earned through knowledge power and trust.  Isn't this the main vehicle through which community superusers are effective?  The offer knowledge, the community validates that knowledge and then, over time the are able to influence the community through this credibility.


In that sense, does the customer look more like the influencer on the marketing end of the continuum?


Have I completely muddied the waters?  Hope not.




Hi Michael,

I just finished reading your final response to Thierry above. I agree with your Influence-Empower continuum but not totally in agreement with the mapping of this continuum to the purchase funnel.


Many firms wrongly classify 'customers' as those that have done purchases with them in the past. However, if they were to dig a bit deeper they will find that only a percentage of their customers from last year were customers this year.


And so I believe that influence not just applies to your detractors and competitor's customers but even to those who has for whatever reason found a substitute for your product or reduced their needs for this product. In other words, influence in my opinion can be used not just from an awareness perspective but also to rekindle the old flame for the brand.


I do agree with your other statements regarding empowerment - brand advocacy, more effective, better ROI etc.




Data Science

Hello Barry,


You did not contradict yourself. You are simply looking at influence through the customer's lens.


As you said, in a support community, the superusers can develop credibility and trust, and therefore have more influence. And they often do influence other members or visitors who visit the community. That is true. But in that case, the superusers (who are usually customers) are exerting the influence directly on those visitors/community members. The company simply empowers these superusers by providing a community platform that enables interaction, syndication and co-creation of value. In fact, the company is empowering the superusers to become more influential.


So the company's support/service department is not directly influencing; they are directly empowering. They just get the added benefit of indirect influence from their superusers or advocates. But on the other end of the spectrum, the company's sales/marketing department is directly influencing the consumers. So if you look at it from the company's lens (and ask what is the company is doing directly), then the picture will make sense.


I hope this address the muddy water. It is only muddy when you are thinking about it from what the customers are doing. And since you are passionate about the customers, it is no wonder that you think that way. But if you can view this from what the company is doing directly, then the water will be crystal clear.


Thanks again for the question. Come back again.


Data Science

Hello Ned,


You have a good point. But when a customer switched to a different brand, s/he is no longer your customer anymore IMHO. Even though you CRM system has his transaction record and shows that he has been your customers, it doesn’t mean that he is currently your customer (as you mentioned). If a customer have not purchase your product for a period of time that is longer than the average lifetime of your product, then it is very likely that this customer (or I should said ex-customer) of your has either forgot about your brand or switched to another brand.


Therefore, these customers effectively has move out of your purchase funnel back into the unaware consumer pool, or actually move into your competitor’s purchase funnel. For these people (even though they are technically your customers, because they have once been your customer), effectively they are no longer your customers. So influence should operate on these people as they operation other unaware consumer, your competitor’s customers, and their advocates.


So whether you agree or disagree with my picture depends on whether you want to treat switched consumers (i.e. those who have once been your customer, but has now switched to another brand) your customers. I think deep inside you probably agree with me because you said “Many firms wrongly classify customers' as those that have done purchases with them in the past.” I think that CRM systems just have to get smarter in telling who is REALLY your customers.


Thank you for the comment and the challenge. See you next time.



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