October 19, 2007 Research: The Voice of Truth
 

Consumer Generated Reviews and the ROI of Impact.

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By Paul McEnany

In one sense, a brand means trust, the comfort of knowing that you probably won’t have to buy the same thing twice. Back in the old days (you know, like the 80’s), built up trust was much easier to retain. Bad brand experiences could generally be confined to small groups in small areas if handled correctly.

But in the age of hyper-connectivity, the age of endless, easily-searchable information, these small groups can efficiently find each other and connect.

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A new Deloitte study revealed what most of us probably already knew, consumer generated online reviews received insanely high trust scores. 99% of internet users find them either very or somewhat credible. Which begs the question, where the hell do we fit in? Strategy doesn't mean much when the product has a fatal flaw, and no matter how deftly we build up a media buy, it falls flat if the product happens to, let's say, poison children. But it's even scarier in the un-extreme cases where brands mean less because they signify less. Lower priced items still have to beat the quality barrier to have a shot of making it past the reviews, so it starts to become much like the pharmaceutical problem of two identical products with different labels.

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So again, where do we fit?

Seems to me we sit now in the middle, somewhere between useful and totally inept in a world that little else matters than the voice of the people. But luckily many of those people are still vain, so brands as badges still holds true, keeping us afloat on the relevancy scale for now.

But it looks as though there will be a split in objectives. Some agencies will satisfy the need for business strategy, a direct response, ROI driven model that is all about immediate needs of the marketplace, while more closely tying together with logistical business demands and CEO vision.

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And the other side will focus on the need to capture imagination, to gain attention, to give permission for companies to be talked about. And here, experience will be more important than ever.

The difference in strategy with experience is that we’re not just creating ads for the sake of informing the publics, but we’re leading the loudest 10% into deeper relationships, while giving them permission to discuss these with the other 90%. This is what makes integration so vital. You don’t walk away from awareness and reach for a deep connection with a few, just like you don’t walk away from the few for the many. It’s the advertising equivalent of the balance of faithfulness and promiscuity.

If we look at average number of searches for certain product before and during larger campaigns, you’ll notice that with the added awareness, an obvious thing happens, the search queries for that product increases. You’ve intrigued enough people that at the very least, they’d like to hear more.

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At that point, you have to be there waiting for them with the kind of experience that makes sense for that target and that market, and then supply those people with the tools to tell their friends, all those people stuck back in the ‘awareness’ stage.

So, the traditional part is easy. Buy enough media and enough people will hear about you. But, finding the right message that allows people to open up to not only what you have to say, but what their friends say, is more important than ever in an environment in which those conversations carry so much weight.

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But, back to my point. We hear a lot about agencies re-integrating, and companies consolidating their marketing dollars with fewer agencies. And while all this is probably for the best as creative and media have already become more deeply connected than ever before, it may not be far enough. The kind of integration we need is the meshing of ROI and Attention models. Both are fantastically important, and neither one will be going away. Unfortunately you’ll find too often that it’s one or the other, not a balance of the two.

While our strategies are becoming more involved, and expanded to include more methods, it’ll be even more important to have steady hands to guide the process, understanding not only what makes people tick, but what makes business tick and finding happy balances that bring both these goals into alignment. That’s the kind of integration we need in order to stay relevant.

So can we really affect what a person writes in a review? Maybe not. But by understanding the delicate balance of business objectives and the new marketing environment, we will be much better positioned to have greater impact on the direction and craft of creating products that succeed in this marketplace.

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Paul McEnany is a new media and marketing strategist at Levenson and Hill in Dallas, TX and works with clients in business categories ranging from logistics to QSR. He is a contributor to Beyond Madison Avenue, one of the most popular marketing blogs as well as his own personal marketing blog, Hee Haw Marketing. A budding activist, he can be reached at paul.mcenany@gmail.com.

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