Gaining credibility with consumers is an ever-present marketing challenge. Here's how GM used Google in an attempt to build it, and two other methods to try.
At any given time, online marketers are faced with countless challenges that threaten to upend their promotional efforts and even their reputations. One ever-present task is gaining credibility with consumers. Though this can be particularly difficult for companies that are exclusively Web-based and don't enjoy the perceived stability of brick-and-mortar operations, many traditional marketers, particularly those in especially competitive industries, face the same problem.
Some marketers endeavor to resolve the credibility problem by associating themselves with particularly reputable Web properties with loyal consumer audiences. Whether because search engines aren't considered to have their own dedicated users or because they're dealt with independently of destination sites, they're seldom utilized expressly for image-building.
In what's certainly an atypical approach to building credibility online, one company has begun using Google to boost brand affinity through association with the search engine brand.
General Motors launched a new marketing campaign to promote Pontiac vehicles last month. It includes TV spots that drive traffic to Google rather than directly to Pontiac.com.
After introducing the Pontiac G6 and offering the standard list of features, the TV announcer quips, "But don't take our word for it. Google Pontiac to discover for yourself." The company's motivation is clear. "We're touting Google, frankly, because it stands for credibility and consumer empowerment, and we like the association," GM sales and marketing head Mark LaNeve has been quoted as saying.
My reaction to the ads ranged from awe at such marketing genius to shock GM would take such a risk. Inviting consumers to formulate their product perception at an objective third-party site certainly exhibits confidence on the advertiser's part. After all, potential car buyers know information on brand sites is heavily biased.
At the same time, many potential customers aren't well versed in search, and, as this blog post demonstrates, they won't understand the campaign's goal. Additionally, by purposefully driving traffic to Google, Pontiac risks forfeiting brand site traffic not just to Pontiac enthusiast sites (not a terrible sacrifice), but to competitor sites as well.
Indeed, competitors are already capitalizing on search traffic driven by the campaign. According to the blog Localzing, Mazda is among the first. Headlines in its paid search ads, for which it purchased the search term "Pontiac," read "Pontiac versus Mazda" and point to domains such as MX5NoComparison.com.
Potential risks aside, it seems as if GM is gambling on the assumption consumers equate top search results with quality products. They're hoping perception will shift to the automotive brand. The average consumer may well believe this to be true, unaware of the increasing degree to which Web publishers are SEO-savvy (define).
Insofar as gaining credibility is concerned, this is still a pretty clever approach. The more confident a company appears to be in relinquishing control of its brand image, the more likely a consumer will be to display similar trust in its products.
Search engines aren't the only tools companies can use to build credibility online, of course. Below, two additional methods you might consider.
Also touted for their impartial point of view, blogs offer marketers the opportunity to boost their integrity and sincerity quotients considerably. One way this can be achieved is by developing a corporate blog and recruiting company employees and executives to post to it. Such blogs help humanize seemingly faceless corporations, as well as offer an intimate look at the passion and exertion that goes into its products and services. They also give companies a platform on which to address negative comments and through which to accumulate valuable consumer opinions.
What better way to demonstrate your company's credibility than to have your customers promote you? Marketers can encourage creation of consumer-generated media (CGM) by soliciting consumer feedback and product reviews, inviting public discussion about products and company protocol, and allowing customers to create their own ads and marketing materials highlighting their favorite attributes of your products. Because there's no guarantee the results will be favorable, some marketers choose to initiate this type of campaign in the context of a contest. This way, submissions can be controlled and disseminated accordingly.
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Tessa Wegert is a business reporter and former media strategist specializing in digital. In addition to writing for ClickZ since 2002, she has contributed to such publications as USA Today, Marketing Magazine, Mashable, and The Globe and Mail. Tessa manages marketing and communications for Enlighten, one of the first full-service digital marketing strategy agencies servicing such brands as Bioré, Food Network, illy, and Hunter Douglas. She has been working in online media since 1999.
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