Harvard Business School – Working Knowledge has a nice interview with Prof. Luc Wathieu on customer empowerment.
Here are some of the salient points about the concept:
The idea involves letting consumers take control of variables that are conventionally pre-determined by marketers: product characteristics, place of access, exposure to advertisements or product information, and even price. Consumers can shape the marketing interaction, making it more relevant for themselves, and this should lead to greater involvement and responsiveness.
Empowerment is sometimes captured in the slogan "get what you want, when you want it, where you want it, on your own terms."
Marketers have a number of beliefs and habits that are becoming dysfunctional: for instance, the belief that more exposure to a message increases the likelihood of response. Too much exposure hurts the expected relevance of marketing messages, and consumers could stop paying attention.
Another typical belief is the notion that you want the consumer to be captive. But captivity hurts trust. For instance, a conventional marketer would think that facilitating the opportunity to opt out of the relationship is foolish. In the context of consumer empowerment, making it easy for the consumer to opt out gives a consumer a useful outside option that is an additional mark of control and negotiation power. Firms should make opt-out opportunities extremely easy, and continuously advertise them.