There’s a ridiculous amount of content to read on the rise of collaborative marketing – the idea that instead of a mass media source talking to the masses, internet media will open a dialogue with everyone. This is just asking marketing to wake up and realise what’s already happened – people see your ads, but then go online and read forums and blogs before purchase.
This is how it is
People go online to get a sort of word of mouth marketing. They might look up product review sites, shopping comparison websites, or even check out the company on Wikipedia. But bear in mind that there are two categories of people who go online.
- People who post content
- People who read content
So, we can see an evolution of how information gets from place to place.
So we can see how suddenly, the folk in the middle – what a marketing person might call “key influencers” – have become incredibly important.
Make your point or go home
So here it is. The big question is – how does the company influence the people in the middle, and to do what?
I have diddly squat data to back this up, but here are my assumptions.
- Only certain types of people are content creators / key influencers.
- As they become more important, companies need to raise the rewards for those people to interact (and positively) about the company’s product / service.
Repeat after me
For people who just need to talk – reviewers, bloggers and so on – that can create a conflict of interest. On one hand the company can offer increased access to products and people, but if that results in negative reviews, that’s a problem.
I consider geek marketing a glimpse into the future of what might happen. For a long time, I built and configured my on desktop hardware, and I was pretty serious about buying the best hardware to put in my box. I’d go to hardware review sites like Tom’s Hardware to do so.
Slashdotter Savannahlion used to do the same thing, but then he switched.
“As near as I can figure, Tom’s Hardware reviews read too much like brochures. It’s just enough to try and get a person interested. But whatever it is, it’s enough to prevent me from utilizing his site for anything more than keeping track of the latest hardware. Nowadays, if I want real hard and honest opinions, I just hop on over to my favorite forum/BBS/IRC/whatever and sort through the flamefests to get a feel for a particular piece of hardwares viability.”
So the top – the company – exerted too much influence. The chain here is slightly more complicated:
Here’s the critical difference – what does the consumer perceive as “us” and “them”? Who do we trust? The line used to be just below the company – suddenly, it moved down to cut off the larger influencers.
Rolling Your Own
Companies don’t just interact with influencers in order to get the word out. They can also get them to help create the product (hello Open Source).
One interesting example my Tech Marketing professor, Mo Sawnhey, gave us in class was this one. A drinks company asked their customers to help create a flavour for their product, and then offers to pay them royalties on their product. It’s an interesting example of CPG crowdsourcing with high reward for participation – and increasingly, high rewards will be necessary to get this limited pool of people to participate.
The danger is that as the rewards go up, instead of customers who are content creators, we’ll just get content creators – a sort of middle group of freelancers. They key is that in this case, they’re not customers any more, and may have some different insights than the customer base.
No Fate But What We Make
So – what can we conclude?
- The old days are over. Understand that most of your shouting power is now outside the company.
- Influencing skills are getting more important, so having some would be awesome.
- Don’t go too far – you may neuter the influence of the key influencers, like a cat.
- If you get negative noise from your influencers, don’t withdraw your support – just fix the problem.