The creation and distribution of consumer-generated media (CGM) online is rapidly changing the marketing landscape. Consumers are actively participating online, providing opinions, perspective and feedback on the products and brands they like and dislike through a variety of channels including message boards, social networking sites, corporate sites, online communities and blogs.
Marketers are learning to tap into this consumer activism to support or drive campaigns across the consumer lifecycle. While much content is consumer initiated, successful marketers are increasingly facilitating such content to serve multiple purposes. Marketers are looking to:
- Solicit consumer feedback and endorsement
- Encourage engagement with the product or brand
- Facilitate word-of-mouth recommendations or referrals (e.g. viral campaigns)
For marketers, however, CGM is not without risk. By actively facilitating content creation, companies are in some ways ceding control over their brands as consumers have an increasing voice to shape the brands’ images and evolution. Yet, today consumers are expressing their opinions online whether solicited or not. Savvy marketers are learning to channel this energy to support their efforts as well as contain negative sentiments to protect corporate reputations and brands.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Nielsen BuzzMetrics. Blackshaw is truly a pioneer in CGM, having been credited with coining the term, as well as co-founding the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association. We spoke about CGM, and specifically, about how it is being used to engage consumers, shape brand perception and influence behavior in the green space. Here is what Pete had to say:
MG: You are credited by some with coining the term “consumer-generated media” and have a blog under the same name. Tell me how you define this term. How has it evolved over the past few years? How is it changing the landscape for marketers?
PB: “Consumer-Generated Media” (CGM) encompasses the millions of consumer-generated comments, opinions and personal experiences posted in publicly available online sources on a wide range of issues, topics, products and brands. CGM is also referred to as Online Consumer Word-of-Mouth or Online Consumer Buzz.
I deliberately pushed the term “media” versus “content” to underscore that consumer opinion, whether on blogs, message boards, forums, or YouTube, essentially acts like media. It intercepts other consumers, often during “consideration” periods, and this can have a significant impact on awareness, trial, and purchase of products. It can also greatly impact defection and negative virality.
MG: Are there companies with eco-friendly products that are encouraging consumers to participate in a dialogue (e.g. on a corporate blog or community) or encourage the creation/submission of consumer-generated content? Who has been most successful at doing this? What were the primary reasons for success?
PB: Toyota recently launched a new community dedicated to conversation around all-things hybrid related. The company also stays close to CGM flows in all the progressive car forums where hybrid cars or discussed. One manager, in fact, has the titled of “Manager, Consumer Generated Media.” [Toyota enables consumers create profiles similar to those on MySpace and other social networking sites. Currently, there are nearly 11,000 profiles posted.] GM uses its FastLane blog to occasionally highlight new initiatives or management attention around “green” related issues.
As for more creative uses of CGM initiated by the companies, I just haven’t seen a great deal. In addition, more marketers today are aware of the blogs out there related to their space. When I first launched HybridBuzz, I was shocked at how little the Honda folks were aware of blogs. Now, that’s changed a great deal, especially as blog-related commentary continues to over-index on Google. This creates a pressing need to “enter the conversation.”
MG: Today, the Internet is an essential channel by which to leverage word-of-mouth advertising. To do so effectively, marketers must tap key influencers that have impact on brand awareness or purchase intent. How do you identify and connect with online influencers? How do you measure their impact?
PB: The key to identifying influencers is understanding the right way to profile consumers. [All] brands already have “influencers” right under their nose…they just don’t know it. As for connecting with influencers, I’m a big fan of reaching out to the hand-raisers in your database who you know are influential versus braving the less predictable waters of blogger outreach. You clearly need to do some of that, but it’s more art than science. Don’t believe any PR firm or word-of-mouth consultant who tells you otherwise.
MG: Environmental issues can generate significant positive as well as negative buzz for a company. GE is one example: For years, GE was plagued by negative PR for its refusal to dredge PCBs from the Hudson River. Now, GE’s “Ecoimagination” campaign is reshaping its image as a leader in the green space. Are companies starting to monitor or even nurture their “environmental reputation” online? Do some actively try to influence the direction of the dialogue?
PB: Yes, I can’t get into specifics, but CGM analysis is a fabulous way to find out if such initiatives are yielding results, awareness, or recognition. The proof in the pudding is in the postings. And yes, if you put all the blog entries related to GE’s “Ecoimagination” into a data-mining blender, you’ll find that they are starting to get good results. But it’s not exactly a fire-hydrant of positive buzz. This is a very long-term process. One area that’s critical to monitor is the extent to which activist groups or more extreme “green-conscious” stakeholders view such corporate initiatives with skepticism or cynicism. This is something we’ll look at periodically as well.
MG: Companies with eco-friendly products are increasingly launching branding and acquisition campaigns in the market. How can these companies leverage buzz to measure campaign effectiveness?
PB: The good news is that “new news” is the currency of word-of-mouth, social media, and consumer-generated media. And if you have “news” in the eco-friendly arena, that’s a big competitive advantage from a buzz-building perspective. Buzz analysis can help pinpoint the key appeal drivers behind the eco-friendly initiatives. How much buzz, and why? Who’s talking, and why? What specific issues, and from what source? Are key elements of the launch or marketing campaign indicted by the buzz? CGM analysis can be a big help here.
MG: BuzzMetrics’ BrandPulse captures information about issues being discussed online including emerging trends. Are you able to capture such trends in the green space? For example, are attitudes changing regarding purchasing gas-guzzling vehicles or toward global warming?
PB: Yes, but you have to take a very broad brush analysis to reach that conclusion. You can’t look at green-related conversation in a vacuum. At the same time, I can say with confidence that conversation is noticeably up regarding fuel-efficiency, alternative vehicles, and, of course, global warming. In fact, on the latter, I daresay Al Gore’s movie and book has significantly extended and deepened the nature of the conversation on global warming. It’s also precipitated some push back and skepticism, but the level of awareness and overall conversation is much higher today that it was last year or the year before last. This will be a very interesting area to monitor.
As for gas-guzzling vehicles, it’s important to note that a decent percentage of the CGM discussion on this topic is price-sensitivity related. Put another way, the pricing “pain” [from higher gas prices] is a conversational “gain” for green-related talk. Also, as more auto manufacturers invest marketing dollars against their “green” or “hybrid” initiatives, expect to see higher levels of overall conversation [online].
CGM, we consistently find, echoes marketing investment. That’s a big reason why we’re monitoring Super Bowl ads.