Would you believe that PepsiCo and TOMS both have over a million marketers on their marketing team? In fact, you may be on their team without even knowing it. A company’s customers are its largest marketers, especially in today’s highly interconnected world. PepsiCo and TOMS were quick to recognize the importance of customers to their marketing strategies and found ways to empower those who were empowering them. As a result, both have seen incredible success in marketing and sales.

Customer EmpowermentPepsiCo, producers of Lays Chips, realized that Lays were getting old. They had to do something to stay afloat in the sea of rising small chip companies capturing specific niches. In a conference held by Knowledge by Wharton, President of Global Snack Groups and PepsiCo Global Insights, Ann Mukherjee, discussed their “Do Us a Flavor” campaign, one that combines America’s two favorite things: food and Facebook. This campaign started as a reaction to the rise of “foodies” and as a way to keep their wheels turning as the brand began to gray. Through this campaign, chip lovers could create and share their dream chip flavor. The flavor with the most votes online would win a prize at the end and their chip flavor would be produced. In 2013, Lays received over 3 million submissions and in 2014, over 14 million. The 2015 competition is currently underway. “This wasn’t about Lays. We created tools that allowed people to celebrate their passion for food. Lays became a communication device for people to share about their daily lives.” says Mukherjee.

When Lays saw value in customers beyond unit sales, they were able to achieve greater reach and exposure. Let’s see how TOMS founder, Blake Mycoskie, did it.

TOMS’ customer empowerment is not about a single campaign but rather their entire business platform. In 2006 when Blake Mycoskie traveled to Argentina, he was struck by how many children walked around barefoot. They couldn’t afford shoes. To remedy this, he established TOMS, a shoe manufacturing company that would give a pair of shoes to a child in a developing country for every shoe sold. It is a one-for-one model that has proven to be incredibly successful to this day. Today people pay attention to social issues. They genuinely care about helping others and they want to make a difference. Mycoskie enabled consumers to do this in the easiest way possible through a simple purchase of a practical product. Since its inception, TOMS has distributed over 15 millions pairs of shoes and restored eyesight to over 250,000 people. In addition to their shoe and eyesight charities, they are now working on providing clean water to those who lack it, tools for safe birthing, and resources to lessen the instances of bullying. To propagate their message and social impact, TOMS has utilized the money-winning ‘share’ function of social media.”We’re encouraging those member-to-member and peer-to-peer conversations,” says Chief Digital Office, Zita Cassizzi. A handful of other companies have taken to this one-for-one model including sunglass designer Warby Parker, healthy snack company 2 Degrees Food, and retailer, NOVICA.

Whether it’s charity or a fun competition, customer connectivity is crucial to a company’s success. And as Mukherjee notes, a brand’s efforts can’t be a one-hit wonder. “It has to be tightly wired to the strategy of your brand.” This way a company can win ‘customers for life,’ as opposed to ‘transactional experiences,’ as Cassizzi puts it.  Pepsi connected their brand to consumers, and TOMS connected their brand to consumers, connected consumers to those in need, and connected themselves to those in need as well. Life is, in fact, all about connections after all.