"Can you give me a referral?" Asked, searched and answered millions of times a day, this simple question slips past our multimillion-dollar marketing budgets, customer personas, targeted media plans, clever virals and message platforms to reach for human truth: "I trust your opinion. What do you think?"
This month, the focus is on tools that create bridges between
customer opinions and brands, with an emphasis on creating authenticity. Not spin. Not buzz. Offering his opinionated counterpoint is T3's Lee Gaddis, our emerging media futurist.
Buy: User Ratings and Reviews
Work with the UG content, and give the little guy the pen
Lee Gaddis: The plain reality is that customers are more attuned to peer ratings and reviews than what brands are saying. Technologies that aggregate opinions are powerful ways to tap into what customers are really thinking and saying. Bazaarvoice is one that has really impressed us.
Jay Suhr: Giving people the forum to share is one major step. But ratings and reviews become even more powerful when customer comments go up warts and all. It creates balance. The fact that a brand is willing to share the less-than-great makes the strong reviews stand out, especially if they reflect popular sentiments.
LG: In some situations, consumer ratings may be the primary tool other consumers use to influence a decision. I have an older brother who recently finished an 18-day train trip of the United States and Canada, staying at different bed-and-breakfasts, each selected solely from online reviews. He said every one of them was great.
JS: Ratings and reviews can also become powerful elements of campaigns. We've done this for a particular client with great success. It's rewarding to find a customer quote that simply nails a subject.
LG: The entire process is important for both consumers and brands. Consumers can express what they love and hate or make suggestions on how something could be better. Brands can show they are actively listening, responding and simply saying thanks for taking the time.
The photo-sharing site can be a geotargeted lens into consumer habits
JS: What's intriguing about Flickr and other community platforms is the window they provide into individual's passions.
LG: It's not a perfect lens, but Flickr offers a remarkable level of intimacy to help see people as individuals and not as abstract personas or broad demographics. We have a client that's a true passion brand. You can see the intensity of its brand advocates in both the number of people who post photos on Flickr and in what they are willing to share.
JS: If marketers see sites like Flickr as just a media property, they're missing a bigger opportunity to connect.
LG: The greater potential is to push creativity to develop applications, tools or even provide access to material to let your brand be part of the sharing.
Sell: Manufactured WOM
Don't underestimate people's ability to detect false buzz
JS: Word-of-mouth used to be a simple and informal information exchange between people. Now it's becoming word-of-mouth marketing - complete with metrics, budgets and the potential for bad actors.
LG: Ultimately, brands should concentrate on consumer reactions that are genuine and drawn from experience and not influenced by something planted. Those who try to dupe people through this channel will suffer.
JS: I would parse this issue even closer from an ethical perspective. If, for example, I ask T3's facilities manager to recommend an electrician, I know his referral will be 100 percent based on his standards and the experience he has gained maintaining our campus of old homes. I don't have to worry that he is being fed advance information, getting free product or collecting a fee. If he were, he would provide complete disclosure. People expect the same when they ask, "Can you give me a referral?"
Lee Gaddis is chief operating officer and Jay Suhr is senior vice president and director of creative services and account planning at T3. (firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com)