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2nd February 2007
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Consumer Generated Media

The internet is a dangerous place for brands, even personal ones.

Last year I bought a new car. It’s red, it’s fast, it’s very low to the ground, it still makes me grin like a maniac every time I sit in it even after 12 months. More importantly though, it had rave reviews. I’m not talking about journalist reviews, though. My car buying strategy focused on driver reviews. I trawled the web for sites where motorists poured their heart out about their cars. Some of the news was good, some of it was bad, but you got the feeling that this was impartial advice, advice based on real use of the vehicle rather than a weekend spent driving a review vehicle, picked and prepared by the manufacturer. This was, in other words, advice I could trust!

Last week I was looking for flights to North America. I’m heading over to North America for a month in the summer and I have an intense dislike of cattle class, so I was looking at premium economy or business class. Before parting with my hard earned cash, though, I searched for reviews of the various airlines I could choose between: what were the seats like? check-in? in-flight service? the food? It’s all out there: satisfied customers and dissatisfied; stories of holidays turned into dreams by an exceptional airline, stories of business trips to hell and back because of incompetent airlines. Then I did the same for the hotels I could pick from.

This is Consumer Generated Media at its most valuable, and its most destructive. For those of you who haven’t heard the term before, it used to be called word-of-mouth, and it’s the latest buzz in marketing circles. But a lot of marketers still haven’t come to terms with it. 

When I studied marketing they used to say that a satisfied customer would tell, on average, six people about your service, whereas a dissatisfied customer would tell a hundred. That was embarrassing but manageable. That was before the internet. Now, a single consumer can reach billions of your potential customers with a click of the mouse: a review on a web site, a post in their blog, a comment on yours. It’s a marketer’s nightmare: a medium that no amount of money can control, and where the cost of firefighting will probably outweigh the benefit.

How does this affect your personal brand? Try googling yourself (as many of your potential customers or employers may well be doing even as you read this). Then google elements of your brand environment: your company, the car you drive, the brands you wear, the areas you live and work in, the organisations you belong to, the people you mix with. All of these brands interact with yours, and they all say something about you. But is their message what you think it is? And how many people are seeing that message?


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