Monday, January 22, 2007

Marketing Funda : Don't Ignore Consumer Generated Media

Marketing Funda #2

This post is in reaction to the disturbing cartoon that appeared in the newspaper "The Hindu" dated 22/01/2007. The cartoon given below prompted me to give a rather personal response to the marketing myopia exhibited by this highly respected newspaper.

I used to admire the cartoons by Mr Keshav but this is way off the mark: some thing unexpected out of a newspaper of high repute.
That makes me think about the rationale or thinking behind this cartoon? What exactly the newspaper tries to convey to the reader? Does it mean that the bloggers like you and me are monkeys? Or does it mean that even monkeys can blog?
I call it the classical case of marketing myopia and plain arrogance of a powerless king. There is lot more to the logic of the cartoon than the obvious pun.

For the uninitiated:

Consumer-Generated Media (CGM) describes a variety of new and emerging sources of online information that are created, initiated, circulated and used by consumers intent on educating each other about products, brands, services,personalities and issues. (A Nielsen BuzzMetrics White Paper by Pete Blackshaw and Mike Nazzaro | Second Edition, Spring 2006) . Wikipedia defines Consumer Generated Media as word of mouth that exists on the Internet.

CGM has huge impact on marketing because the information is now accessible to every one. Consumers are now talking to each other through blogs, communities, discussion forums podcasts etc. Hence everything about everything is now communicated. Consumers now checkout reviews about products through specialised consumer review sites before making a decision ( not all but many). The more worrying factor for a marketer is that negative word of mouth travels even faster. Hence smart marketers keeps a tab on what is happening on the CGM to make sure that they are in tune with what is happening.
n this era where every one is looking seriously on CGM , why "The Hindu " come out with such an insulting cartoon ( Am I being too emotional !). The reason is simple, traditional media is facing competition from CGM which they did not expect. Traditionally the power of information and their dissemination was a monopoly of journalists. From time immemorial, the power was vested on the media and they enjoyed it to the maximum. The evolution of CGM just took the power away from the traditional media. Now the World Wide Web has enabled the common man to publish... That is what I call Disruption. The logic of the cartoon is now clear isn't it? The editors of the newspaper now feel powerless. The depiction of the blogger as a monkey also reveals another side of the arrogance: do the editors feel themselves as someone above the readers? Bloggers and users of CGM also are readers of the newspapers. Here we can see the editors looking down upon the CGM from an Ivory tower that does not exist now.( I know it better because I also worked in a media).

The editors should take a cue from the product failures caused by disrespecting competition and I encourage them to read case studies on how traditional encyclopedias got thrashed by Microsoft Encarta because they underestimated competition. The cartoon is also a part of the traditional media's move to enforce some sort of restraint on the emerging CGM space in India. Recently Burkha Dutta of NDTV vociferously demanded censorship for CGM. I would like to see it as not as a genuine worry of a journalist but a worry of a business executive. In India, the media always have tried to block competition in all possible ways. Even those media which encourages views of freedom of speech and expression and free economy have lobbied hard to block the entry of foreign media into India. Print media has so far succeeded in blocking any form of competition from outside. Now they face competition from a different kind: You and Me !
Having said that, not all media have the same views as "The Hindu" presents. Time Magazine has celebrated CGM and has chosen YOU as the person of the year 2006. The editors of the Time are enlightened enough to see you and me as something more than the primates. Lev Grossman puts it this way
"But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. It's about the cosmic compendium of knowledge Wikipedia and the million-channel people's network YouTube and the online metropolis MySpace. It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes." ( Time Magazine December 2006).

Most of the enlightened magazines and journalists have realised the importance of CGM and has found ways to use the CGM to their advantage. Even CNN IBN have given the name " Citizen Journalists " to the viewers who wish to contribute news and views to the media.
To the Editors of Hindu, I wish to say " You don't control the information age"

Welcome to our world.

And by the way You just lost a brand loyal customer... forever.....