In 2012, the Finnish film Iron Sky premièred at the Berlin Film Festival. The film was a rather odd mix of sci-fi and Nazi movie, and the plot in all its absurdity was about a group of Nazis who had maintained a secret base on the dark side of the moon since 1945 and who now, in 2018, planned to return in UFO-like spaceships to invade the Earth. It was a film that would probably never have reached a mainstream audience had it not been for the producers’ skill at involving thousands of film-loving fans in its making.
Production started back in 2006, and film enthusiasts were involved from the outset. Initially, crowdfunding was used to raise money, then fans began contributing with ideas, plots and assistance with computer graphics. And in the end, the many thousands of fans also helped with the marketing. They talked about the movie on social media, and all over Europe fans of the film (including this writer) put pressure on cinemas to show it – despite the fact that it was an obscure Finnish indie movie about a bunch of zany space Nazis…
The user-involvement strategy worked. Iron Sky got tons of user-generated marketing in many different countries, and despite rather mixed reviews, it was a pretty big hit – especially among those who had been fans of the film for years.
The secret to employing user involvement as a marketing strategy is to create powerful ambassadors for your product. People who become so involved in a product that they are actually helping to create it, and who get so close to the company that they almost feel part of it. These people become living billboards for the company, and in the world of social media, this is extremely invaluable, because marketing is all about getting people to talk about your product.
As we read in a previous post, user involvement can be a valuable part of the product development process. However, it can be just as valuable as part of a marketing strategy. Here are the most important reasons why:
Your customers work like an ad agency
One of the greatest challenges for companies today is achieving a prominent social media presence. On social media, people normally like to talk with other people, and intrusive companies with predictable advertising messages are irritating and disruptive. Creating a group of ambassadors for a company’s products is therefore one of the most effective social media marketing strategies a company can have. They can leave it to the ambassadors to spread the word about the company’s products, and the ambassadors will have an authenticity beyond what can ever be achieved by a company, which will tend to be viewed as untrustworthy in the world of social media.
You reach the right platforms
Another challenge for companies seeking to communicate via social media is reaching the platforms where their customers are, and where it makes sense for them to communicate their marketing message. These platforms are constantly changing, and it can be quite costly for companies to continually come up with smart new communication concepts for platforms in constant flux, with functionalities that change on a regular basis.
Working with a user involvement and ambassador strategy can help to overcome these challenges by leaving it up to the users to decide where they talk about the company’s products. A company simply has to involve the users and make sure that they have interesting things to share on social media; the enthusiastic ambassadors will then do the rest.
You keep costs down
Obviously, having users carry out your marketing is cheaper than hiring an agency and buying ad space in various media. There are costs associated with user involvement, of course, but with a corps of enthusiastic ambassadors, a company’s communication not only becomes more effective, but much less expensive as well.
There are, of course, limitations. If user involvement really were that amazing a marketing tool, every company in the world would be using it today, and that is far from the case. Many companies and their products aren’t particularly suited for user involvement, and even more have trouble managing user involvement properly. Here are some of the pitfalls and challenges you need to be aware of if you want to employ user involvement to market your company’s products:
Are you willing to let go of the wheel?
When working with ambassadors, you lose basic control of your communication and marketing. Your customers may be enthusiastic, but you have no control over how they express their enthusiasm. When they communicate on social media, they can be stupid, boastful, aggressive or unpleasant, or they can misrepresent the company’s messages. At worst, an overly enthusiastic ambassador who is a poor communicator can even harm the company. As a company, you therefore need to consider carefully who you let into the ambassador circle. And if you are a company that wants to retain full control over your communication with the world, then user involvement isn’t the right marketing strategy for you.
Will you distance yourself from your customers?
Some companies embrace user involvement because they see it as an easy and cheap marketing tool, but in reality they don’t actually want to listen to their customers. And so you often see examples of idea-generating platforms and silly contests where companies ask their users to help develop their products, but where all the users’ proposals end up in the rubbish bin at the end of the campaign. The problem is that users can smell this kind of fake strategy a mile away, and if a company does manage to trick their customers, it will almost always be discovered, resulting in alienated customers and antipathy instead of ambassadors.
Do you have the right ambassador corps?
A company can be successful at promoting involvement and finding ambassadors, but if the ambassadors don’t wield much influence in social media channels, the marketing effect will be lost (although the product development effect will still be present). If you want to create ambassadors through user involvement as part of your marketing strategy, then it is crucial that you do your research to ensure that potential ambassadors have large numbers of followers on social media and that the users actually listen to what they say.
In the final post in this series, I will share four tips worth following regardless of whether you want to employ user involvement as part of your product development process or your marketing strategy.