June 10, 2007

Have you ever been on an awesome thrill ride at an amusement park, had your photo, with a big grin on your face, taken unsuspectingly -- only to end the ride with an aggressive pitch to buy a low-quality print for, say, $5, $10, $15, even $20? It's happened to me countless times, and always left a sour feeling in my stomach.

While such establishments risk the appearance of ripping off or actually offending customers, they're simultaneously blowing major promotional and loyalty-building opportunities. Those photos are documentary evidence of brand enjoyment. And in the hands of happy, talkative customers, they could be worth many times the price of what only a few customers might pay for them in the first place. Which begs the question: why do businesses so often fail to facilitate the sharing of great moments, and instead build awkward or petty barriers?

I recently co-authored ten principles for advertisers considering programs developed around consumer-generated ads. Among the mandates was capturing "great brand moments" -- those experiences when consumers are highly vested and more likely to advocate, such as new product launches, purchases, or actual brand use and enjoyment. In retrospect, that principle is far more important than any consumer-generated advertising gimmick. In a brand-cluttered era where testimonials, trusted recommendations and documentary evidence are more important than ever, capturing great brand moments is essential because they help passionate, credible and authentic storylines rise above other marketing communications that consumers try so desperately to avoid.

For many businesses deliverables, the moment of enjoyment is obvious. At the amusement park, it's when your face turns white as the rollercoaster you're seated in plummets. At the zoo, it's when your child pets a wooly sheep for the first time. At a theme park, it's when a life-sized cartoon character runs over and gives you a giant bear hug. On a cruise ship, it's when you board the ship or skim down the water slide. At proms and fraternity formals, it's the dance and the romantic embrace. With great predictability and frequency, these moments are captured with photos and then held for ransom.

Instead, these establishments should capture as many great brand moments as possible and then give away the photos. While printing could be cost-prohibitive, there's no reason why digital photos can't be endlessly disseminated. But why stop there? How about making photos available and optimized for sharing on a branded Web site? Why not enhance that Web site to foster similarly happy customers to unite and share experiences? Why not lend cameras out? Why not inject video, and then offer tools and incentives for people to build narratives around those great, captured brand moments? Why not sacrifice a little paid media budget and direct it to these more compelling, consumer-participant media?

But it's not just entertainment venues that can benefit from capturing great moments. For example, restaurants could capture photos of patrons and signature dishes, and include them with recipes and samples to send customers home with. Car dealers could capture shoppers via photos or videos while test-driving their new dream cars, or while driving off after a purchase. Hotels and airlines --presuming a truly enjoyable experience -- could provide you with free, branded and stamped post cards to send to family and friends back home. Heck, even hospitals have opportunities to capture great moments, such as with free video sonogram recordings -- like this one from Mount Sinai Hospital featuring my son Julian four months before his birth.

Of course, while captured moments can be extremely beneficial for a brand, the hitch is that those experiences had better be good -- because they'll be codified and amplified. Then again, that's a good thing for consumers, because it fosters a transparency that greatly rewards companies that deliver satisfaction, and punishes those that fail to deliver and meet brand promises.

By Max Kalehoff
Max Kalehoff is vice president of marketing for Nielsen BuzzMetrics, a global measurement service for consumer-generated media.
Courtesy of http://www.mediapost.com

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