Antidotes for Loss of Control

April 18, 2007

A central premise of the user-generated nation is that advertisers and marketers have lost control of brand perception. Indeed, consumers have grabbed the microphone of the marketplace, and they’re not inclined to hand it back to advertisers.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Consumers, once confined to making their presence felt at the end of the value chain via purchase decisions, have become assertive usersumers whose actions (posting ratings & reviews, blogs, discussion-forum opinions and so forth) exert considerable influence every step of the way.

Should marketers simply throw up their hands in response?

Of course not. The challenge for advertisers and marketers is to embrace change, as uncomfortable as it may be.

Control is no longer an option — but understanding the implications of user-generated content and acting intelligently on the new reality will give marketers a distinct competitive advantage. Remember, no one wins when all things are equal — often as not, companies climb to the top by ferreting out and leveraging inequities in the marketplace.

User-generated content cannot be “controlled” in the classic sense. But it can be a surprisingly effective marketing tool — especially if you know how to gain advantage from it but your competitor does not.

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The Power of…Gardening?

April 17, 2007

What do user-generated content and gardening have in common?

Quite a lot, actually.

OK, the connection is not obvious at first glance. But stay with me. Gardening, to many consumers, is an engaging past-time, occupying endless hours yet promising zero in the way of monetary gain.

So there (with a nod to author Bruce Sterling, who suggested the analogy in a speech last week) it is: Who, among the 20-odd million Americans who keep a blog, expects to make a penny at their labors? Or what about all those ordinary folks who post endless videos of cute pets to YouTube? And then there are the millions of ratings & reviews, and the meticulously researched posts to Wikipedia.

Give people something to do besides watch TV, and they turn to web gardening.

A better use of time for consumers? Maybe — but if you’re a marketer who’s spent your entire career poring over Nielsen ratings, it’s a worrisome trend indeed.


Can the User-Generated “Shell” Be Controlled?

April 16, 2007

In offering his “shell” metaphor for user-generated blogs and comments during a speech last week (see previous post), science-fiction author Bruce Sterling asked rhetorically whether the perceptions created by such opinions can be controlled.

(Backing up a second: Sterling’s “shell” is the layer of commentary that users apply to products and services online.) Now — can marketers control these opinions?

Sterling’s contention was an unequivocal, “No.”

Some major-league marketers agree. Mark Tutssel, Worldwide Creative Director at Leo Burnett, put it this way, as reported in the Financial Times: “Marketers must learn to let go of the control they think they have over their brand. Once consumers have interacted with brands, they will not go back to being shouted at by marketers.”

Sterling and Tutsell have it right.


Bruce Sterling’s Useful “Shell” Metaphor

April 14, 2007

I had a chance to hear Bruce Sterling, the science fiction writer and author of the seminal book “Shaping Things,” speak yesterday. Among other things, he described an interesting metaphor for the ratings, reviews, blog opinions and other comments that products and services accumulate on the Internet via user-generated content.

Sterling proposed thinking of Internet opinions as a “shell” laminated onto the space occupied by the actual product or service.  

One question his description provoked from the audience was particularly insightful: Is this shell of opinions more important than the product or service itself?

Sterling asserted that it is not, but I would contend that a brand’s perception is everything — and that the shell of user-generated content is a critical shaper of marketing success or failure.


What It Feels Like to Be “Top Rated” at YouTube

April 7, 2007

I now know what it feels like to be “top rated” at YouTube.

It is helpful to experience this sensation first hand, if one wants to understand the impact of user-generated content on consumers, and on the entertainment industry in particular.  

Consumers who watched Hollywood’s offerings passively for nearly a century now have the power to create and post their own usertainment (user-generated entertainment). Just about anyone, it seems, can become a usertainer with a shot at YouTube fame.

Now, I know what that feels like. “What GPS Thinks,” which I wrote and produced in collaboration with “viral video genius” Kevin Nalty, was posted to YouTube yesterday, and it’s featured on today’s “Top Rated” page. It had accumulated almost 10,000 views the last time I checked.  

Somehow, it’s a bit more gratifying than watching another episode of “CSI.” 


Doing Business When the Consumer Is in Control

April 3, 2007

At the crux of the user-generated nation is this challenge: How to do business when the consumer is in control.

Historically, the consumer’s greatest influence — or only influence, some would contend — has come at the end of the value chain. That is, when a purchase is actually made.

Power at all other stages of the value chain resided with the marketer and advertiser. The challenge for marketers was understanding consumers, then persuading them to buy.

Today, consumers — or usersumers, as I like to call them — have turned the tables on marketers. More specifically, consumers have seized the microphone that marketers traditionally have controlled.

Consumers post blogs and submit ratings and reviews on every product and service imagineable, make their preferences known via social networking, and even produce usertising (user-generated advertisments, as seen at this year’s Super Bowl).

Hence, this blog, and the forthcoming book, User-Generated Nation: How to Do Business When the Consumer Is in Control.


User-Generated Content and Your Business

March 31, 2007

Whether you realize it or not, user-generated content impacts your business.

For that matter, user-generated content has reached the point where it is a business — hence, our tagline.

User-Generated Nation will examine the business of user-generated content, and by extension, the impact of user-generated content on business in general.

In our view, user-generated content spans several categories, including blogging, ratings & reviews, social networking, usertainment (user-generated entertainment) and usertising (think back to the Super Bowl).

Internet video is a category all its own, while also asserting itself on each of the other categories.

There’s also the matter of usersumers — consumers who generate content, and who are exerting important new influences on the consumer market as a result.

A companion book, User-Generated Nation: How to Do Business When the Consumer Is in Control, is forthcoming (see book page).