Letting Customers Talk the Talk: Grassroots Marketing through Consumer-Generated Content

In an effort to spread the word without spending a fortune, what marketer hasn’t considered engaging their consumers in the process of content creation? After all, you don’t own your brand — your customers do. Chances are, they also own a camcorder — or at least a cell-phone with built-in camera — and are not afraid to use it.

V-CAM, or viewer-created ad messages, have taken marketing by storm, and are becoming an important element of grassroots marketing in the YouTube era. If part of your goal is to support a living brand, then consumer-generated content can be an effective way to get results — so long as it is properly planned and executed.

The idea of getting consumers to create your content is sometimes called brand democratization. Many big players are doing it: Audi, GM, Nike, and L’Oréal Paris. Sometimes it works brilliantly. Nike’s consumer generated ads for Converse led to a 300% increase in site traffic and an 11% increase in sales. But there are also risks. VW, for example, ended up in a socio-political minefield when a V-CAM was created featuring a VW Polo that thwarts a terrorist attack, confining a suicide bomber’s blast to the inside of the car. Politically sensitive material, to say the least.

Because of the inherent risks, and the fact that V-CAM works best (and worst) with the world’s biggest brands, pure consumer-generated ads may be more of a fad than a movement, and are unlikely to see widespread use.

Consumer Collaborated Ad Messages

So how do you mitigate the risks and still engage your customers in the life of your brand? Call it consumer collaborated ad messages.

Provide all of the creative elements you want to see in an ad, then let your customers “mash them up” to create something they can call their own. The Internet, with its combination of Ajax tools and cultural shift toward user-generated content, is an ideal place for this kind of customer engagement. Give them a sense of brand ownership — let them create, judge, share, and encourage their friends to try making their own ads — without endangering your brand.

You can take the idea of consumer-generated content a step further by integrating customer input into your overall brand message. Think of those charming couples wearing Tilley Endurables in exotic locales. You can control the results to some extent by providing examples of the kind of submissions you’d like to receive. As a bonus, what you receive may provide some insight into your customers’ minds.

Think your brand could use a boost from the grassroots? Effective communications thrive on three key aspects: how a message is delivered, who delivers it, and what the message is. We have found that who delivers the message can be as important as how the message is delivered. Messages from peers are often perceived as more genuine, and may provoke a greater response. And that’s the key to grassroots marketing.

Like any marketing campaign, engaging your customers in content creation requires heads-up planning and clearly stated objectives.


YouTube VS. Virb

I had heard about the quality of Virb compared to YouTube, but never actually tried it for myself. So I thought I'd post the same AVI file to both websites and see how the results turn out. This is some footage of a recent BSL excursion to Adventure Laflèche. If you didn't know about Virb before; now you do :)


Camping: a user's experience

Camping is a great way to see places, to meet people and to be in the great outdoors. But not all campsites are made equal.

I began to wonder - having recently spent a couple of weeks in campsites that ranged from terrible to terrific - whether my user experience there could apply to brands, and if so, how.

One thing at a time.

The product:
Campsites provide space for campers to set up tents, park their cars or RVs, and provide additional features like electricity, water, toilets and play structures for kids. Beyond this, campgrounds provide access to sites, activities and scenery.

The differentiators:
If I could bring it down to one thing that differentiates one campsite from another, it's probably the resources available to start and maintain them. Public campsites tend to be infinitely better than private campsites. The differentiator leads to the success of the public camping "brand."

This differentiator has a huge impact on the brand promise. Before even getting in the car to go on a camping trip, I plan my itinerary around the accessibility of public campsites. I'm not the only one. While in the Gaspé on a family vacation, I spoke with countless people who had stopped at
Parc au Bic (A provincial park about three hours east of Quebec City), then at Parc de la Gaspésie (Another provincial park about 3 hours further on) to finally end up at the majestic Forillon National Park.

In the case of camping, then, the brand promise gains something significant through association. And the user gains something through trusting the importance of this association, sight unseen.

User experience:
The user's experience at a campground almost completely determines the success of that campsite's brand.

How do provincial and national parks do such a good job of delivering on the brand promise? Obviously they cover the basics very well. They provide clean, well-maintained and campsites that aren't jammed up against each other. They provide excellent facilities. Forillon Park has a band of roving "naturalists" who describe natural phenomena in a way that kids and adults can understand. Beyond this, national parks offer consistent graphical references - even the roads are paved in a way you'll see nowhere else. You know you're in a national campground whether you're in The Pacific Rim, Banff or Forillon.

The parks are a holistic example of branding done across a wide spectrum.

What does all this mean for your company's branding? Too many times it seems companies believe a brand is a logo, a wordmark, and an attitude. A good brand is much more than that: it resides in the experiences of end users.

A brand in a crowded marketplace must differentiate itself through consistency across channels, relevancy and quality. Associations can be valuable to boost credibility. Consistency of graphic designs (like the brown and off-yellow signs in national park). Consistency of user experience (think of your website the way a national park architects its campsites). The quality of service. The relevancy of the offer. And nice added touches, like those nice narrow two-lane roads that meander through wooded areas leading to beaches, mountains, and other sights. If you look at your brands the way our national parks look at their layout, you're on your way.