Two brands that are building new ways to simply engage with people, without having to have people jump through hoops or take actions that seem artificial.
Here's a universal truth: if you want people to do something for you, you need to make it as easy as possible. As a parent, I can fully attest to this. If I want my kids to get dressed for school in the morning, I lay out their clothes. If I want them to brush their teeth, I set up their toothbrush. If I want them to get me a beer while I'm watching TV, I put the beer right on the fridge door (kidding!).
In advertising, we know this to be true as well. Every step that we put into a purchase cycle or an interactive experience means less people. That's the whole point of measuring conversions as a percentage, right? We expect there to be drop-off every step of the way, so we focus on understanding the percentage of people who make it through all the steps.
When it comes to what is still the newest and most powerful advertising action - getting people to spread positive word of mouth about your company or brand - the same is true. If we can find ways to speed the path from being aware of a brand to getting people to take action, we generate more actions. Simplification is a critical step in creating an effective campaign and one that seems to get missed.
But I've had two remarkable experiences lately where brands have found ways to weave the action of spreading-the-word elegantly into the interactions that I've taken with the brands. One is a hotel; the other is a major credit card that is making some serious waves with its program.
Flipping for Deals
I booked a room recently at a New York hotel called the Park Central. It's a good place, conveniently located, and at a good price. Once I had made the reservation, I got a page that offered me a chance to share my upcoming stay with my friends. In return, I would get a free drink at the bar. Of course, I've never been one to pass up a free drink, so I went ahead and clicked the button. A short tweet went out and in a minute I also got an email with a code - I brought that to the bar and voilà.
The engine behind this bit of genius is a company called Flip.to. It seems to specialize in the hospitality industry, servicing hotels, restaurants, and airlines. The great thing about this is that the tool connects directly to the registration system so that sending out a tweet is just a part of the purchase cycle. It seems as natural as saying that you want a room on a high floor.
And the brilliant thing is that a by-product of the tool is that the hotel now has a link between my hotel reservation and my Twitter handle. I haven't spoken to this company, so I don't know what it provides or what its strategy is. But I see this as a huge benefit for the hotel. It can now begin to follow me or at least browse through my tweets. Shoot, the hotel could point a crawler at my feed or simply look at my Klout score to see what exactly I'm interested in. It could then begin to either customize its service or provide me with highly relevant offers. I never had to tell the hotel that I was interested in any particular topic; it could simply learn that through my social media actions.
If you're running a site that involves any kind of registration, you should be looking into a system like this or at least trying to implement some kind of step that will enable you to get connected to a person's social media streams. In a world where personalized service commands such a high value, the ability to discover what a person is really interested in can be a great way to leap ahead and delight your customer.
Credit Where It's Due
The other experience is one that, I admit, I have not had myself but have seen others enjoying. This is the incredible American Express campaign, Tweet Your Way to Savings. The idea here is that you go online and sync your American Express card to your Twitter handle. Again, this is the brand getting your stream of thoughts and interests and plugging it into their database about you. Then, when you tweet out a particular hashtag, you can collect savings and rewards.
For example, if you tweeted out #AmexFTDflowers, you would get $15 off flowers. This would happen automatically. You simply use your American Express card to buy the flowers and you get the reward. Another brilliant concept. You don't have to spend any money to get the coupon. You are simply claiming them by tweeting. This is some of the freshest thinking on couponing I've seen in a long time and it is so easy.
The other great thing about this campaign is that it seems that American Express has built itself a platform that it can market out to brands and companies. As the program gets more popular, more brands are going to want to have their coupon tweeted out and about. This means that this program has shifted from simply being a marketing program to a real asset for the company, potentially even a revenue or (dare to dream) profit center.
The Power of the People
The most intriguing thing about the increasing focus and use of social media among companies is that brands and consumers are truly coming closer together. I like how these two brands have found ways to have social media actions be integrated into simple processes. And I am amazed by the fact that both are creating ways to connect customer data profiles with social presences. That seems to create a myriad of new opportunities.
But ultimately, they are building new ways to simply engage with people, without having to have people jump through hoops or take actions that seem artificial.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.
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