Brands benefit by giving some message control to consumers

With the seemingly endless amount of consumer-generated content circulating on the Internet, many companies are understandably concerned about what effect, if any, such content can have on the image of their brand.

With the seemingly endless amount of consumer-generated content circulating on the Internet, many companies are understandably concerned about what effect, if any, such content can have on the image of their brand. After all, there's virtually nothing a company can do to prevent someone from writing a negative comment about its products on a blog, or posting a YouTube video to air grievances against specific policies.

That's why monitoring online chatter has become such an important practice; it can help PR pros keep track of the messages circulating about their client or brand and allow them to respond appropriately, or alter messaging if necessary.

Much has been written about how this new media environment diminishes the amount of control a company can have on its brand message. For PR pros, who traditionally have been focused on controlling that message, it's a frightening time. And so, understandably, there are very few companies that are willing to proactively relinquish any control of their brand message and actively solicit consumer-generated content.

Last year, McDonald's generated a lot of attention from both the marketing industry and general public when it launched its Mom's Quality Correspondents program, giving six mothers unprecedented access to the company, and then allowing them to blog about their experiences free from any censorship from the company.

For McDonald's, there was a definite goal in mind. The company relied on those moms to get out the message about the quality of the fast-food retailer's offerings in a way that would seem far more authentic than the standard company line.

This week's consumer focus on Ikea takes a look at the company's leap of faith into ceding control of its brand message. Approached by comedian Mark Malkoff with the proposal of living in the Paramus, NJ Ikea for a week and documenting it online in a 24-video series at http://www.markmalkoff.com/, the company was initially concerned about relinquishing that control.

Never before had Ikea knowingly allowed someone outside the company to essentially speak on its behalf - much less in the quirky fashion that Malkoff was suggesting. Yet after consulting with its agency, Ketchum, it decided to take a risk - one that decidedly paid off, as Malkoff's videos generated nearly 15 million viewers and caused an extraordinary level of in-store engagement with other consumers.

Turning over any amount of brand control to consumers is certainly not the right choice for every company. As with any other marketing strategy, it's something that has to fit in with the company's culture and overall brand vision. Those choosing to do so must seriously weigh the risks with the possible benefits. But since countless research shows that consumers are more likely to consider recommendations about a brand or service from someone like themselves, it seems that at the very least, giving up some control is something that should be considered.

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