Last week, my firm hosted its second annual CGM (define) summit, which included approximately 100 of our clients who have engaged in different ways in CGM. I delivered the opening keynote and thought it might be worth reviewing some of the key trends I identified.
The CGM landscape has shifted significantly in the past 12 months. Every marketer, particularly the CMO, needs a laser-like focus on these trends. They have broad implications for consumer understanding, marketing execution, and overall brand reputation and credibility.
Trust in advertising is still a challenge. Trust in advertising remains a very big issue. Consumers remain skeptical about marketers and advertisers, which puts a high premium on managing CGM initiatives with sensitivity and respect. A brand association map (BAM) underscores this point. It’s a big reason word of mouth and recommendations from others remain such a powerful issue. Recent Nielsen global research suggests consumers trust other consumers more than advertisers across virtually every global geography.
Consumer-fortified media (CFM) is rising. CGM is hardly a standalone proposition. Traditional media, online or off-, is often fortified by consumer commentary, frequently creating exponential value. In the case of Dove Evolution, it’s not just the video views that make it powerful, but also the depth and meaning of the commentary surrounding the video. Super Bowl ads can even be characterized as CFM now because they receive extended play in online conversation. To some extend, the meaning isn’t complete until consumers take full advantage. The Honda Accord commercial on YouTube is also an excellent example, as is the Nationwide Kevin Federline ad in last year’s Super Bowl. Much of the power, impact, and latency in that ad sparked conversation around the ad.
It’s the age of consumer emulation. I updated my oft-used CGM growth quadrant with a new trend wave called the age of consumer emulation. Across the marketplace, we’re now seeing marketers aggressively borrowing from consumer behavior as they develop their own strategies. Two good examples are Mattel’s and JetBlue’s CEOs borrowing from consumer practices. Even one of my own clients, Toyota, is respectfully borrowing from consumer best practices to build its own external blog.
CGM redefines network and cable TV. In the past 12 to 18 months, TV and cable networks have made significant progress integrating CGM content and functionality into their online strategies. From wikis and message boards to embeddable videos and blogger outreach kits, the networks’ sites look far more engaging, participatory, accessible, and community-oriented. This reflects a need to drive cross-platform synergy in television programming; tap viewers’ passion, even fanatics’, in every way possible; and exploit the digital content trail these enthusiasts create. It also recasts the value proposition for advertisers, providing networks with new selling angles for their shows (e.g., Jericho advertising has high amplification potential because it has a highly engaged audience). Such insight has led companies like my own to create their own experimental social networks to probe more deeply into this fan-enthusiasm behavior.
Marketers discover Facebook. In recent months, marketers have been flocking to Facebook. They’re setting up marketing-themed groups, testing out its new open apps, filling out Walls, and fine-tuning their permission-based friend list. The net result may have far less to do with marketing than organizational change. In 2008, we’ll likely see the organizational reapplication of the networking and best-practice sharing within networks to marketing organizations. This will noticeably break down silos, challenge organizational hierarchies (in a good way), and establish credibility among the most credible leaders and contributors.
Wikipedia becomes new credibility broker. My upcoming book dedicates a fair amount of commentary to how Wikipedia (essentially, group CGM) is becoming a new credibility broker for brands. In the last year, Wikipedia entries for top brands have typically sat in the top five search results. This means the Wikipedia definition is increasingly affecting awareness, trial, and purchase behavior. More important, Wikipedia entries increasingly draw from the CGM currents, another reason brands need to be ever mindful of their reputations via these platforms.
Marketers and retailers embrace consumer reviews. Aided by such firms as Bazaarvoice, more online retailers are embracing CGM as a both a content input and a credibility broker for their e-commerce offerings. The biggest news on this front came when Wal-Mart agreed to integrate reviews into its e-commerce site. Increasingly, site owners, seeking to serve a broader range of needs, are integrating both structured and unstructured sources of CGM in their sites. Showtime, for example, now integrates show reviews from blogs into its main site. The challenge here is ensuring the CGM content remains authentic and credible rather than tainted and manipulated.
CGM presents many more options for advertisers. A broad range of CGM options are now available to advertiser; the spectrum ranges from low marketer participation, such as listening only but improving marketing practices based on those early signals, to proactively soliciting consumer opinion on a range of brand issues, including creative ad copy. Advertisers also have even more choices when merely advertising in a more targeted manner against CGM content, whether on blogs or publisher sites that increasingly embrace user content.
Brand’s biggest opportunity is connecting with the speakers. Consumers creating CGM (the speakers) leave a digital trail that other consumers (the seekers) then see or experience. Speaker households can be targeted. This allows manufacturers and retailers to synchronize consumer understanding with well-placed, relevant brand messages, resulting in higher ROI (define). These speakers sit in high-purchase demographic segments and want to “know it first, tell it first” (big implications for trials, sneak peaks, and power of complaints). If you get to the speakers, you can help control your message or better defend yourself in other opportunities.
There’s much more to discuss, and the last paragraph alone is the tip of the iceberg of a longer commentary, but there you have it. For more recaps, check out Peter Kim, Rohit Bhargava, and Noah Brier. CGM endures, shaping the market landscape in a big way. Taking full advantage of its potential is hardly a “flip the switch” opportunity, but investing the time to get it right — with strong sensitivity to consumer behavior and expectations — can set your brand on the right path to success.
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