Let's face it, most marketers are tiring of all the abstract Web 2.0 discussions and the regurgitated manifestos pronouncing how big it is, how it's growing like a weed, how it gives consumers unprecedented control…blah, blah, blah. You know the pitfalls of not getting involved in the fastest-growing piece of the internet. But with so many elements to 2.0, how do you know what's effective and what's hype?
Short answer: there is no definitive answer, but there are strategies that are significantly more conducive to connecting with your customers -- and making the brand more relevant to them -- than others. Yes, it's a tall new order, but it's eminently doable, and actually quite fun.
So, forgoing the impulse to sermonize on the power of Web 2.0, here are a few tactics with proven potential to engage your customers:
While everyone's heard the "be a participant, not a bystander" advice, what does that actually entail? And how do you fund this time- and labor-intensive effort to respond to the avalanche of commentary in a world of python-like budget constrictions? Here are some guidelines:
Get executive buy-in. Pull the executive team together and show them the incessant online dialogue going on about their product and how, in the space of minutes, an appropriate response/message can transform hundreds of opinions.
Monitor and respond. Dedicate resources to monitoring blogs and review sites. Be hyper-responsive and unabashedly human when addressing complaints and questions. Consumers don't expect brands to be perfect, but they expect them to be "real" and present.
Draw funds from the research budget. The consumer intelligence you gather from forums and blogs can be far more compelling and actionable than focus group results. Additionally, technology companies are emerging (such as webisode/blog campaign -- following a "real guy" as he lived, slept and ate out of his Nissan for a week -- was uniquely successful in promoting the vehicle's features, became fixed in the pop culture and attracted many millions of viewers.
The mundane can be viral. Marketers may argue they need a sexy or cool product to go viral…but even content for laundry pre-wash, if appealing enough, can hit the distribution/YouTube jackpot. SC Johnson and DraftFCB did a stellar job creating a breakthrough content piece for Shout Pre-Wash product. And users exponentially reward the humorous, imaginative or provocative. An interesting point -- count the number of seconds the Shout product is actually on camera.
Could Tide have created a connection with young consumers if they had taken advantage of the still-funny piece from Joey and David?
Incite consumers to create content around your brand
When your consumers are so connected to your product they want to express themselves using your brand, you own them in a new, unprecedented way.
Enable consumer mash-ups. Post a menu of playful online marketing assets (photos, logos, video clips), allowing consumers to create their own self-expression, or mash-up. Automakers like Scion and MINI have done a great job with this -- from allowing users to build their own cars and the scenery the vehicle sits in to providing tools for a video or gaming competition around their product. These are viral goldmines: participants send their version of X vehicle to 10 friends, who create their own versions, and on and on, ad infinitum.
What's critical to remember when experimenting with any Web 2.0 tactics is how real and raw it is, both from the environment and the user base standpoints. It mandates a radical change to your "communication mindset." Trying to use traditional "slick" advertising tactics will absolutely hit a wall in this environment.
Media pundits may already be theorizing about the shape of Web 3.0… 4.0… or Web.umpteen -- and granted, it's fascinating and it's their job. But the discourse is, of course, far out-stripping reality for most marketers -- who now get that they have to do something -- but have basically done very little, if anything at all. The time has come for less talk, more real-world advice -- and more doing!