The Open Brand Book Excerpt:
Trust is In the Network

by Kelly Mooney and Nita Rollins, Ph.D

Where do your customers go for answers in the age of social networking, search engines, and peer-to-peer networks that span the globe? How will this affect your business?

 

Excerpt
The following is an excerpt from the book
The Open Brand
by Kelly Mooney and Nita Rollins, Ph.D.
Published by New Riders Press; March 2008;$24.99US/$26.99CAN; 978-0-321-54423-0
Copyright © 2008 by Resource Interactive

With the power of social networking, infinite online searching and mobile connectedness, consumers now have access to a boisterous bazaar of public opinion. How much is this easy access to the opinions and insights of individuals altering consumers' perceptions of authority? Quite a bit. Their sense of who has authority and who deserves it has changed dramatically.

A 2006 Edelman Study revealed that trust in a "person like me" rose from 20 percent in 2003 to 68 percent in 200 -- an increase of more than 300 percent.

If icitizens are turning to each other for news and views instead of relying on official and traditional sources -- including brands themselves, it's not simply because of the exhilarating access to an unfiltered online community. The growth of trust in a peer network is tied to waning trust in traditional cultural authorities and institutions -- the church and state, educators and, yes, brands and the mass media. Consumers are less trusting because they're jaded by everything from lackluster customer service and brand blandness to a wave of white-collar corruption in the form of the scandals of Enron, Worldcom, Adelphia, Tyco and even Martha Stewart.



As a result, icitizens have taken matters into their own hands. They've transformed themselves from passive receivers of information to active retrievers, creators and judges of it. They've become information DIYers. David Altman, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Bath & Body Works Direct, said, "Our customer is very tuned in to advice from her trusted friends and family, and though she's checking out magazines and shop-at-home channels, the trend is definitely peer-to-peer. She is interested in what other women like her have to say about beauty."

People Like Me

In contrast to the pre-internet world, a "person like me" no longer has to live in the same neighborhood, belong to the same book club, have kids at the same school or work at the same firm. In fact, a "person like me" doesn't have to be anything like "me" -- at least, not demographically. That person just has to share a similar interest or experience, which I discover while surfing, searching or checking out my favorite social networking site. That "person like me" becomes an ally and advisor by virtue of having a seemingly independent, informed opinion about a subject that is relevant to me.

Forrester Research reports that over 52 percent of adult consumers typing queries into search engines are doing so to make or influence routine purchase decisions. All consumers are 50 percent more likely to be influenced by word-of-mouth recommendations from their peers than by radio or TV ads, according to a Nielsen BuzzMetrics 2005 report. Why? Because trust is now in the network -- in groups of interconnected "people like me."

From Marketing Funnel to Fish

According to Forrester Research (2007), when it comes to trust, consumer-generated media consistently outranks professional sources. By now it's clear that consumer-generated media is not a geek fad or passing techno-fancy. "The number of people who create content . . . is expected to increase significantly as the user-generated content movement gathers steam . . . Globally, the number of user-generated content creators will reach 238 million in 2011, up from 137 million in 2007."

As word-of-mouth platforms grow and traditional marketing tools lose impact, the propensity of a customer base to recommend products and services to others will be regarded as a key measure of brand equity. Consequently, brands must rethink the customer journey to purchase, and allocate more resources for strengthening the peer connections and conversations along the way; these interactions are now the essential relay for an ad campaign or other marketing initiative.

Ad campaigns themselves can -- and should -- be more targeted in our ad-skeptical and ad-skipping times. Mobile, the antithesis of a mass medium, can make event, promotional and video marketing highly targeted to a person's real-time needs and interests. Embeddable media players or other types of widgets -- the latest in pull marketing -- once dropped by the consumer on her web page can be a welcome advertising window, provided the content relates to areas of interest chosen by the consumer. If your brand generates new content frequently or a blogger's content or other news publisher is relevant to your brand, RSS feeds can likewise deliver ads along with consumer-chosen content right to their digital front doors.

After the targeted campaign or content raises awareness about and interest in a brand, marketers should focus on the "scenic route"-- the social and increasingly circuitous paths their messages then take. Fine-tuning consumer relationship management programs keeps a brand in touch with and up to date about a consumer's wants and needs. Providing valuable digital CSI (creating, sharing, influencing) tools is the brand's ticket to go along for the icitizen ride through social networks and creative remixing. Hosting or sponsoring events pulls consumers toward the brand's human dimension.

All of this activity in the middle of the consumer journey fundamentally changes its shape, from the traditional funnel to a new school fish. The opening of the former funnel is now smaller -- because it's more targeted -- at the "mouth" (where brand communications via mass media have historically initiated the journey), largest around the "belly" because of consumer queries and activities, creative inventions and interventions. It then fans out at the end into a multidirectional "tail" of post-purchase behaviors that amplify consumer opinions and advocacy.

In light of this funnel-to-fish evolution, companies need to re-architect their brand communications to determine the most effective tactics for intriguing citizens, engaging their peer network, and inspiring both to move through the purchase journey.

Copyright © 2008 by Resource Interactive

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