Last week, I participated in a panel discussion at the SXSW Interactive conference held annually here in Austin. The title of the panel was “Convergence in Advertising”, and I was joined by executives from companies in the educational media, advergaming, and social media fields.

In turn, each panelist discussed the growing importance of consumer-created content and the impact of this content on traditional advertising practices, client relationships, and consumers’ brand perceptions.

My presentation focused specifically on customer reviews (surprise!) and on the opportunities available to leading brands as a result of the proliferation of consumer-created content and the many platforms that now exist to support content creation and distribution.

Before going down that path, however, I talked briefly about what convergence actually means to me, given my perspective at Bazaarvoice. Convergence is a frequently used term, and it seems to mean just about anything you need it to mean to support your business strategy or model! For me, however, convergence means or describes three things:

  • Convergent technologies are those that make the key “end uses” of consumer technology, such as media consumption and content creation, accessible in a near-ubiquitous fashion, through always-on connectivity, portability, integration, and good old device and network performance and capacity. As I presented at SXSW, audience members posted in real-time to their blogs from laptops and high-speed wireless connections.
  • Convergence describes the multi-directional conversations that are now occurring between and among brands and consumers. While traditional advertising “communicated” in a one-way fashion, convergent advertising is just the opposite. Brands now increasingly rely on feedback from key consumers and conversations with influentials to refine their business strategies, and convergent technologies enable this process. Soon after deploying customer reviews, Golfsmith found an opportunity to reach out to a very vocal customer (and reviewer) located right in Austin, where they are headquartered.
  • Last, convergence means that advertiser- and consumer-created content are beginning to merge. From the early beginnings of contextual advertising to emerging social media platforms like FilmLoop, “content convergence” is a powerful new force in marketing and advertising. Bazaarvoice clients are inviting this convergence by offering their customers the ability to write and publish product reviews, which may ultimately be used in both on-site and off-site advertising programs. For example, PETCO now uses excerpts from actual customer reviews as copy on its web site and in its email newsletters.

In summary, convergence is a complex and disruptive force but one that advertisers must embrace and learn to leverage. At Bazaarvoice, we are trying to facilitate this for our clients by providing an ROI-focused application of technology and content convergence.

By continually enhancing our functionality for enabling content creation and distribution, we hope to increase the overall quality, relevance, and authenticity of this content, while also increasing its reach. Looking further out, we see enormous potential in supporting mobile devices to enable consumers to access a product review, reviewer profile, or other community content on demand while he or she is on the go. Stay tuned . . .

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