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Prosumers – the new influence

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Recently I spoke at the Deloitte Fast 50 event and was delighted to see content marketing and social conversations high on the agenda for companies in attendance. Perhaps this was just the nature of motivated growth-oriented businesses, but it still felt like a shift in thinking from the previous year.

The ‘Influencer Economy’ is in full swing now and brands are really embracing the power it gives them to create conversations with new and returning customers. The question for many is deciding whether to take the paid ambassador or ‘free PR’ route for getting people to converse and recommend their brands in social channels. Fear of losing precious marketing dollars finding out what works best is a major concern for those who are new to this and feeling a little vulnerable due to lack of experience.

I asked my general manager Rochelle Shaw of social influencer company Bloggersclub how you could get around this dilemma. She advocates just getting started.

I suggest not over complicating it and really taking some pretty basic steps available to you for getting on the radar for a start. One of the international trends is ‘prosumer marketing’ which we’ve introduced locally (McDonald’s was first to use this here with us). It has been identified as a way to bridge the gap between the traditional ‘PR hit and hope’ approach of sending out product and hoping someone will discuss it online, and paying ambassadors to be part of your brand journey. It’s a great way to gain insight and comfort.”

‘Prosumers’ are described as consumers who have self-identified as a brand advocate as a result of a positive interaction and then have volunteered to participate in social engagement activity. That activity could be a creating something beautiful with the product in mind (e.g. a luxurious dessert), hosting an influencer gathering (e.g. getting friends together to taste the dessert) or filming/writing/photographing an activity (e.g. the gathering itself).

The result of this style of marketing is authentic content from real customers and fans. Sure, they’re incentivised and rewarded (nothing wrong with that!), but they’re not professionals and their activity is entirely at their own discretion. They are not dictated to, they are simply encouraged and made to feel special and included. The resulting outcome usually means customers with stronger ties to the brand that appreciate the extra lengths the company has gone to to create an awesome customer experience.

Moreover, what tends to happen is that for the first time in many marketers’ lives they are exposed to real customers having a real customer experience. The insight value alone is significant and can often shape the overall brand positioning and drives a brand to live a more authentic set of values, more closely aligned to the customer. For years brands have been at ‘arms length’ and somewhat out of touch with the reality of the customer experience. The digital era, whether you’ve participated or not, has brought this right up close to home — in your news feed, in your hands, several times a day.  There’s no escaping it now.

Colmar Brunton’s national qual director and newly minted Fellow of the Research Society of New Zealand, Spencer Willis, had this to say: “For many brands, particularly FMCG, there is a realisation that price and promotional wars aren’t sustainable and that the old adage of ‘it’s not what the brand says about itself, it’s what the brand says about you’ is becoming more and more important. Prosumers can be extremely effective in the desire for consumers to grasp your real brand story because it’s being told in an unfiltered, sometimes maverick, and (if you’re really lucky), better way than you could have thought of or even designed it for.”

Shaw agrees and says the the reality is that online content is not actually about ‘positive reviews’ for a brand and that’s a subtle but vital difference to remember when considering this style of marketing.

“It’s not about getting people to say, ‘you’re the best’. It’s about product in context. It’s about injecting the values and benefits of a product, service or brand into content that can be shared. This is why a Prosumer approach works and is being picked up as a strategy for most of the world’s biggest FMCG and food companies, which are ideally suited to this.”

It’s also the stepping-stone to identifying advocates that may become a more central and ongoing part of a marketing strategy. But yet doesn’t tie up marketing budgets too early on, giving the marketing team a chance to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t; a critical element in the ‘fail fast’ approach to digital marketing.

The Influencer Economy is driven by brands shifting away from push-style ads and intrusive or inauthentic marketing. Its central theme is identifying ‘brand friends’ and bringing them into the heart of the brand. They’re not super stars, simply regular customers going about their day and getting to have some fun. Often, as marketers, we forget that experiences like this can be positioned to really add value to someone’s day; to delight them and bring them on the journey. Whittling it all down, it’s an enhanced word of mouth strategy, but with enough technical nous to ensure that it’s traceable and accountable.

Perhaps in the future we’ll see this evolve into brands embracing the beta style approach to product development that we see in tech companies, bringing customers right into the CPU of the business to ensure that what is coming out meets our fundamental requirements, not just validate what we’ve already decided on.