Brands, SEO Threatened by Wildly Engaged Consumers

As CMOs and brand managers search for new ways to engage consumers, many pundits are telling them to let go of control of their brands and let consumers personalize them. Truth is, marketers may not have a choice, particularly when it comes to online local search.

In the old days, marketers paid handsomely for print media placements. These permitted ultimate control over their brands. Today, that model’s being dismantled, piece by piece. It no longer fits the way content is sourced.

Consumers are increasingly well equipped to edit, review, and tag content and upload photos, turning what were once controlled marketing efforts upside down. Web 2.0 (define) tools have made it easy for consumers to create mash-ups (spoof trailer someone created for a feel-good family movie about a young boy named Danny and his dad Jack, featuring an uplifting Peter Gabriel song in the background. The catch? The video used for this trailer is out-of-context footage from “The Shining.”

Merchant Content Led Astray

Retailers, chains, franchises, and other companies with national brands must strike the right balance controlling their marketing messaging, logos, and images without preventing consumer engagement.

Look at the abundance of Web sites that allow consumers to upload photos. If a consumer posts a picture of a deli’s storefront, it could be tremendously valuable to consumers who want to visit the deli. But the deli has little control over the image. The photo could be grainy or show the back of a garbage truck. So much for the deli’s branding efforts.

Consumers have control like never before. And they aren’t shy about wielding the power, so national brands had better be prepared.

A glaring example surfaced in the infamous Chevy experiment with user-generated content (UGC) for the Tahoe last year. Consumers used footage of the Tahoe to flood the Web site with videos disparaging the truck’s gas mileage. The brand could scarcely have been more subverted.

The derailed campaign drew ample media coverage. But the effects of the same rising consumer power trickles down to other aspects of brand management — aspects that won’t grab headlines but can affect brands just the same.

Search Marketing Vulnerability

Online search can affect consumers’ relationships with brands at the most fundamental level: the brand’s name.

Countless times each day, consumers search online for local presences of national companies. These companies can’t take for granted their branding has etched the correct spelling into consumer’s minds.

Will a consumer look online for the local Wal-Mart, WallMart, or Wall*Mart? Conduct a search and you’ll find every name variation possible for a company that represents everyday low prices.

What a headache for marketers. If you can’t control the most basic aspects of brand management in online local search, how can you control other important factors?

Taking Search Optimization to New Levels

Fortunately for Wal-Mart’s and others’ marketers, there are solutions to help with these branding issues. Wal-Mart takes variations of its name into account and manages to get its “Always Low Prices!” message presented in a vast array of searches.

Someday soon, this degree of consumer control won’t be a local search vulnerability for marketers, but a strength. They’ll be able to control their brand through local search to the point where they’ll be able to effectively factor in seasonality.

Today, Wal-Mart actually takes regions into account for search. It promotes snow blowers during winter months and barbeque grills in summer months in Chicago on All that’s missing is the final piece to the puzzle for local search optimization: updated company profile data with the major search engines and Internet yellow pages that reflect products specific to the season.

Soon, marketers will be able to complete this picture and offer new levels of customization for online local searches. Consumers may have increasing power as they interact with brands online, but they don’t have to have all of it.

Join us for Search Engine Watch Live on May 9 at the Hyatt Regency Columbus in Ohio.

Want more search information? ClickZ SEM Archives contain all our search columns, organized by topic.

Related reading

Website landing page vector graphic
Hand holding smartphone with city map and store location on screen and store icon.