I finally spent some quality time on the relatively new Weber grill website entitled "Weber Nation." I love the tag line: Real People. Real Stories. Real Grills. The premise here is obvious: let the consumers do the talking for the brand. The site hasn't generated too much discussion or conversation as yet -- at least on blogs -- but they have collected over 1700 largely-favorable first-person reviews and profiles from Weber enthusiasts. You can slice and dice the testimonials across gender, geography, and product. Expect to see much more of this from brands looking to create a halo of authenticity, sincerity, and credibility with consumers at a time when advertising, in the eyes of most, represents precisely the opposite. We'll see more brand-sponsored CGM -- testimonials, videos, pull-quotes, and manufacturer-sponsored blogs -- in the coming months and years.
CGM & Trust: The core challenge for brands: how do you ensure the CGM is perceived as truly credible and trusted? Bold, audacious movie-advertising pull-quotes by reviewers undoubtedly play some role in shaping our "go/no-go" movie-watching decisions, but we always take them with a grain of salt because they only accentuate the positive...or try to make obscure movie reviewers (who provide positive soundbites) look as credible as A.O. Scott . It's hard not to throw accolades at Weber for firing up customer-evangelism, but will the net impact erode over time if the reviews are all consistently and uniformly positive?
Does Criticism Nurture Credibility? Two weeks ago, in a webinar, I conducted a CGM-audit of the General Motors Fastlane blog. While there is plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle advertising in the blog promoting GM products, what gave it high credibility marks in my mind (as a consumer) was that the brand appeared open to candid, even critical feedback from readers. The day before the webinar, over half the comments in response to the blog entry were negative or constructively critical. Consumers will always allow for advertising, but when advertisers position the transaction as a "conversation," they will put it to a higher torture-test of sincerity and authenticity. Another key point I highlighted, which also applies to Weber: the feedback pipe needs to be consistent across the board. For example, it's easier and more user-friendly to provide feedback on the GM's blog than it is to provide feedback through GM consumer relations. Weber's feedback form does a far better job profiling their consumers than most brands, but it's a bit overwhelming on the "required" fields, and nowhere, curiously, did I see anything in the feedback form that invited consumers to participate in "Weber Nation," which felt like an obvious disconnect. (If I missed this, please correct me in the comments.)
Managing Internal Channel Conflict? The core issue here, which ties us back to the Jeff Jarvis Dell incident is that "marketing" and "consumer affairs" often work in independent silos, incented by competing reward structures. Consumer affairs (the ear to the consumer) usually lags behind the marketer in adapting their listening tools to marketer initiated "events." Expect this to get way more complicated and messy as more brands begin to aggressively promote the same type of CGM commentary that most consumer affairs groups have been incented to keep to a minimum. Managing internal "channel conflict" is something every brand should start thinking about.
Final word: Not perfect, but I give Weber high marks for a very impressive -- dare I say ambitious -- first-foray into the world of consumer-generated media.