The Third Moment of Truth

Procter & Gamble (P&G) CEO A.G. Lafley recently turned more than a few heads at the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) conference when he suggested it’s time for marketers to “let go.”

Say what?

“Consumers are beginning, in a very real sense, to own our brands and participate in their creation,” said Lafley. He encouraged us to let go and embrace trends such as consumer participating in advertising and online communities.

As an example, he pointed to a consumer-created Pringles ad posted on YouTube, as well as the P&G sponsored online community Beinggirl, a site grounded in user contributions that I actually worked on in the early concept stage some years ago.

The message is spot on. Having consistently anchored this column to the theme of consumer-generated media (CGM) and consumer-marketer co-creation, I found it great, nay, heartwarming and empowering, to hear a potent, respected, influential voice validate what’s unfolding before our eyes.

Pushing Further

But there was a critical piece missing in the speech, one with potential to guide the audience toward a realistic, attainable next step. Consider the following comment:

My story today is about basic human needs, which remain mostly the same…. What’s different is how people are using media and technology changes to connect with one another and express themselves. It’s about connecting at every meaningful touch point. Creating and building brands on her terms.

The key phrases are “every meaningful touch point” and “on her terms” and, later in the speech, “listening.”

Every marketer must put these terms to the torture test, especially in their own backyards. Indeed, the most conspicuous miss in the marketer embrace of CGM is the simple, if not fundamental, idea of allowing consumers to actually talk to us. And on her terms: without hindrance, detour, obstacle, runaround, or interference.

Letting Go or Opening Up?

Which leads me ask: is the big idea really about letting go, or is it more fundamentally about opening up? Letting go presumes you have the power; opening up presumes you have no choice but to respect the power. After all, who’s inviting whom to participate?

What’s important in the listening-centered marketing model I wrote about last time is being accessible, approachable, inviting, and empathetic. Interestingly, these are qualities similar to what P&G CMO Jim Stengel emphasized in his follow-up ANA speech, in which he urged the audience to think less about “consumers” and more about “people.”

Take the idea of opening up literally: open the brand door and put out a friendly welcome mat. Make every consumer who knocks on the door feel important and empowered. Co-create a response in the form of an answer, an acknowledgement, a thank you, a solution, or, in some cases, a form of compensation for their willingness to share their ideas and suggestions with you. Do this even if there’s a wee bit of incremental cost in making the effort. Trust me, it’s more efficient than the way we throw paid media at consumers, and it targets efficiently against influencers.

If we’re to have any hope of managing or influencing the boss, we must reengineer the way we think about existing listening pipes, whether we call it “contact us,” customer service, the call center, online chat, or even the “tell me what you think” button. Marketers consistently give this short shrift or punt it over to the attention-reduction operations department, almost as though consumer empowerment begins and ends with a marketing campaign. We should start to think about consumer affairs as new centerpiece of marketing.

A Third Moment of Truth

Perhaps what we need to drive this point home is a third moment of truth that builds on Lafley’s first moment of truth (what consumers see on the shelf) and second moment of truth (what happens when they try the product). The third moment is that powerful inflection point where the product experience catalyzes an emotion, curiosity, passion, or even anger to talk about the brand. By opening up that pipeline, we not only absorb insight and deeper consumer understanding but also nurture empowerment and advocacy.

Consider: Is Unilever’s Dove brand empowering the third moment of truth when it asks women to express themselves? What about Olay? Is Pampers or Huggies sufficiently validating my voice as a proud new parent of twins in such a way that I might pay it a generous compliment on my beloved baby blog — a site regularly read by my trusted network of friends and family? Does it matter if Gerber just says “talk to me in one click“?

In the process of carefully analyzing over a million letters and comments on PlanetFeedback.com, I’ve picked up a few critical lessons about consumer expression:

  • Consumers who like to talk to (even complain about) brands talk across multiple platforms, including message boards, blogs, and the water cooler. They are über content creators and, hence, more valuable to the brand franchise.

  • Consumers who talk to brands are full of suggestions, product ideas, even advertising concepts. Did someone say “co-creation”?
  • Most consumers believe brands have little interest in hearing what they have to say; this is a big reason so much venom is spread across CGM venues.
  • Women, the segment Lafley singled out, are the segment most inclined to provide feedback. Nearly 65 percent of all PlanetFeedback content was created by women, and they were far less likely to just complain than men.

What we must let go of are the corporate silos that inhibit real listening and open up the consumer voice. This is measurable and within our reach, and it’s far less risky that just starting a blog or waiting to see what shows up next on YouTube.

The co-creation movement is about to precipitate a flood of experimentation — some good, some stupid. In the absence of an accessible, empowering listening pipe, we’re throwing the radar to the winds and we risk, once again, looking silly in the eyes of consumers.

Let’s absolutely take Lafley’s advice, but let’s push the thinking even further to what brands can do today to prepare for this exciting, albeit destabilizing, future.

Maybe letting go and opening up go hand in hand.

Nominate your favorite product or campaign for the 2006 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards, October 16 through close of business (EST) on October 24. Final voting begins on October 30.

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