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Do You Know How to Find the Marketing "Ex-Spot"?

  |  May 2, 2006   |  Comments

Where's that critical moment of experience that makes feedback and word of mouth coalesce?

What's the right time or context to unleash word of mouth or, better yet, consumer-generated media (CGM)? More important, what tactics will increase the odds that CGM works for you, not against you?

Let's start by parachuting into my beloved hometown of Pasadena, CA, which I recently visited on vacation with my wife and twins. We were taking the bambinos on a beautiful stroll through the neighborhood and decided to chill for a bit at the local Peet's Coffee & Tea.

This particular Peet's had an unmistakable energy, fortified by a diverse mix of local residents and brainy Caltech students and accented with the sumptuous smell of both Peet's dark roast and Noah's bagels in the store next door.

Toward the end of a thoroughly enjoyable experience, my wife and I noticed a prominent bulletin board packed with color photographs. The photos were all taken by Peet's patrons, an exercise made simple with the presence of a good ol' fashioned Polaroid instant camera (attached to a wire, of course).

Turns out, this was part of Peet's 40th anniversary. The fast-growing coffee chain had a slew of events planned to dial-up patron participation. Yes, I said "participation."

It clearly worked in our case. Without skipping a beat, we proudly took a photo of our two little bambinos, wrote a small "we love Peet's" note on it, and posted it at the very top of the bulletin board. (Actually, we took an extra photo as a souvenir, but please don't tell anyone!)

We also filled out a "Tell Us About Yourself" card and posted that next to the photo. Not surprisingly, we told just about everyone about our contribution, encouraging others to drop by Peet's to check out our adorable photo. On top of that, I'm now mentioning it in my column.

Finding the Marketing Ex-Spot

Peet's created a wonderful example of how marketers can actually influence CGM, and this particular execution stands in stark contrast to other, less successful "create CGM" efforts by top brands.

On one level, Peet's program builds on a very simple emotion (brand love). It took full advantage of what I'll now officially call the ex-spot. The ex-spot is that critical moment of experience that makes feedback and word of mouth slide off your tongue like kids on a waterslide. It is always well-timed; piggybacks on the great things we love about products, services, and brands; and is never -- I repeat, never -- forced.

A big reason so many marketers fail in word-of-mouth marketing programs is they embark on programs well outside the ex-spot. They push messages that are out of context with the actual customer or brand experience. Peet's dramatically simplified the equation: it empowered the consumer right in the store. Under such circumstances, patrons don't have to be seduced, overly enticed, or propped up with shills.

Turns out, this particular program has been a smashing success. Participation has been off the charts. Christine Lansing, Peet's CMO and a former marketing executive at both Hershey's and Procter & Gamble, explained, "These albums have been a huge hit. Within a couple of days, they've been filled with pictures, notes, drawings, etc. People want to be part of it... and they certainly have something to say!"

Comparison With General Motors' CGM

Let's contrast Peet's campaign with General Motors' recent effort to encourage consumers to create their own Chevy Tahoe ad as part of an "Apprentice" co-promotion. The promotion got tons of participation and plenty of blog and media attention. I personally gave it big points on my blog for being bold, brave, and experimental.

But in so many ways, the brand completely missed the ex-spot. Most ads were created completely out of context, and eligibility for participation veered far from consumers who actually use or experience the products. It's almost as if nonregistered voters were given equal access as registered ones for the ad campaign.

Relevant experience matters, and it is a core driver of the trust equation in word-of-mouth advertising, as so many WOMMA conferences and case studies make clear. A big reason my blog dedicated to hybrid cars is so credible and viral is that I'm a bona fide hybrid car driver. I speak with a combination of "passion" and "authority" (I'm borrowing those words from Robert Scoble), and that drives credibility.

The key to CGM is figuring out how to surf existing brand satisfaction and evangelism. What if GM made a more concerted effort to capitalize on the ex-spot? What if:

  • GM encouraged ad creation at the actual dealership, moments after the actual purchase of the car? It's not as if most car dealerships aren't loaded with laptops and computers.

  • GM dealers gave all buyers a card asking (but not requiring) them to create their own ad after the first week of driving the vehicle?

  • The GM Web site sent all recent buyers an email with a link to the campaign asking them write about their great experiences?

  • GM teed up the ad campaign every time consumers provided feedback?

  • GM instructed call agents to give consumers a heads-up about the program when loyal customers call the company with positive feedback?

Perhaps GM pursued a combination of these tactics, but campaign awareness disproportionately centered around "anyone can express themselves" venues.

Where Else Can I Find the Ex-Spot?

The location of the ex-spot varies by brand and category, but here are a few hints:

  • In store: Plenty of great experiences are nurtured at either the retail location or the point of purchase. Imagine the number of shoppers at Target who would jump at the opportunity to advertise for the brand while actually shopping.

  • At the feedback moment: It's pretty clear consumer affairs is already an ex-spot for negative advertising, but there's a huge, untapped opportunity to turn it into a more proactive advertising engine for positive testimonials or incremental behavior. There's clear evidence the folks who give direct feedback also sing loudly on blogs and message boards. Media planers rarely touch this zone, almost as if consumers with megaphones have nothing to do with brand building.

  • On the Web site: Web sites are increasingly an extension of brand experience, even in ostensibly low-involvement categories like consumer packaged goods. Whether through feedback forms, surveys, or well-placed programs, the ex-spot can be readily teed up via Web sites.

  • In search: Certain keywords provide clarity as to what's on consumers' minds or whether they're actual users of the products. These are also good times to tee up such opportunities to create favorable CGM. What's important is the brand use the target-ability of search to get consumers quickly to the ex-spot.

Bear in mind, this is less about exclusivity than plain and simple targeting. Every brand has passionate, highly loyal users. They'll jump through hoops for you. The future of marketing in an age of consumer control is how to reach such consumers at those critical inflection points when they're in the brand groove.

Peet's put some real caffeine on that notion and nurtured high-quality CGM right smack in the ex-spot! GM had the right idea, but the end result was akin to Andrew Jackson's inaugural party, when he opened up the White House to everyone.

Know your ex-spot!

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Pete Blackshaw

Pete Blackshaw, whose professional background encompasses public policy, interactive marketing, and brand management, is executive vice president of strategic services for Nielsen Online, a combination of Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a firm Pete helped cofound, and Nielsen//NetRatings. One of Pete's key focuses is helping brands interpret, manage, and act on consumer-generated media (CGM). A former interactive marketing leader at P&G and founder of consumer feedback portal PlanetFeedback.com, Pete cofounded the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA). He authors several blogs, including ConsumerGeneratedMedia.com, and is the author of an upcoming book from Random House, "Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000: Running a Business in Today's Consumer-Driven World."

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