Friend, Not Foe

There's no question about it--Web 2.0 is taking the world by storm. Consumer-generated reviews and forums. Blogging. MySpace. Viral marketing. Brand marketers are scratching their heads trying to figure out how to incorporate various forms of new media into their marketing strategies. Will this be easy? Doubtful. These technologies and services are wreaking havoc with marketing plans, as the online consumer now has more power than the brands. Look no further than Time's 2006 Person of the Year (it' for proof that the balance of power has changed forever. But instead of being overwhelmed, marketers would be wise to realize that these changes also unearth myriad opportunities. For illustration, take these two recent shopping experiences. This holiday season my niece wanted a pair of Ugg boots. Instead of heading to my local shoe store, I searched online to find the best price for the pair she wanted. I ended up buying them from a retail outlet halfway across the country. From airlines tickets, to electronics, to shoes, price often drives the purchase decision. In fact, a 2005 survey of 923 online shoppers conducted by BizRate Research found that approximately 87 percent of online shoppers compare online retail offers with catalog merchants and retail stores to find the best price. In contrast, my local wine merchant has found a way to take price out of the equation. Knowing that I love red wine, she emails me information she knows will interest me. Most recently, she sent me a link to her blog about a particular '05 Bordeaux. It included rich content and real reviews from wine experts about the quality of this vintage, comments from other customers, and an interview that she had with the owner of the vineyard. By engaging me in a meaningful conversation about the wine, price was never a factor in my decision to purchase a case (in fact they sold out of all 150 cases in two days, based on that one email). Are new media and the democratization of the Web turning the marketing world upside down? Absolutely. And, as social networking technologies and Web 2.0 tools move even further into the mainstream, the impact will be more profound. As a marketer you have two choices: You can focus on the challenges created by the shift of power to the consumer and continue to be overwhelmed. Or you can leverage these technologies to create opportunities to transform your marketing and advertising plans, strengthen your brand, and avoid competing strictly on price. There are a plethora of technologies and services at your disposal. One way to make sense of them all is to ask yourself what specific business goals you're trying to accomplish: Are you trying to acquire new users? Create a more engaging experience for your current users? Reward your most loyal customers? Depending on the goal, different initiatives can be used to augment your current marketing efforts to bring a specific set of benefits to your marketing plan. For instance, submitting your content to social bookmarking sites (like Digg and, posting videos to YouTube, and hosting profiles on social networking sites like MySpace are all ways to cast a wider net to attract new users. Putting online communites, blogs, forums, and the like on a Web site is great for creating a more engaging experience for users who already frequent the site. Various Web 2.0 tools can also be used effectively to further engage the most loyal customers--for instance, taking your community-building efforts to the desktop. We have found that 5 percent to 10 percent of customers will download a branded desktop application. Most often, these are your most loyal customers who are hungry for more interaction with the brand. Enhancing your current customer loyalty initiatives by engaging these users via an always-on desktop community is a great value-add, where you can provide special perks like premium content, special discounts or promotions, and access to exclusive chats and forums. In addition to providing access to premium information, desktop communities allow these users to interact with their peers, building an exclusive community and enhancing their relationship with your brand. There's no doubt this is an exciting time in the world of marketing. Sure, the realization that Web 2.0 is going mainstream is scary, but there's no turning back now. Marketers that take the bull by the horns and view these changes as opportunities rather than challenges will deliver a customer experience that makes price take a back seat and puts brand value at the wheel. About the Author Joe Lichtenberg is vice president of marketing and business development for Eluma. He can be reached at 781-376-1924. Please visit
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