Have a ‘Customer Strategy,’ not a ‘Social Media Strategy’

Marketing Job Wire just posted an interview with me, asking for advice for young marketing professionals. Below is an excerpt of how I feel marketers should integrate social media into their overall strategies:

Social media not about the technology, it’s about what it enables. The goal is not to have a Twitter strategy, but have a customer strategy… which means you are always listening to and connecting with your customers no matter which platform you use.

Young marketing professionals need to move away from the broadcast-only model of marketing, whereby the goal is to blast your message to the widest audience possible. Social media has allowed us to serve the needs of customers, instead of simply interrupting them with your pitch.

The most important characteristic a marketer needs is quite simple: Care about your community, their needs and what motivates them. Find ways to enable them to reach their goals.

Social media is about being open and taking action. Start small, stay focused, and measure your effectiveness.

For young marketers just starting out, remember that the value you create for others will shape your career more than the value you create for only yourself. This means connect with people, help them realize their goals, and do so with passion.

Read the entire interview on Marketing Job Wire.

How Saddleback Leather is Building Their Brand Online

How does a small company that makes leather bags create online buzz about their product leveraging free social media tools? Today, we are going to take an in-depth look at Saddleback Leather.

Now, for the most part, this encapsulates their online presence:

But that doesn’t really tell the story how the web & social media has effected their business. These experiences tell the story better:

  • 3,028 Fans on Facebook who have uploaded 350 photos of themselves with Saddleback Leather’s bags.
  • Chris Brogan reviews a Saddleback bag, as did others on YouTube. Considering he has a successful speaking career and more than 100,000 followers on Twitter, sending him or others a bag or two for review is not a bad investment. It’s clear that Saddleback sent some of these out as review samples, but I am not positive which online reviewers purchased bags vs receiving free samples. His video review alone has been viewed more than 3,000 times, and others have been view about the same amount. Imagine thousands of people watching reviews of your products or services on a site you don’t own or maintain.
  • Jason Fried ordered a bag and told people how impressed he is with it. Jason is well known, with 23,000+ followers on Twitter reading his messages.
  • Elsewhere on the web, there are some very detailed online reviews (some with affiliate links) that receive more than 40 comments from readers. Here is another.
  • People are talking about Saddleback Leather in forums, questioning their claims of quality and looking for advice from those who have experience with their products.

I had the chance to speak with Saddleback Leather’s founder Dave Munson who shared details on how his business formed and his learning curve in online media. Below are some lessons that I think many businesses can take away from Saddleback Leather’s experiences.

All Brands Are Online Brands

As others before me (here and here) have pointed out, Saddleback’s website is masterful in its use of storytelling to explain their brand, the quality of their products, and its benefits for the customer.

Their website shares details about Dave’s colorful life, his passions, his odd experiences, and focuses on his family and beloved (but departed) dog Blue. Check out their “Our Story” page for an example of Dave’s storytelling skills. This is clearly not Samsonite.

Give People Something to Believe In

What does the Saddleback brand represent? After studying it, I would say two things:

  • Quality
  • Identity

The message of quality is so overt on their website that he shares links to his competitors, daring you to compare. In terms of identity, again and again, Dave mentioned how his customers tell him how their bag got them noticed, and provided something of an identity. As you browse SaddlebackLeather.com or the many offshoots of it elsewhere on the web, you see the same messages repeated over and over in different ways.

One of the many identities Saddleback tries to convey is adventure. And this is evident in the many photos they post and that their customers share.

Spread Your Message Everywhere You Can

Dave’s business evolved slowly, selling his first bags on eBay in 2003, forming the business in 2004, naming it & launching the website in 2005, and getting a working ecommerce system on the site in 2006.

At each step, Dave mentions friends or friends of friends who helped along the way and became a part of the Saddleback family. Business advisors, marketing advisors, website developers, all were found through people he knew, and each are still a part of his business.

Outside of the company’s doors, it is clear that word of mouth marketing is what Saddleback is all about. As Dave said:

“If people are happy, they talk about it. Now people talk online.”

To help fan the flames, Saddleback has photo contests, gives away bags, and encourages feedback. These outlets also allow people to be involved with the brand, before they shell out $500 on a bag.

Create an Experience Your Customers Can Join

Dave says he does not want Saddleback to become a huge brand. He doesn’t want the bags in big retail chains, and limits his paid advertising to banner ads on niche sites, Google adwords, and potentially ads in niche magazines. Saddleback is targeted to a very specific audience, and Dave is okay if that is polarizing.

He says that mainstream is not the goal. One indication of this is Saddleback’s tagline:

“They’ll fight over it when you’re dead.”

An experienced marketing advisor told Dave to avoid using the word ‘death’ in a tagline, advice that Dave ignored. Following all the old rules may be ‘safe,’ but exposes a brand to mediocrity. As Dave said:

“People are tired of Fake. They want real.”

Don't Be Afraid to Stand Out

What the Movie Avatar Taught Me About Committing to Customers, Employees and Products

Recently, I went to see the movie Avatar. My experience was far more complex than I had expected, and has left me considering how businesses make and break commitments to their customers. The story is in two parts, as I had to go to two theaters to try to see the film.

Theater #1: Making a False Commitment to Customers

A False Commitment

I knew the movie was created to be viewed in 3D, so I found a local theater that offered that version. The movie had just been released, so I bought my tickets online and arrived at the theater an hour early. Four people had arrived ahead of me, I chose my seat, and by the time a half hour had passed, the theater was really filling up. Once 7:30 arrived, we were amped to see the movie, having held our odd 3D glasses for an hour, wondering if they would prove magical or not.
But, before the lights dimmed, two theater employees came to the front and told us there would be a slight delay, 5-15 minutes as they got the special 3D projector set up. Here is what followed:
  • 7:45 further apologies, further delays and handing out passes for a free popcorn or soda.
  • 8pm more apologies, and an outright promise that they would be showing the movie, and that we should just bear with them.
  • 8:15pm even more apologies and more promises that they are 100% going to show the film, that they were almost ready.
  • 8:30pm yes, even more apologies and an offer to go into another theater to catch the 2D version of the film that was starting at 8:30. Clearly, this means that even though you had waited an hour or two already, you would be getting the worst seats in the theater for a lower quality of experience (2D vs 3D)
  • 8:45pm the same two teenage theater workers come back in, this time with a security guard, and inform us that the movie was not going to be shown. The offered a free movie pass as well as a refund for the expense of this one.
Now, let’s revisit how many ways the movie theater mismanaged this:
  • Hiding Critical Facts
    Three audience members had managed to find one of the projector operators who explained that this was an issue at both of the previous attempts to show the film earlier in the day, and neither of those screenings could be shown. In fact, the movie had been downloading since the 3pm showing, and the theater operators were hoping it would be ready by 7:30.

    When people are paying close to $15 for a ticket, perhaps another $5 or $10 on food, and sitting there with their friends, kids and loved ones with high expectations, these are things that should have been mentioned at the ticket counter well before anyone sat down with the expectation of seeing the film at 7:30 – or at all.

  • Setting False Expectations
    Again and again, as the movie downloaded from the central server to their projector (a process that took 5 hours), they assumed they knew when it would be complete and that it would work. This despite the fact that this theater was new to using the 3D projector, and the projectionists admitted that they had little knowledge of the projector or the process of using it.

    So when the computer said 90% downloaded, they told the audience “it should only be 15 minutes” even though they had no idea.  So again and again they told us this, even though they clearly were wrong each time.

    Once the movie did download 100%, it was “corrupt” and would not play.  So their promises that they would absolutely show the movie tonight was based on a faint hope of what they would like to happen, not an experienced voice who felt an obligation to their customers.

  • Telling Outright Lies
    The theater employees made a comment that they were having issues downloading the film from the central server, and that this was happening at theaters across the country. A few quick searches on Twitter via my iPhone left me without a single other example of people complaining about the film being delayed or not shown due to this issue.
After waiting for two hours and forty five minutes, I got my refund and left the theater. Let’s compare this experience with my second attempt to see the movie.

Theater #2: Living Up to Promises

Living Up to Promises

For my second attempt to see Avatar, I went two days later to a theater that offered a full IMAX 3D version of the film. I purchased my tickets online that afternoon, and arrived at the theater an hour before the show time. Here are four key ways that this experience differed from my previous attempt:
  • Committing to the Customers
    When I arrived at the theater (again – an hour before show time), there were already 100 people on line ahead of me. The usher clearly told me where to wait, even though the line was so long that it had to be broken into two halves. While on line, the manager walked around and chatted with patrons. This really got my attention. He wasn’t hiding, ordering underlings to tell people to be patient, he had nice slow civil conversations with people, setting reasonable expectations on the process of getting into the theater, explaining how good the experience was and why they were so excited to have Avatar in IMAX 3D. He really made you feel welcome and excited.

    When he came up to me and a few folks around me, he talked about when we would be let in, how the line would move, and allayed our fears about not getting a good seat. He told us that the projectionists felt that being in the first third of the theater was the sweet spot for IMAX 3D, and that most of those 100 folks ahead of us would likely run right towards the upper seats as a matter of course.

    He also went on to explain that some of the trailers were in 3D, and that they were quite stunning in their own right. He also told us the process of what went into installing the IMAX theater – where the extra speakers were, and how massive the project was. He really set an expectation that we were in for a treat.

    Some folks around me asked him when a few new films would be coming to this theater, and you can tell he was a real movie fan talking about films he was excited about.

  • Committing to Employees
    After that conversation, I still had quite a wait on the line. While I people watched, I kept an eye on the manager. It was amazing to watch him just chatting with folks all over the lobby. Always pleasant, always trying to make their experience a bit nicer.

    He kept checking in with the employees in the IMAX theater, as the cleaning crew went in, as other members of his staff talked to folks in the front of the line.

    Then I saw him behind the concession stand – SWEEPING THE FLOOR! He didn’t yell at anyone to do it, it wasn’t something that a customer would have even seen – he just saw some spilled popcorn or something, and quickly cleaned it up himself.

    I soon realized that his real reason for being back there was to help another employee bring the cart with the sanitized 3D glasses from the back room, through the concession area, through the lobby and to the entrance of the theater. Every step of the way, he made sure things were done right, and never ordered anyone around.

  • Committing to a Technology
    This is not a theater that went kicking and screaming into 3D – they renovated an entire theater, losing three rows of seats in order to install a full IMAX theater. They added a larger screen, extra speakers, and I assume other equipment like the projector. For the 3D glasses (which are much larger than non-IMAX 3D glasses), they are reused, and have to be disinfected between screenings. So this ads the cost of the disinfecting equipment, plus employee training on the process and the time-management to do this between two screenings. That is a big commitment. It should be noted that while this theater serves a very large region, it is not sitting in the middle of a high-income area. It is mixed-income, and requires a considerable drive for most patrons.  So they committed to the concept that they would sell enough $15 tickets to this market.
  • Committing to an Experience
    The end result is that this theater made a commitment to the overall movie experience.  While its customers deal with making ends meet in a deep recession and competing technologies make it cheaper and easier to get a comparable experience at home, this theater did everything it could to elevate the movie going experience and reinforce the belief that it is indeed worth paying for.

    And they didn’t need to offer Godiva chocolates or personal massages to do so. Just an attractive, clean and well-managed theater. It’s just that simple.

What is so interesting here is that I am not telling a story of a brand that exceeded expectations. All I wanted was for a business to live up to its promises and set reasonable expectations. For a $15 ticket to a movie, that is not a silly thing to ask.
In the end, it left me considering how many other types of businesses make partial commitments to their own products, undercut their employees and make false commitments to customers in the pursuit of revenue.
As I consider these same ideals in the online space, it reminds me of ways that some brands do a horrible job trying to connect with customers on the web, and others do a phenomenal job of leveraging social media in fun and meaningful ways that have a real affect on their business.
When you consider building your brand online, which type of business will you be?