07/17/2013 03:53 pm ET Updated Sep 16, 2013

Is the Consumer Now Your New Head of Marketing?

Have you ever read a book on an Amazon Kindle? When you reach the end it asks if you want to tell all your friends about the book on your social networks? It's not a feature that is there just to make it easy for you to brag that you actually reached the final page of Ulysses. It's turning customers into marketers for a brand -- in this case Amazon because those social messages all feature a link to the product on their website.

There is a big shift in marketing today, with brands finding that they have a large number of customers who love their products. They are willing to tell their friends and effectively advertise the brand for free.

This is a phenomenon that existed long before Facebook. Harley Davidson motorcycles have long had a fanatical following that has turned the brand into a cult -- people are not just buying a bike, they are buying into a lifestyle. The Nike 'swoosh' is one of the most popular tattoos in the USA.

I personally wouldn't want to tattoo a brand logo on my body, but people who buy into the 'just do it' philosophy are often keen to show their devotion to what the brand means to them.

This column on LinkedIn explores how retail consumers could become the marketing heads for retail brands. Of course the marketing boss cannot literally be disposed of -- thankfully for many in those jobs -- because things still need to be coordinated even if the consumer is doing a lot of the work.

But just think for a moment about the retail experience. Customers use technology to find product information and check prices. Staff can use technology to make the in-store experience better. Customer ideas can drive product development -- look at Lego for example. And entirely new sub-brands can be created that exist only on the electronic devices being used to shop.

Customers can promote your brand and even help design your new products, but all of this can only work if you make it possible -- you need to facilitate their involvement because many of these possibilities are quickly becoming expectations.