my turn


Control Lost & Found: Consumers Always Know Best

It used to be that a brand could very easily control the general conversation about itself via traditional media, and between it and consumers via customer service lines and reps. In the event that things didn't work out well, the collateral damage was never more than a handful of people listening to a disgruntled customer, and that never lasts very long before people move on to the next topic to discuss. But then everything changed.

Now, upset customers -- within seconds -- can share their experiences with everyone: family, friends and any number of loose contacts. The quiet upset that used to dissipate like smoke on the water is now the first rippling of the butterfly's wings across the ocean of public opinion that can send a tidal wave crashing down, destroying the aggregated customer/brand relationships to any and all connected to that one pissed-off customer's sphere of conversation.

We see this happen every weekend that a new movie is released. Big tentpole films crumble by Saturday evening under the weight of bad social media chatter, while small films blossom into radiant blockbusters on the same digital current.



What are brands to do when they have no control of their audience's brand-relevant conversations? What are marketers to do when they can't shape the conversations they are being paid to direct? When the wizard gets exposed as just another man behind the curtain, where is Dorothy supposed to go for help?

Ironically, the power of digital media to deconstruct the perceived "control" that brands/marketers have over consumers is tempered by its ability to hyper-target on macro levels those very same customers. Although these digital audiences have the ability to shut out unwanted brand communications, the truth is that the Internet's true accountability via accurate metric analysis is the divining rod that can pinpoint any audience online, whether they want to be found or not.

These consumers are participating in any and every conversation about a brand, right now, good and bad. Social media and the digital experience allow for unlimited and unregulated brand conversations. Brands and marketers can complain about their loss of control and worry about the media anarchy, or figure out the rules of engagement with these large, elusive audiences.

Companies continue to spend enormous amounts of money on banners, pre/post rolls, pop-ups and SEO without tangible and meaningful returns. Building Web sites, creating social media profiles and posting content does not guarantee audiences. Internet click through and conversion rates continue to be miniscule compared to the dollars being thrown into the space.

Rather than perpetuate this waste, brands/marketers cannot be lazy and repeat what their predecessors did. They can't pretend to be the innovators or experts in a space where they are merely trying to play catch-up. If we have learned anything about the online medium, it is that the audience decides which functionalities are relevant and dictates what content is king. If corporations want their messaging to be accepted, retained and shared among the online audiences and digital consumers, they have to acknowledge the experts and trust in those abilities.

Example: There are people creating online video content who have Internet audiences bigger than those watching cable television. At Hitviews, we call them WebStars, and discovered that they are immersed in brand-centric conversations all the time. Most of the time, these deeply engaging audience dialogues are positive, directly extolling the virtues of the brand or product. Sometimes the conversations are about the larger contextual elements of something that a brand directly relates to. Either way, the audiences are engaged participants, waiting by their computers for their favorite WebStar to begin the next topic of discussion.

Hitviews discovered that if the WebStars believe in a brand and are compensated for their endorsement, they will act as brand ambassadors, create content and direct their audiences to participate in various calls to action or messaging points.

Rather than fear losing online control, decision makers could acknowledge that the real control always has and will forever rest with the consumers. These online consumers are already doing the heavy lifting and merely waiting for marketers to get on board. Advertisers can spend a lot of money creating online campaigns with marginal returns, or spend respectively reasonable dollars for the brand ambassadors and platform partners to direct the already engaged, branded messaging.

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