In today's world of online reviews, customer blogs and social networks, you could be mistaken for thinking that all your customers are online and that is the only place that experience sharing is occurring. The reality is that we are analog and not digital beings and most of our recommendations or warnings still happen outside the internet, during conversations with people we know (more here). The vast number of customer experiences and recommendations that I absorb are from people who I know or meet and relay it to me face to face.
We typically think of analog customer advocacy as being less valuable or dangerous than digital advocacy because of the limited audience that is exposed to it. For example, I might not be happy with my cell phone provider but at the most, I am only going to tell 10-20 people about it. On the other hand, millions of people can see the same information online, so companies tend to accept analog advocacy as a high impact but low risk influence on their customer base.
I was recently reminded that the "analog consumer" is getting smarter and learning the power of "eye balls". As I drove down the highway recently I passed a car with a big sign in the back window. The sign said, "THIS CAR IS A LEMON. DO NOT BUY ONE". The surprising thing to me is even after several weeks I remember that this sign was in the window of a Ford Escape but I can't remember many of the other cars I passed that day (or any other day). In the online world reviews are not usually linked to the actual product (an image all you can expect) but here the review was stuck onto the product. In the online world you can't see the reviewer or you don't even know if they own the product they reviewed, but here the reviewer/customer was IN the product! This connection between the customer, the product and the review in the real world was incredibly powerful and had more impact than any review I could ever read on a Ford Escape (I am never going to go near one). Then I thought about audience and the fact that this guy must be driving past thousands of cars per week and influencing everyone's perception of the Ford brand. Now that is power which has a lot more influence on consumers than some online review site that uses reviewers for hire.
Unfortunately for Ford, this example is about them but it could have so easily been about any automotive manufacturer. The next step might Lemon stickers for cell phones, camera's, etc ...who knows.
We are living in a world where more and more customers are becoming comfortable with sharing and broadcasting their experiences. At the moment the bulk of sharing occurs offline but most of the broadcasting occurs online (interesting blog on online vs. offline sharing here). This story shows the potential for that to shift.
My advice to companies is to beware of your "analog customers" and deliver great experiences every time. It only takes one customer to put a "Lemon" sign in their back window and it could cost you and your brand more than you think.