|Craig Daitch also writes the blog Thought Industry.|
Recently I downloaded a marketing report that said 40% of women in their 40s use online social networks. The report sparked in my memory a more personal blog post I read recently. It was written by a D.C. mom who was given by Ford a Ford Flex to test drive with the premise being that she keep the vehicle for a few days and blog about her impressions. She seemed to have the general "mommy blogger" attributes that so many brands yearn to tap into so it was logical that Ford tap her and many others like her who help curate online communities.
Yet it wasn't her video outtakes or her posts on how safe she felt or Ford's attention to detail that caught my attention. It was the comments others left for her, the links that tracked back to her original posts and the subsequent additional comments and video pieces on moms test driving the vehicles that turned the light bulb on above my head.
The "red flag" concerns about affordability were interspersed with overwhelmingly positive sentiments regarding the crossover -- as attributable to the strength of a quality car coming out of Detroit as it is to Ford Head of Social Media Scott Monty's tireless efforts to connect with Ford's audience. But there were also a few concerns specific to price and miles per gallon. (Of course, in my book those are one in the same as I've come to define mpg as money per gallon these days.)
Now in defense of the Ford Flex, it does get 24 mpg on the highway, which is excellent for a vehicle of its size. But this is less a story about the Flex and more about how today product sampling isn't just about putting products in an influential blogger's hands. It's about responding to those who've reacted to that influencer -- hearing their concerns, understanding their motivations and addressing their worries with value-based messaging.
It's also a lesson in how the economy has changed consumer purchase behavior and how that impacts marketing. Take the following post from a Sacramento mommy blogger:
"I have an issue I struggle with. Consumerism. On one hand I believe in reduce, re-use and recycle... I watch my budget closely... Then something happens, I transmorph into a materialistic superficial elitist. I simply MUST HAVE another piece of jewelry, or designer purse... My focus on local grown healthy foods goes out of my mind as fast as I see an Outback Steakhouse commercial, dragging my new Coach bag and family out the door for an expensive dinner."
She goes on: "But is [consumerism] really that bad? If you work hard, make sacrifices, you too can 'treat' yourself to something you really want? Is that horrible?"
I won't retype the entire post, but in a nutshell, I could find a dozen, if not more themes in her blog musings. Here are a few.
- At the core I'm a good person
- I still have instant impulses
- I have a desire for tangible rewards
- I fear I'm passing along bad habits to my children
- I use my blog audience to forgive me
As Perez Hilton would describe her, she seems a bit of a "Hot Mess." But that's OK because you can lump my wife and me into the same category. We all know this isn't a small minority. These insights could be attributed to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of families across America.
So what's my point?
It's simple. The idea of sampling in today's America needs to be approached differently than before. It's less about dropping off or handing out a great product to a group of influencers and waiting for the reviews to pour in. You can be assured they will if the product is worthy of the effort.
Today our jobs are also about responding to those who are reacting to a blogger's sentiment about our product. Analyzing those sentiments is more important than a personalized blog post about your brand or a product rating, a la Amazon or e-pinions, or even a more formalized branded partnership through the "professionally organized" social media companies such as Federated Media, Izea or BzzAgent. Consumers are thinking more about the implications of what they're buying -- "justifying the splurge." We marketers need to counter that with value-based messaging. This should have a greater role in communications and, to do that, we need to adjust the ways we measure the wants and needs of our audience. It's about showing consumers how they can afford a great product or service without it weighing on their conscience.
I know one thing's for certain: In the world of marketing cliches, asking aloud what "keeping up with the Joneses" means while determining what's "playing in Peoria" has become exceedingly more difficult. And that makes what we do a daily challenge in today's recessionary climate.