For years, marketers have asked consumers for trust in making informed purchase decisions. The trick to conventional marketing is knowing what to say, and what not to say, to influence purchase decisions. Today, however, the consumer can become a segment expert overnight. The tide has turned and now marketers must radically trust the consumer to build the brand.
With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that people want more than advertising-centric websites. They want to belong to a peer collective that will provide a less biased review of the product or service. Marketers must facilitate this dialogue if they hope to maintain the brand’s influence and keep the product in the best possible light. Conventional marketing strategies do not facilitate risky consumer communities in such a non-controlled way. However, if the core product or service is of good quality, this communication platform will achieve new levels of credibility and will double as an opportunity for marketers to learn from consumers.
Consider the Chevy Tahoe Apprentice website, which let users create their own ad. Full-size SUV consumers are already aware of gas consumption concerns, so the consumer-generated backlash spots that pointed this out simply polarized the issue. The more radical the “protest” spots became, the more determined potential SUV buyers became. The greater the controversy, the better the discussion and the wider the spread of content. YouTube, blogs and newscasts syndicated the more controversial spots for further reach. Tahoe has been a success thanks in part to GM’s courage in keeping the website up and radically trusting its customers would defend their purchase decisions with vigour.
Now, consider the following examples: Kodak’s Ofoto and Flickr. Ofoto allows you to post your photos, list them by title and username, print them, and make coffee mugs and T-shirts with them. Flickr does the same as Ofoto, but pioneered a concept called “folksonomy” (in contrast to taxonomy), a style of collaborative categorization of photos by adding tags, or key words. Users can comment, solicit feedback, rate and pool photos with other users’ common interests. Consider also Britannica and Wikipedia. Britannica’s online encyclopedia provides up-to-the-year content. Wikipedia is 100% user created. Content is constantly evolving because people can update it with current definitions and corrections to false facts. The result: up-to-the-second content.
It has been proven that radically trusting consumers to operate within fair guidelines produces a more informed and loyal customer. Entire codes of conduct-even societal laws- are created in communities not governed by a site administrator, but by the people who use those sites. And the more involved consumers are with your property, the more they become agents for your brand. Some will become your police, singling out users not behaving within the parameters. In order to build a brand in the future, marketers must radically trust that consumers are:
best equipped to determine their own needs;
would rather be communicated with than spoken to;
require freedom of expression, but also guidelines to create expressions in;
will self-regulate communities to a level that guidelines suggest and that the collective group will accept;
will disconnect with brands that silence them and align with brands that give them a voice.
It takes courage for marketers to empower consumers to communicate with one another about their products. It takes a new form of creativity for marketers to find the right platform for that community to take place. And finally, it takes motivation and payoff for the consumer to engage with these platforms. When this formula is recognized and achieved, advertisers will be heard again, not with a shout, but in a conversation; and maybe then this concept of trust will not be so radical.
COLLIN DOUMAis group creative director at MacLaren McCann Direct and Interactive in Toronto.