Blogosphere Making Marketers of Consumers

For years, marketers have shuddered at the realization that consumers are on to them. They’ve worried about saturation, about people ingesting so many advertisements and marketing messages on an average day that no one has a chance at standing out. Marketers have created a whole lexicon around the phenomenon, then used it among themselves to describe their victimhood and excuse failed campaigns.

Now, Detroit-based General Motors is using its FastLane blog to directly address its concerns that marketing and advertising go unnoticed. In the most recent post, GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz wrote, “At the risk of repeating what I’ve already posted, I must share what’s top of mind today, and that is GM’s consumer consideration levels. This issue — this question of how do we increase awareness, improve our image and enhance public opinion of our cars and trucks — is weighing on everyone’s mind in this company, from the plant floors to the boardroom.”

Striking a Chord With Loyal Customers

Within a week, more than 235 consumers — most were GM enthusiasts — had proposed marketing strategies and tactics.

“The emphasis at GM needs to be product,” wrote Sam Verma. “If people turn their heads and inquire as to the make of the car, you’ve saved yourselves a bunch of $$$ in media expenses. Think about what you did at Chrysler. Cutting-edge designs have turned the public’s perception around completely. Keep on putting out edgy, trendsetting cars, and the people will come.”

Another reader added: “For local word of mouth, try a different kind of dealership in the jet-set areas of Washington, D.C. Have a Luxury GM dealership/showroom in D.C. that only sell[s] GM’s top line products — Cadillac, Corvette, G6, GTO, Hummer, etc…. People in D.C. like exclusivity and superlatives. They want what people perceive as the best, and they will overpay to have it.”

GM is exploiting the conversations that customers were having already about the company and enlisting the opinions of influential buyers to aid product development, public relations, sales and marketing.

“It’s almost like the next generation of the Internet is taking off. New ways to communicate on a one-on-one basis have been increasing at lightning speed,” said Michael Wiley, director of new media at GM. “A couple of years ago, when people started blogging, I saw it as a possible corporate communications vehicle. I saw this as an opportunity to get involved with the conversations going on.”

Free PR

“Most people I talk with love the idea of doing a blog but are still afraid,” Wiley added. “Companies don’t have the appetite for taking public comments.”

For GM, though, weathering positive and negative feedback has generated good PR and enhanced the company’s credibility exponentially with consumers.

“I don’t think a lot of marketers understand the dynamic that is taking place. Old PR, old communications are not nearly as effective or applicable any more. Metaconsumers want people to know when products are good or bad,” he noted. “When you’re someone who’s staked some credibility in responding to a blog or posting a book review on Amazon, you become an influencer, and what you say is extremely important.”

Besides positive media coverage and consumer word-of-mouth or word-of-Web, corporate bloggers benefit from a new product, BlogBurst. Austin, Texas-based Pluck makes blog content available to online newspapers and other publishers for republication through its BlogBurst syndication service.

“There are good ways to brand through blogs and better ways to get into the flow of consumer conversation through them,” said Peter Kim, senior analyst with Forrester Research. “GM’s FastLane blog is pretty successful. It’s not corporate speak but authentic dialogue with consumers.

“This is the next step in CRM. Technology has allowed this dialogue to take place, to really get connected with customers and get real customer voices to listen to,” Kim continued.

Best Practices in Business Blogs

An incredibly hot topic right now is how to incorporate blogs into your marketing communications. Everyone’s considering what to do about it,” Kim said.

However, blogging is not for everyone. “It depends on what kind of company you have, what policies. It’s a big job. It looks easy, but if you’re a corporation trying to go to market with a consistent brand message, you’re not a 12-year-old on MySpace. You have to be responsive, too,” he added.

Some tips on maintaining a successful blog that will appeal to consumers:

    1. Take a measured approach to the blogosphere. “Listen to what’s being said — the tone and the style. The language is very different from customer service e-mail exchanges, for instance. It has a different feel, a different pace, that you need to understand,” Kim said.

    2. Start with an internal blog. GM started with a blog for small block engine enthusiasts. Its launch coincided with the 50th anniversary of the engine used in most GM muscle cars. It had a finite hardcore audience with which GM could test what worked and what didn’t. “It was kind of a safe space,” Wiley said.

    3. Talk about products in an appropriate way. Coke launched a blog that posed as an enthusiast diary, but blog watchers saw through the blatant product positioning for Coke Zero, Kim noted.

GM uses FastLane to dispel myths about the brand, propose the concepts for which new products stand, and change consumer brand consideration — the biggies in marketing. Additional blogs may be birthed specific to company events or product launches, according to Wiley. “The opportunities are unlimited,” he said.

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