Marketing and user-generated content

Most marketing people I meet are frightened and confused by the explosion of user-generated content. It turns their whole world inside out and they don’t know how to make heads or tails of it. They feel like they’ve walked into a room full of strangers all involved in deep conversation and they don’t know how to butt in.

Maybe I’m standing too close to the wireless hub, but it seems increasingly straightforward to me: The most effective marketing is a compelling story. These stories become part of my own narrative; not a story told to me, but part of the story that I tell about myself. The stories we tell each other about ourselves is the glue that holds a community together. I think that this is where traditional marketing types begin having some difficulty. It’s a difficult leap to make, to agree that they won’t *own* these stories, that they belong to the people, but I believe this is fundamental. If you (the company) let it be my story, you lose some control, but in exchange you get to be a part of something far more fundamental to my identity as a person.

For example: Why is “adopt a child” so much more powerful than “send some money”? Because it becomes a story I can tell. The picture on the fridge is of a person that I know about – I can tell my friends what she’s like, what clothes I bought her, how she loved the teddy bear the best, how the glasses helped her to read for the first time. It becomes part of the narrative of my life.

So, the moral of the story? Don’t butt in. You can’t control this conversation – it’s not yours to control. Buy them a drink so they don’t need to break the flow of their conversation. Give them a place to talk, give them something to talk about; make it compelling and you will be at the heart of it more surely than if you crash the table and break the spell.

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