Is it possible to merge user-generated and brand-generated content?
Brands are just beginning to get it, which is quite unnerving for them. "It" isn't a giddy eBay commercial, "it" is understanding consumers can reach into the ivory brand towers and pull smart brand managers out of their aspirational clouds by saying what they really think.
That's scary. If I were a brand manager, the prospect of unlearning all the control devices I'd worked so hard to perfect would be akin to a celibate monk renouncing his vows to join a tantric sex commune.
OK, maybe it's not that bad, but it is a new world. The dust cloud is just settling on the interactive fracas.
We know just because something's uncomfortable, it's not necessarily the wrong thing to do. It can be a growing pain or something you need to get used to.
Many terms are bantered about in this new world. They can be quite confusing. Let's look at a few.
Viral isn't a strategy, it's a tactic. Most brand managers are hearing a lot about viral, and it's time to put and end to the overuse of this word. It's as if a Woodstock-style chant started back at some industry conference in 2001, and people haven't stopped saying the "V" word since.
A residual effect of this word is a lot of mediocre work out there trying to be viral. That's very sad, because advertisers aren't getting much uptake from the people they're trying to target. Why? For one reason, trying to monkey with your audience's amateurism isn't the best way to gain their trust and respect.
If a major beverage brand created a video claiming what they make is crappy and tasteless, would the online audience give the brand the cred it thinks it deserves? Nope.
There ain't much to get wrong here, but so many people in the industry think this concept somehow includes marketers. If you think a reality show video is a real entry into the dark and scary world of marketing, you'd better go bang your head against a wall and see if that reduces the size of your ego.
While you're at it, don't create spin to make your bad idea look like a success. There's nothing as sad as hiring a buzz-generation company to make your blog look like it's getting plenty of positive comments.
User-generated is about your audience being creative...those people who buy what you're selling. User-generated is not about the marketer.
Now, this is an exciting place, but guess what. If you're a brand marketer, you can look -- but don't touch.
Social networking is a great way to get people to stay online and an indicator of how TV entertainment as we know it will change. But right now, it's exclusive to the great masses that are enjoying it.
If you do something people in a social network site like MySpace are into, then good for you. Spend some time with the people who care to talk about you and see what turns them on.
And please don't confuse social networking with viral marketing. They aren't the same thing. Social networking isn't a strategy, it's a concept that's accelerated by the Internet.
Most people get all of this, but there are times when a buzzword is unleashed and too much time's wasted trying to shrink its definition back to reality. Marketers often suffer from an addiction to buzzwords; we create them, we publish them, and a Pandora's box of bad nomenclature poisons the well of ideas.
Let's get to the question that started all this and consider if the user and the brand can come together over a marketing direction. Can they jointly create some form of a consumer and marketer constitution or bill of rights that makes for the most perfect kind of marketing message, image, or catchy jingle?
Perfect? No. Interesting? Yes.
The reason we'll never see a day when consumer and brand live in harmony is because that's not the point of marketing. Marketing is, in some ways, about dealing with imbalance as a constant. The act of never totally figuring it out and successes that are never 100 percent effective are what created the brand marketing and advertising industries.
We should be OK with that because the Internet has created a dynamic we now take for granted: the velocity of ideas.
The fact that we can visibly see people, or see what they've created on the subject of a brand, is truly powerful. To see the shift in how they're delivering it is tantamount to watching a baby's first step; an event that means there's no turning back and we're changed forever.
Brands can engage with their audiences like never before. That's an amazing opportunity. Just don't blink -- it could all change tomorrow.
Dorian is off this week. Today's column ran earlier on ClickZ.
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Dorian Sweet is the vice president and executive creative director of GSI Interactive who leads strategic development and innovation in online advertising, Web development, e-commerce, and customer relationship management programs. His work has brought award-winning online solutions to such clients as Clorox, Miller Brewing Company, GE, Visa, eBay, British Airways, Wells Fargo, Discovery Networks, Motorola, Kodak, Sears, 20th Century Fox, and others.
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