Turn Flash Mobs into Flash Customers

The buzz about flash mobs has me intrigued. My colleague Mark Redetzke wrote a great column last week on the topic, “Flash Mobs: Viral Distribution Matters“. Read it for a good overview of this new phenomenon. Mark also provides good advice on implementing viral marketing techniques.

I wonder if the idea is just another flash in the pan. Perhaps one more entry in a long list of “new” interactive marketing innovations?

I think not. Marketers have been doing “Flash” for years. We just didn’t have the ‘Net to facilitate it. Let me explain.

Today in Plano, Texas, at JCPenney headquarters, marketing executives are watching the numbers from the carefully planned “Hottest” sale currently in market. Their goal was to use a communications effort to drive store, Internet and catalog sales during a specific time period, this past weekend. They used various mass-media vehicles to spread the word (TV, print, online) and encouraged customers to come to selected points (store locations). They offered an incentive to purchase.

I won’t dismiss the fact the flash mob craze has a certain wackiness to it. Most make you do something inane, like sing a song at a specific time, or hop like a bunny for five minutes, then disperse. But most retail-driven marketing efforts have the goal of getting a lot of people to do the same thing at a specific time. It’s not all that different.

What’s this mean for marketers? It’s a prime opportunity to really study the power of the Internet and to craft similar (but sane) efforts to drive customer transactions and interactions at lower cost. A little brainstorming:

  1. Let’s say JCPenney decides to initiate a “Customer Appreciation Event” via its site. Customers are encouraged to visit the site each week, say on Wednesday, to enter their ZIP codes and find out what this week’s event entails. You could cross-market email registration, catalog distribution and include a viral component — why not?

    Customers in each major market are directed to a specific store. There, they visit a designated spot to receive a special envelope containing a data-driven voucher. It’s personalized and offers a range of discounts based on the customer’s profile (new, current, dormant, etc.).

    You can cross-sell other items and store promotions. Customers feel special in that they receive an invitation to save which is personalized and relevant to them. The store manager is pleased the marketing team can drive relevant customers to her store to buy targeted goods and services. The chairman is happy because he just saved a lot of money on broad-based media support.

  2. Say Just For Feet, a major shoe retailer, wants to drive Nike footwear for a back-to-school event. It distributes an insert in customer bags for 60 days prior to a massive “Nike Rules” sales event. Customers must go to the company’s site and enter a code to find out how they can save money.

    Same sign-up process as above, but perhaps all customers are then mailed a personalized letter with sales details. Included is an invitation to meet an NBA star for an autograph. If you tried this with broad-based media, you could easily swamp a retail location. Manage it with an online tool and you can control the number of invites, and dial it up or down depending on retail space parameters.

  3. Take Best Western, touted as the world’s largest hotel chain. The company’s goal is to drive maximum traffic to its association members (the hotel owners). It wants to appeal to value-conscious leisure travelers, but also drive budget-minded business travelers.

    This one is a little tricky. The individual association members control their own rates, so it’s hard to offer a uniform price point. But with a central control point online, why not create a business traveler “Rate Minder” service available only to registered travelers. The association members enter their best available rates into a secure online back-end tool, then customers can log in and check specific business rates when they need a room. Association members control the flow of pricing and business travelers feel like they’re getting an “inside deal”.

These are just a few ideas that apply the principle of driving controlled behavior through a central point. With a little imagination, you can come with your own scenario that takes the notion of “flash” and turns it into a bright spot on the P&L.

One thing’s for certain — someone should have a flash sale on flash lights!

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