User-Controlled Media: Where You Need to Be

User-controlled media.

That term sums up where marketing, journalism, advertising, and media intersect. Not unlike user-generated content (UCG), user-controlled media (UCM) is the media users control, leverage, rate and review, forward, tag, and ultimately decide if it’s worth our time, our friends’ time, and everyone’s time.

UCM gives a greater sense of what’s really happening online and how it transforms our society, including marketing. All marketers must ask themselves a new fundamental question before they launch any campaign: Is this UCM, direct marketing, or broadcast marketing? Only then can they decide on a successful strategy.

Direct marketing we know well. We’re also familiar with broadcast marketing, yet DVRs are changing that, too. The rest, especially online, can easily fall into the UCM category.

But because of our training, we lump everything into broadcast or direct marketing without considering the new category. This is why most online efforts go awry. Mass messaging on Facebook; YouTube videos that are longer than 20 seconds; Twitter sales offers; “used car salesman” type e-mail blasts (you know, “Save NOW! ” titles); and Web sites that try to wow us without allowing us to find the information we seek.

UCM properly describes how marketers must think about such efforts: “How will users control the message I put in front of them? Will they watch it, save it, forward it to a friend, or retweet it? Or, will they delete it, skip it, hit the “back” button, ignore it, or, worst of all, get annoyed by it?”

A couple of real-life examples popped up this week. First was President Obama’s speech on health care. I was late getting home to watch it, so I decided go to YouTube to watch the speech from the beginning. It was great. I got to stop it, pause it, and rewind it to hear someone shouting, “You lie!”

I viewed the speech, even controlled it, on my schedule. Everyone producing video must put it on the Web. People are getting out of old habits like TV and want to control their viewing.

Another example is a sports review of the upcoming NFL season. The video was six minutes long with an 18-second intro commercial. It was perfect UCM because I knew how long the video would last. I didn’t get frustrated halfway through because I knew it was well within my tolerance range to watch the entire video.

The UCM mantra applies to all online fundamentals. For example, if you treat e-mail as a direct marketing exercise, you’ll have anemic open rates, a reduced list over time due to unsubscribes, many deletes, and some annoyed customers. The brand suffers, the list suffers, and ultimately the effectiveness of every marketing effort to that group, especially e-mail, suffers.

Search is another great example. It’s smart to optimize your landing pages, unless you don’t apply UCM thought processes to your page first.

Ask yourself, “What does the searcher want or expect when coming from that search ad or link?” Give the searchers that, then optimize how best to provide it and get them to your next step (e.g., lead capture, e-commerce transaction) in the sales process.

And let’s not forget social media. You must apply UCM questions first here, too, such as, “How will they control it?”

For Twitter, whether your tweet is worth retweeting would be a good litmus test. For Facebook, is your message worth sharing on one’s wall? On LinkedIn, is your question one everyone would like to get the answer to? And on it goes.

Remember, 9 times out of 10, your customers have opened your e-mail, looked at your Web site, or read your post because they want good content. Without good content behind any online or social strategy, you’ll hit a papier-mâché wall. One or two taps and it collapses around you.

Ask yourself: “How will the user control my media?” The answers to follow will easily take you where you need to go.

How do high-performance brands achieve branding goals while increasing ROI? Join us on Wednesday, October 7, 2009, at 1 p.m., for a free Webinar to learn how you can add transparent CPL advertising to complement your existing banner and search campaigns, and round out your media plan.

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