Digital Footprint

Create Audience Experiences That Drive Recommendations

  |  October 3, 2013   |  Comments

These three instances of online experience creation stand out. Plus, a fourth customer experience tip may surprise you.

Predictable traffic and favorable recommendations drive business. Accomplishing these feats is easier said than done; however, the easiest way to ensure positive recommendations is to create experiences that are talked set in a context where sharing is easy.

We've seen many real-world examples of this recently. Here are three instances of online experience creation that stand out, alongside a fourth "extra point" that may surprise you.

Pushy Sales Pitch in GM Marketing a Recommendation Killer

The first example is based on a personal experience. Held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, TX, the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) draws large crowds of generally "desirable" customers. Defined interests (cars), discretionary income (as with any any sporting event, a ticket is required) and a captive audience (between races, people spend time in the exhibits of the sponsors) make sporting events a natural for brand promotion.

So it was that my son and I happened on the General Motors pavilion, where they had a camera set up to take your photo with a race-ready Chevy Corvette. They asked for an email address so they could send me the picture, which they did. While the initial form itself had no visible disclosure, I half assumed I'd be added to a marketing list. But what the heck... a photo with my son is always worthwhile, so we knelt in front of the car and they took the photo.

I received the email with the photo a short time later – and the thumbnail in the email looked great. But whoa, what's this:

"By providing my contact information below, I consent that GM and/or a GM dealer can contact me with any GM offers and GM product information."

There was more, too; not only was I supposed to agree to a call from the dealer, I was also required to pick the car I was interested in from a list of GM models. I've owned two GM products: a 1968 Chevy Van (don't ask) and a 1970 Cutlass S 455 convertible. However, I'm not in the market for a vehicle and won't be any time soon. What am I supposed to say to the guy or gal who calls me? "Sorry, you just wasted your time?" I've worked in GM dealerships and know what a drag that kind of call is. So I hit the brakes. I declined to fill in the form and as of yet have not claimed the photo. (My son and I took plenty of other photos at the race.)

What should GM have done?

First, recognize that not everyone is in the market for one their cars. Second, that everyone probably knows someone who is. The marketing campaign is what it is. You give us your name, we give you a nice photo. Fair enough. But they missed the big lever: had I claimed that photo, regardless of my own purchase intentions, I would have immediately shared it with 9,000 active, non-robot followers on Twitter. In that 9,000, there are people looking for cars.

Instead of becoming a marketing vehicle, that photo will sit on a server, invisible, until it's deleted. What would have made this campaign work would have been an alternate checkbox that said something like the following:

"I'm not interested in a car right now. Please don't contact me. But since you gave me this nice photo, I'll do my best to tell other people about it."

Patrón Gets It Right by Making Social Shares Simple

At the same event, Patrón (tequila) really got it right. They offered photos too, but instead of connecting them to a must-commit offer, they took the 2,000-odd photos gathered over the weekend and made them available at Patron Social Club.

They also gave participants a free photo right on the spot, in the Velocity Lounge at Austin's Circuit of the Americas, which of course immediately attracted more participants. That's how you build a lifestyle brand.

Drive Brand Advocacy with Above Average Experiences 

Move now to the second key element: building favorable word of mouth, by creating a customer experience that drives brand advocacy. I own two Mercedes automobiles: between them they have been driven in excess of 500,000 miles. (Mercedes odometers turn over at 1,000,000, not 100,000.) I enjoy working on these cars – it's therapy.

When I need hard-to-find tools and tips, I turn to MercedesSource in Bellingham, WA. While they focus on models slightly older than mine, the owner, Kent Bergsma, and his daughter Kaia, have produced a set of manuals that are perfect for the kind of jobs that I can do myself. But what gets them talked about is the order itself; every order includes a pair of high quality gloves and a gum ball! It's their way of saying, "Enjoy the work you are about to do in the same way that we enjoyed serving you." Take a look at the photo below: you'll see one of my recent orders, complete with gloves and gum ball.


Two Basic Rules for Brand Building

I'll summarize these three brand-building examples in two basic rules: first, build campaigns that encourage the audience to socialize.

I say "audience" and not necessarily "customers" for a reason. In the case of GM campaign, I'm not a customer. However, I am part of their audience (I was sufficiently interested in their products to participate) and I would have contributed to spreading the word about their products. Patrón's event marketing team clearly gets this.

Second, capitalize on every customer touchpoint. MercedesSource reinforces my brand loyalty every time I open an order. I actually look forward to receiving them, in part for the great "how to" guides and in part for the gumball. Zappos build a billion-dollar business by spending a few bucks each time it offered a shipping upgrade to help win loyalty and positive word of mouth early-on. MercedesSource spends a few cents on each order to do essentially the same thing.

Social Lets Customers Drive Their Own Experience

I promised you one more tip on building a great social brand, and here it is: be a great customer. Wait, what? By being a great customer—and by encouraging your customers to be great—you can improve the customer experience process, build word of mouth and reduce your own operational costs. How?

Take a look at Uber, Sidecar and Lift, car services that operate in major cities (sadly, not in Austin). Whether you realize it or not, these services offer drivers the ability to rate and share ratings of customers. As a customer, if you are polite, you are more likely to get a fast response. If you're a jerk... expect to stand on the corner for a while.

This has two immediate benefits: first, customers who have snapped to this behave in manner that is more likely to get them another ride. Second, by slowly weeding the jerks out of its customer base, Uber and Lift reduce their own costs. It costs money when a driver is forced to sit and wait, or when the customer simply chooses not to take the car after it has been ordered. Now, what if all business operated that way? That guy sitting next to you on the plane that refused to turn off his iWhatever? The gal that thinks she's entitled to sample anything in the bulk section of your favorite Whole Foods Market? Or how about the woman who picked up and kept $20 dropped by a visually impaired customer in Dairy Queen?

Instead of having to tolerate these inconsiderate few, the business we patronize can actually focus on delivering an awesome customer experience to the rest of us.

There you have it: think "social" in everything you do, create talk-worthy experiences, and encourage greatness in your customers and yourself. That will get your business recommended.


Dave Evans

Dave is the VP of social strategy at Lithium. Based in Austin, Dave is also the author of best-selling "Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day," as well as "Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation of Business Engagement." Dave is a regular columnist for ClickZ, a frequent keynoter, and leads social technology and measurement workshops with the American Marketing Association as well as Social Media Executive Seminars, a C-level business training provider.

Dave has worked in social technology consulting and development around the world: with India's Publicis|2020media and its clients including the Bengaluru International Airport, Intel, Dell, United Brands, and Pepsico and with Austin's FG SQUARED and GSD&M| IdeaCity and clients including PGi, Southwest Airlines, AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave serves on the advisory boards for social technology startups including Palo Alto-based Friend2Friend and Mountain View-based Netbase and iGoals.

Prior, Dave was a co-founder of social customer care technology provider Social Dynamx, a product manager with Progressive Insurance, and a systems analyst with NASA| Jet Propulsion Labs. Dave co-founded Digital Voodoo, a web technology consultancy, in 1994. Dave holds a BS in physics and mathematics from the State University of New York/ Brockport and has served on the Advisory Board for ad:tech and the Measurement and Metrics Council with WOMMA.

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