User-generated advertisements are trendy these days.
However, most forms of user-generated ads are just not practical for small businesses.
User-generated ad programs typically are used by big corporations that serve mass consumer markets. Corporations will provide some sort of online means for consumers to create an ad or else give input that is wrapped into an ad. These programs may involve create-your-own videos, or recording a voice message about the company, or drawing a postcard online, or some other means of capturing user input.
The problem with these kinds of user-generated ad campaigns is that they tend to be (a) expensive, and (b) much more time-consuming than traditional ad campaigns. Money and man-hours are two things most small businesses are in short supply of.
Also, you need to closely monitor such campaigns. For instance, they can go horribly wrong if customers with an ax to grind start getting their digs in, as Chevrolet found out with their consumer-generated ads.
That said, there are two rough equivalents of user-generated ads that seem eminently practical for small businesses. Even a very small business on a very small budget — such as a sole proprietor — can use the following two examples of user-generated advertisements:
(1) TESTIMONIALS — The first example is time-tested and used regularly by small businesses everywhere: the testimonial. The testimonial is relatively simple to pull off. You collect a few quotes from satisfied, happy customers. Then you place them on your website, or in your marketing brochures, or in an ad. Not as creative (nor as complex) as roll-your-own videos … but certainly powerful.
- Testimonials have stood the test of time because they work. Prospects pay attention to testimonials. It’s word of mouth — another trendy buzz phrase these days. But there is nothing trendy about the fact that someone considering using a product or service cares what other people say about it. That’s timeless.
- The testimonial provides a level of assurance that the product works or that the service was good. It means your business is not some fly-by-night, one-flash wonder. With testimonials you have a track record for everyone to see.
- Testimonials work especially well online. It is easy enough to add a testimonial to a website, by simply inserting a quote or two on your home page. If you have enough testimonials consider creating a separate page just for testimonials.
- The biggest challenge for most small business owners is failing to collect testimonials. Yet, it takes less than five minutes to set up a dirt-simple system to keep track of positive comments you get via email. All you need to do is set up a folder on your computer, in Outlook or GMail or whatever email program you use. Barring that, you can set up a document, such as a Word document or Notepad document. Label the folder or the document something descriptive like “Testimonials.” Move the testimonial email into the folder (in GMail it is called “labeling” the email). Or, copy and paste the testimonial into your document. Once you have a central place to keep track of all those positive comments, it becomes amazingly easy to leverage testimonials.
- Ask others in your organization to forward any testimonials they receive, to you. Better yet, put one of your employees in charge of collecting testimonials.
- Remember also to immediately email the customer back, thanking him or her for the positive comment. In the thank-you email, request permission to use the testimonial, even if you are not quite ready to use it. If you request permission while the iron is hot instead of six months later, you are more likely to receive permission. Besides, you will be all set to go when you are ready to use the testimonial.
- What if you have no testimonials because you have not bothered to save them in the past or your product is new? Check out the article in Workz.com explaining how to generate testimonials.
- Finally, don’t overlook the 21st century variation of the testimonial: the press page that links back to every blog mention of your product or service. Today you have the advantage that customers and users may talk about your product or service on their blogs. You can use those mentions, too. Here is a fine example of using blog mentions, at SiteKreator.com. SiteKreator simply adds a link to each blog or site mentioning or reviewing its product. And of course, bloggers love it because it means another link back to their blogs.
(2) ONLINE SURVEYS — Another example of a user-generated ad that can be used by small businesses is the online survey.
- An example comes to us from BlogHer and Intuit, and you will find it in the BlogHer ad network. As of this writing, if you go to the BlogHer home page and look down the right side, you will see the ad that also appears in this post (I took the liberty of including the ad graphic in this post). When you click on the ad, it takes you to an online survey. Users are invited to complete the survey, giving their input.
- Doing a survey ad like this is well within the reach of any small business. It costs a relatively small amount to (a) create a banner ad, and (b) set up a survey using an online survey service. In Intuit’s case they used Zoomerang to create the survey. The informational landing page and thank-you page are mainly text-based and seem easy enough for any small business to set up with no special technology needed, other than the survey service.
- The trick is that you have to allow users to immediately see the survey results. People are into instant gratification. People want to see how others responded. They mentally measure how their own input stacks up against that of other respondents. That’s what makes taking the survey worthwhile — it’s the little reward at the end.
- In this case the survey introduction even linked to some bloggers’ posts. That’s what initially grabbed my attention. 🙂
- Not only do the survey results provide self-propagating content for readers, but the results do double duty as market research, too. In essence you are using an ad to ask questions and get feedback. What a simple yet useful way for a small business to communicate with the public.
In conclusion, even small businesses on limited budgets can have user-generated ads. You don’t need to invest an arm and a leg in flashy multimedia campaigns. You can use tried-and-true mechanisms like testimonials and online surveys. So — just do it.
Gary Bourgeault (managersrealm.com)
The problem of collecting is truly one that can be easily overcome by creating a simple system as you suggested and than making it one of your priorities to make sure it’s being done.
It’s the same as forgetting to ask for referrals in sales, and the loss of business from those lapses.
These are more important to the small business person than realized.
Anita, great article with excellent advice. I enjoyed it. You may also want to alert your readers to a free new service for businesses to post their video ads. Reality Adz (www.realityadz.com). I used it for my travel agency here in Los Angeles.
Hi Robert, thank you for the referral to RealityAdz. Looks like an interesting service and I will check it out.
Sometime I’d like to see your ad. Examples from real-life small businesses are the best way to learn, I’ve found.