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Customer curation: What brands and ad agencies do about it

February 25, 2010 20 Comments

Reading Time: 2 minutes

“Radio equals listening to the playlists of unknown radio people. Newspapers equal reading the playlists of unknown newspaper people. I want to read and hear lists curated by people I know.”

I read these words a couple of weeks ago. They touched on an important trend that will change the advertising industry. Traditional silos (television, print and radio) have already started to dissolve as technology has rendered them meaningless. Consumers have already been re-cast as content creators, publishers and distributors. And now, those same consumers are more and more responsible for the curation of what gets shared and why.

This is the next level of sophistication in the power shift between brands and consumers. When consumers started using social media tools they gained, perhaps for the first time, equal weight in their conversation with brands. This is now reaching a new level as consumers become curators of what holds their attention.

The challenge for advertisers is how to create content that consumers want to engage with and share, whether its an ad, viral video or a 140 character message to a friend. What’s more, this consumer driven process is organic and fluid making it even more difficult for brands to exercise any control.

Inevitably brands will start to question whether they should look to advertising agencies as the most effective means to reach consumers in a meaningful, measurable and ultimately profitable way. This, in part, explains the rise of crowdsourcing by brands are that trying to minimize risk by testing their strategies and ideas on consumers before taking them to market (much like the Threadless t-shirt business model). As such the partnership between brands and ad agencies now has to be expanded to include consumers.

The hard-won expertise of advertising agencies is still critical. But they must rethink how this expertise applies within this new dynamic. They must accept that part of the responsibility for content curatorship has shifted to consumers and work with them rather than against them.

If agencies do this, they will remain relevant and necessary partners within this new collaborative dynamic. If they deny or resist this shift, they do so at their peril. It would be far wiser to see consumers as creative partners rather than a threat.

Do you agree that consumers are now curators and how do you think this affects advertising?

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20 responses to “Customer curation: What brands and ad agencies do about it”

  1. Iconic88 says:

    Thanks Simon for another great post.

    Absolutely agree that customers are now curators. Look at what Dorito's has achieved in marketing themselves via audience participation. Look at how successful President Obama's drive for the White House was by focusing on grassroots support.

    The success of both campaigns was due to them involving their audience in owning the message + the medium and letting the 'people' do the talking for them. Authenticity today is judged by your audience, not the brand.

    The top down dictatorial type of advertising is dead in my opinion due to the dynamics within the marketplace changing. The marketplace of information.

    In the past when there was a lack of access to information about a brand, brands had the power to say at will what they liked. How could an audience know any better about a brand, right?

    In real-time, with access to a multitude of informational and communications channels to audit, review and connect with people, a brand's authenticity is only a 'tweet' away from being judged by public opinion. Basically, from people we trust, who have had an experience with particular brands. This is what is eroding the power and influence of brands and agencies to the consumer.

    Successful agencies will be those agencies that understand and implement this small formula into their thinking:

    Brands + Bonds + Benevolence + Empowerment = Breakthough.

    Instead of focusing on Advertising 1.0 “these are the benefits of our product/service for you, now buy it”, to “you know more than us about how the benefits of our product/service affect you, how can we reward and help you help us share your positive/negative experiences with your friends/family”.

    There is no direct call to action to buy. Only a plethora of information for a well-informed audience to choose if a brand is right for them. Welcome to 'zenvertising' – the art of advertising without advertising.

    What are your thoughts?

    All the best, Mahei

  2. Zenvertising, nice. I agree it's now the time to advertise without advertising (in the traditional broadcast sense). It's much more about relationship management. About find mutual interest, shared values and common ground to which your products are relevant. In some ways this stuff is so obvious because we do it every day in our real world lives. But the advertising marketplace has been so feudal for so long it'll take time to integrate this new mindset. I like your formula below – it may be even better as a cycle. Great distillation though. Thanks for the great feedback, Simon

  3. Darwin was so right. Adapt or die. Agencies aren't any less important, they just need to share the distribution power with the audience. Crowdsourcing proves time and again that advertising agencies are the best equipped to create effective messaging so they just need to partner up with consumers in a respectful way. Thanks for the link to the post too. I'll check it out and always welcome related thinking. Thanks, David. Simon

  4. xiaochang says:

    Really insightful summation of one of the key shifts, and something companies really need to focus on. People get caught up in user-creation, but often forget the curation, aggregation, discourse, and other scaffolding activities that make user (and professional) creation viable.

    I can't help but think that the increased visibility and organization of consumer curation can only be a good thing for brands and agencies alike. The breakdown of the producer/consumer dichotomy is largely an industrial one — in terms of on-the-ground culture, that line has always been a bit blurry. Consumer curation — people remaking and contextualizing content by aggregating it — has always existed (for instance, the laundry list of brand thought by some African American communities to be affiliated with the KKK in the 80s), but now it's racially visible and trackable, allowing brands and agencies to make sense of it, incorporate it into strategies, and craft responses.

    Moreoever, it allows us to see affinity groups and brand resonances that no company can anticipate. Seeing what a brand is curated alongside gives deep insights into the cultural life and sybolic capital of that brand.

    Agencies in this environment may be more useful in taking an almost anthropological role. There's a big difference between identifying a trend and understanding its driving mechanisms and strategic implications. Crowdsourcing is a great tool, but in the long term, it'll work best alongside — not in place of — systematic analysis and strategic thinking.

  5. Thanks so much. Great insight. I completely agree that seeing how brands are curated by consumers gives them deep understanding into how they are perceived and they should celebrate it. Also, you're right, it has always been going on and now it's just more overt on both part (brands and consumers). Advertising agencies as anthropologists is a wonderful way to express it. It's a lot easier than being fortune tellers too. But it does mean they must reconstitute their services and staffing. It will be interesting to see who resists change more – brands or agencies. I imagine agencies as the need for brands to change is more urgent. This presents huge opportunities for the more evolved agencies. Thanks for the super insightful feedback, Simon

  6. Yes, I agree that consumers can be curators. Not all well be. Like not everyone is a blogger. Some people will be looking for others to share with them what they should engage. Of course, this is already happening on FB and Twitter.

    These “curators” are the influencers agencies will need to harness. Much like sports marketing (Nike) discovered and exploited influential groups in the 80s/90s

    As far as agencies, there is just so much expertise now expected from the ad industry, I don't know how a single agency will be expert at it all. Being “partners” with other firms and only being responsible for brand management and creative won't cut it though. But where do we draw the line. I expect well see this line continually drawn for the next several years with lots of agencies suffering.

    I can however see the necessity for a blogger and social media outreach function. Thanks for another article worth commenting on. Jimmy

  7. I agree, Jimmy. It's going to be a painful time for agencies as they try to define and carve out their new roles and responsibilities. I agree they will partner with influencers. In my experience its hard for agencies to fundamentally shift their mindset and give away power – for obvious and understandable reasons. But those that adapt and take risks will fair best. A creative exercise in itself. Thanks for the great feedback. simon

  8. Iconic88 says:

    You're right Simon. It will take time for many to adopt and integrate this new mindset.

    Isn't it interesting how as our world shrinks via these new comms tools Simon, the more we rely on each other for pertinent and trusted information? especially when there's so much of it at our disposal.

    Just goes to show 'trust' is as pertinent today as it was 100 or 1000 years ago.

  9. That's so true. Technology is just reinforcing timeless values. The human wins out in the end. Best, simon

  10. Iconic88 says:

    Great point here Jimmy.

    This is the side of the equation, which both you and Simon have rightly identified yet agencies and brands are ignoring or trying to work out, is how to identify the 'influencers' in their audience.

    Agencies and brands have to take into account a series of important variables: context, location, personality, 'fit', consistency (of conversation, engagement, values, character, risk evaluation), potential growth of influence (to enable the influencer and brand to grow together), universal appeal ('glocal' thinking), level of social connections, and trust to name a few.

    Yes, it is a major mindshift for many to give away power. I guess it comes with the territory of a mindset that tries to control and regulate compared to one that nurtures, coaches and inspires.

    What brands/agencies alike seem to ignore, at their peril, is that they inherently gain more influence (to a lesser degree, control) themselves as they reward their audience with power to develop the message of the brand. In turn, their 'influencers' gain more social currency 2-fold. 1) via the brand association, 2) via their audience, as they repackage the 'brand' in their view.

    Who knows more about how they resonate with their audience than the 'influencers', right?

    Cheers,
    Mahei

  11. Such a good point, Mahei. Control does not equate to influence. By empowering your audience and celebrating their contributions and success you become even more deeply woven into their community fabric. I'm confident brands and the most evolved ad agencies will adjust and embrace this new role and their partnership with influencers. Hopefully sooner than later. Great point, Simon

  12. Simon, I think what we’re seeing and what you’re mentioning in your post is the dissolving of barriers.

    First, barriers of equipment and distribution that kept consumers from being creators dissolved. Now, barriers that keep consumers from being curators for content that may or may not be branded have disappeared.

    Yet a common challenge remains — how to match the right people to the right process in the right context to get the right outcomes. But now — such a dizzying array of options exist!

    Ad agencies still manage strategy, direction and planning for brands and add a ton of value to the process. They also are consistent because they’re paid as shephards of the brand.

    So how do they now work with empowered consumers (of all types of motivations, experience and skills) to craft the best outcomes for their clients?

    That’s a big question whose answer I believe unlocks a new kind of ‘people-powered advertising.’

    As an example, here’s a video shot by a free diver of an octopus stealing his video camera, while it’s recording. The diver chases the octopus, recovers his camera and the footage he obtains is incredible.

    He uploads the roughly edited footage to YouTube and receive 2.4+ million views. The camera is a new Panasonic model but where is Panasonic in the process?

    This is a huge opportunity they have (thus far) completely missed out on.

    (Here’s the video to see for yourself: http://bit.ly/8YRFs5)

    There needs to be an interface point that solves the big problem — bringing together the right people, the right process and the right outcomes to create the right outcomes.

  13. sherrett says:

    Simon, I think what we're seeing and what you're mentioning in your post is the dissolving of barriers.

    First, barriers of equipment and distribution that kept consumers from being creators dissolved. Now, barriers that keep consumers from being curators for content that may or may not be branded have disappeared.

    Yet a common challenge remains — how to match the right people to the right process in the right context to get the right outcomes. But now — such a dizzying array of options exist!

    Ad agencies still manage strategy, direction and planning for brands and add a ton of value to the process. They also are consistent because they're paid as shephards of the brand.

    So how do they now work with empowered consumers (of all types of motivations, experience and skills) to craft the best outcomes for their clients?

    That's a big question whose answer I believe unlocks a new kind of 'people-powered advertising.'

    As an example, here's a video shot by a free diver of an octopus stealing his video camera, while it's recording. The diver chases the octopus, recovers his camera and the footage he obtains is incredible.

    He uploads the roughly edited footage to YouTube and receive 2.4+ million views. The camera is a new Panasonic model but where is Panasonic in the process?

    This is a huge opportunity they have (thus far) completely missed out on.

    (Here's the video to see for yourself: http://bit.ly/8YRFs5)

    There needs to be an interface point that solves the big problem — bringing together the right people, the right process and the right outcomes to create the right outcomes.

  14. James, thanks so much for the feedback and the amazing footage. Yes, that's a great example. It's a real opportunity for the brand to leverage such unique footage with huge popular appeal. Here's the issue it raises however. Why should that diver share that content with Panasonic? And I'm not talking about money. Given that the diver could post it for free and receive the direct acclaim for the experience (even if there is no money), why would he share the credit and benefit with Panasonic. They may give him some money. But before that even happens, in my opinion, Panasonic will have to have done something to engender enough goodwill for the diver to even want to do it? The currency that really is being exchanged here is goodwill. Has Panasonic earned enough public goodwill to compete with the social currency of simply posting the video himself and the diver getting the credit. this is where I believe there's a critical role for brands to contribute meaningful in a way that earns goodwill that can open the door to opportunities like this. So I don't think the challenge is technological but emotional – the direct connect or feeling between the brand and the consumer. That takes time to build but without it I can't imagine why an individual would want to help out a brand unless its just for money. Hope that's useful and thanks for the great feedback, Simon

  15. sherrett says:

    Hey Simon,

    Good questions and reply. I'll try to share the specifics of octopus story then draw some more general lessons and approaches for bottom-up content discovery, curation and acquisition.

    Victor Huang, the video creator of the octopus video, shared the video publicly on YouTube. He's explicitly already shown he wants to have it discovered. Perhaps not necessarily for advertising. But he's shown he wants to share.

    From there I got in touch with him to inquire about the video, specifically for advertising. He told me that as soon as he watched the video he thought of how it could make a great ad.

    He told me he was interested in seeing what Panasonic could offer him. He had also received offers from news agencies to acquire rights to the video but he thought it fit best with Panasonic.

    He felt a lot of goodwill to Panasonic because they'd created the camera that had made the video and experience possible. The video was a testament to how awesome the camera worked and how much Victor wanted to get it back.

    For him, Panasonic had earned the goodwill by making a great product. The emotional connection existed.

    I don't mean to suggest that brands that create good experiences and goodwill from their customers don't also have to compensate those customers when they want to acquire their content for wider use.

    Rather, brands that create the goodwill will find opportunities emerging from legions of advocates. The legions want to participate on terms they share with the brands — including credit, awareness and compensation.

    So how to brands foster those legions then listen, curate and connect? That's the problem we're working on.

  16. Thanks and you make some great points. The real opportunity for brands is to inspire a legion of advocates among their community that want to participate like this diver did – whether they are paid or not. As you say, that is the trick and those that do it will benefit from enormous community power. Thanks again.

  17. heyrich says:

    I like the opening quote, but I'm not sure if it's true that “I want to read and hear lists curated by people I know.”

    What I really want is to read and hear lists curated by the people who really matter around the subject. My friends, likable and awesome though they may be, don't really know much about sand volleyball.

    Even if I don't know who he is, what I really REALLY want is to hear what Phil Dalhausser has to say. Why? Because the crowd around the topic has decided that through their actions (visits, retweets, links, whatever) that he's a great person to listen to.

  18. Thanks and totally understand. You must have authority in a field if you hope to curate it and have anybody listen. totally fair call. I guess my larger point is that consumers are no longer content to be told what to do or buy by brands. Thanks again, simon.

  19. […] Rosenbaum is spot on when he sees the role of curation as critical to the success of brands and businesses hoping to capture the attention of online […]

  20. […] Rosenbaum is spot on when he sees the role of curation as critical to the success of brands and businesses hoping to capture the attention of online […]

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Simon Mainwaring

Reading Time: 1 minutesSimon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a leading brand consultancy that provides purpose-driven strategy, content, and training that empowers companies to lead business, shape culture, and better our world.

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