I have a friend who works at a company that is selling “user generated content solutions” which actually means that they have back-end technology for executing user-generated marketing programs be they contests or showcases or stuff like that. It was a great idea a while back and is probably still a money-spinner, at least for my friend and her company.
After stumbling upon yet another piece of consumer-generated video contest madness at Adrants today, this one by ForRent.com giving people a chance to win a $10,000 furniture makeover if they create a video that says why “through the eyes of their furniture” I had finally had enough.
I had to ask her how she could justify being an enabler for such feeble and thoughtless marketing.
UGC Gal: I am glad you called! You were ahead of the curve in ’06, now we have almost too much business. Perhaps I could show your team some of the new things we are doing.
Me: I think that user-generated as a marketing tactic is pretty played out. If I were you I would stick with it while the going is good while keeping my resume up to date.
UGC Gal: Is it a fad or an evolving space?
Me: User-generated contests are a fad. There is a significant first-mover advantage in the interactive space because so many tactics are new. UGC was new. Now the novelty was worn off and with it the marketing advantage and consumer interest.
How many brands have to hold contests or give consumers a chance to upload before they realize that not only is it not differentiating but that no consumers care (either to make the effort to upload or to go to a branded site to view amateur crap)?
Also, “evolving space” is a meaningless buzzword. Please don’t use it anymore.
UGC Gal: Contests are a fad, but community could be what this is
Me: Community of what? What would be the reason for a consumer to engage with a brand or with a group of fellow brand users online, especially if the requirement was for them to create something and then share it with others. What is in it for them as creators and viewers and community? Why is this something anyone would want to do?
UGC Gal: Look at it socially. People want to connect with like-minded people. UGC is about passion and intrinsic motivation; people want to grow the community of what they like or are committed to.
Me: First, most brands do not have any passionate enthusiasts. Second, even if I were, say, a passionate Duracell battery user, why would I want to join a community of other Duracell battery users? What could that community possibly do to make it worthwhile for me to create content for it and view content on it?
Even with a passion brand like Apple, what is in it for the consumer? Unless there is something in these videos or pictures that consumers create that shows me how to fix my Apple TV, someone like me, a passionate and long-term Apple user would have no use for it. Why would someone else?
And why is this good for a brand, especially is everyone else is doing it?
UGC Gal: The space is morphing into a utility-based marketing vehicle.
Me: But what is the utility?
UGC Gal: Utility is the combination of brand generated content and UGC. That is where we are headed. Content management.
This more than just creators of UGC content. Its about spectators and critics that also want to be involved.
Me: That seems like an awful broad definition of UGC, but even if we take it at face value what about the plethora of brands that people just don’t care about? What about the brands that don’t have spectators and critics that want to be involved?
UGC Gal: A brand manager is charged with speaking to and listening to its customers. Video content is and will be a more important vehicle. But video is just one part if it. It’s interaction that is the key, and how do you facilitate that interaction and how do you make it positive for the brand when blogs and comments aren’t controllable and agencies and other fronts just enrage consumers. We see ourselves as broader than just video contests.
Me: What does it really mean when you say “facilitate brand interaction” because it sounds an awful lot like an empty business phrase.
UGC Gal: Brand control. Brand authenticity. Review and approve. That is what our company stands for.
Me: So you create a place for people to connect and be honest about the brand…but then you control it for content. Why wouldn’t a consumer just go to their own blog? Why wouldn’t they read an independent blog?
How do you manage what is, by nature, an uncontrollable space?
UGC Gal: By creating brand-built and managed sites for consumers to give an honest dialogue to a brand where the brand can put their best foot forward.
Me: How is it honest dialogue if brands control it? And again, why? Why would a consumer want to do this?
UGC Gal: Research shows that they do.
Me: Common-sense shows that they don’t.
UGC is so dead that those stuck schlocking their wares in that arena are forced to try to broaden the definition to cover anything that a consumer says about the product…and to monetize it they have to tie it to a brand. But the key lesson that has to be learned is that, with the unlimited non-branded sites and contents, you have to have a compelling reason to go to something branded.
“Sharing” and “uploading” just aren’t compelling on their own.