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Dr Strangelove, or How I Came To Love UGC

November 30, 2009

Put simply, WOM is the most powerful communications channel any marketer can wish for because consumers trust it. However what is changing about WOM, is the way in which it is trusted. UM’s studies attest that people now trust online web site opinions more than they do mass media advertising.

When we ask US online consumers how “trustworthy” they rate information typically provided by various contacts, a wide ranking emerges. Personal recommendations from family and friends scores highest at 6.7 out of a possible 10. Consumer online recommendations on sites such as Amazon score 5.7 By comparison, TV or magazine advertising merits only 3.7. At least advertising beats email spam, which scores a lowly 3.1.

But if online word of mouth is mushrooming in its online presence, how do we embrace it, particularly its most evocative online form — User Generated Content (UGC) — without falling into the classic traps feared by many. Fortunately, if we really want to incorporate WOM, there are ways to draw on research to ensure we can develop scalable and repeatable strategies.

WOM is deeply rooted in our culture: Americans do like giving their opinion both on- and offline. Tracking WOM across 22 product categories, we have found that 80% of Americans “often inform others on what to buy” in at least one of these categories. More intriguingly, we are seeing the emergence of the Super-Influencer – 30% of us inform others on what to buy for five or more categories.

Super-Influencers exhibit clear preferences in the subjects they like to talk about. At the broadest level, our analysis indicates Super-Influencers will tend to focus on one of two macro-topic groups, either: a) technology and entertainment or, b) more personal and household matters such a fashion, cosmetics, personal health and groceries. Similar smaller topic groupings occur throughout people’s WOM repertoires –people often like to talk to others on several related topics such as music and films, or children, homes and families.

The implication of these types of macro-topic groupings is actually quite profound. If we wish to activate a WOM or UGC strategy, we should avoid the pitfall of directly inviting consumers to create a specific response around our product. As Chevy Tahoe found out in 2006 in the USA, consumers rebuffed the marketer’s invitation to create UGC ads for the SUV, and instead they exploited it as a chance to attack the vehicle’s fuel consumption. As a result of this type of experience, the marketing industry is often hesitant to pursue WOM or related UGC consumer creation strategies.

Instead of inviting consumer responses on the brand directly, we should harness this type of customized WOM topic research to determine what other often seemingly-unrelated product areas do actively interest our consumers to talk to others. We could then include these other potential areas in a re-focused WOM or UGC activation strategy to emphasize our product’s proposition without necessarily talking about our product. In turn, this can unexpectedly broaden the interest and appeal of our brand.

An admirable case in point is ING Canada. A year ago, they ran a UGC competition on the theme of savings – but rather than being about bank savings and deposits , the competition was about any form of saving. Consumers’ UGC responses were diverse, humorous and creative. For example, they included a video about someone trying to save money by ordering a pizza where the pizza was free if it was not “delivered to your hands” in 30 minutes. So the diner-to-be deliberately refused to physically accept the pizza when the delivery guy turned up at his door and a very humorous skit ensued.

It is these sorts of surprising approaches where WOM and related UGC strategies will ultimately succeed because they not only arouse consumers’ genuine curiosity and invite an authentic response that isn’t transparently self-serving to the needs of the brand, they also provide a broader-based forum to interact with the brand and other fans.

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