Warning: This is an uncharacteristically long post for this blog, but it’s a topic that I am pretty passionate about: Helping companies better connect with their brand advocates and customers, and vice versa. If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time, you know how I often use the Rockstar analogy to explain how Rockstars have fans, while companies have customers. This post attempts to address this point, and provide a framework for how companies can better connect to their customers and advocates. And vice-versa, with the end goal being that both the customer and the company better understand each other, and the financial benefits that the business will enjoy as a result.
The best post on social media that you have likely never read is this one from Hugh in 2005. In it, Hugh makes the case for corporate blogging (remember this was a year before Twitter was launched and the Goliath of the social media arena at the time was MySpace), and talks about the conversations that companies have internally, versus the one their customers are having externally. The idea being that a corporate blog makes it easier for the customer to bring their external conversation to the company, and the company can more easily bring their internal conversation to the customer.
Ideally, both groups would become more closely aligned, as a result of better understanding each other. As the customer’s external conversation begins to be heard and understood by the company, then the company’s internal conversation changes a bit. And that change likely moves it closer to the external one, and in theory, as each group better understands the other, the two separate conversations will gravitate toward each other. This is what I was talking about in my post on the promise of social media for businesses lies in FEWER conversations.
I was recently talking to Liz Strauss about this concept, about how businesses need to better understand the external conversation their customer are having, and how it will change the internal conversation. The idea is that businesses should be connected to their customers, especially their advocates, and bring that external conversation to the company, so they can better understand and connect with their customers. And at the same time, find a way to connect with the customer so they can better understand the internal conversation the company is having, and the company itself. Liz asked a very good question: “What’s the process for that?”
So I decided to come up with a process to do just that. This is rough and I’ll no doubt be editing it constantly as time goes by.
To better understand what I’m suggesting, let’s look at a fictional B2C company, Carl’s Soda. CS is middle of the pack in a crowded industry, and like most companies, can tell you their customer demographics, but doesn’t have a lot of direct interaction with their customers. They have average customer satisfaction (avg to the beverage industry) scores, yet like most companies, do have their customer advocates. Though the company does little to engage this group. The majority of its marketing and advertising is done via traditional channels, with the pre-requisite experimenting being done online, especially with social media.
In short, they are pretty much lost in the shuffle in a crowded industry. We want to see if we can change that by better connecting the company to its customers, and its customers to the company.
What we need to do is find a way to help CS get a better understanding of their customers via the external conversation that its customers are having about the brand. At the same time, we need to take the internal conversation that the company is having about itself and its customers, and take that to its customers, in an effort to not only build brand awareness, but to also help its customers better understand the brand. Because once both groups better understand each other, that’s going to facilitate more communication between both groups, which will increase understanding, which will lead to trust. Which will move CS from middle of the pack, to the front of the pack. As Steve Knox said:
Step One: Creation of a Customer Insights Team
- This group will be responsible for not only monitoring online and offline product and company mentions, but for preparing findings and providing them to relevant departments within the company, such as marketing, PR, customer services, product development/design, etc.
- Additionally, this team will closely track changes in the volume of online mentions, as well as the sentiment.
- Responsible for internal education of customers and interacting with them online.
Step Two: Creation of a Brand Ambassador Program for Carl’s Soda
As stated above, Carl’s Soda has its share of brand advocates, but really hasn’t done anything to engage them. That starts with this program, which will be invitation-only and cap membership at 100. This will give Carl’s Soda the ability to not only connect directly with its most passionate customers, but a mechanism to give them the tools to spread their love of Carl’s Soda to other customers. If you’re looking at an existing model to compare this to, look at what Fiskars has done in creating The Fiskateers movement.
Step Three: Creation of an Internal Social Networking Site for Carl’s Soda’s employees
This would be a way for employees to learn more about each other, and share ideas and feedback. This would also give employees a way to give feedback on the working environment, and suggestions for improvement. Unlike the brand ambassador program, this should be open to any employees that want to participate. Similar corporate models could be Best Buy’s Blue Shirt Nation, or Dell’s internal IdeaStorm for employees.
Now we need a mechanism in place to facilitate the flow of the external the customers are having to the internal walls of the company, and a separate mechanism in place that will facilitate the flow of the internal conversation that the company is having about itself and its customers, to the customers. This leads to Steps Four and Five:
Step Four: Creation of a Brand Advisory Council
This will be a 6-person council comprised of 4 brand advocates for the company, and 2 customer advocates (who are company employees). The 4 brand advocates will be chosen from the membership of the brand ambassador program.
- The Brand Advisory Council will be over the Brand Ambassador Program.
- The Brand Advisory Council will work with the Customer Insights Team to ensure that Carl’s Soda has the most accurate information about its customers
- Will meet quarterly with key executives at Carl’s Soda to give them greater insights into the company’s customers and advocates.
Step Five: Creation of a Customer Advisory Council
This will be a 6-person council comprised of 4 customer advocates (who are company employees), and 2 brand advocates, who are also members of the Brand Advisory Council.
- Will be over the internal social networking site for employees as detailed in Step Three.
- The Customer Advisory Council will be responsible for bringing the internal conversation that the company is having about itself and its customers, to its customers. This could be done via meetups, or even social media by highlighting employees and their thoughts via posts, video, etc.
- Will meet quarterly with key executives at Carl’s Soda to give them greater insights into the company’s employees and the internal conversation they are having about the company, and its customers.
Now as I stated above, this is a rough draft and I will no doubt be altering this several times in the future. But the entire reason for this process is based on this truth: Participating in a conversation changes that conversation. This process is about finding a way to better align the external conversation that customers are having about the company, with the internal conversation that the company is having about its customers.
The benefits of this process include:
- A better understanding of its customers, which leads the company to more effectively and efficiently market to its customers. Which lowers marketing costs.
- As the company better understands its customers, and vice versa, customer satisfaction improves.
- As the company’s employees have a mechanism in place (internal socnet) to connect with each other and provide feedback on the company itself, employee satisfaction improves.
Several times I’ve written here and elsewhere about how rockstars connect with their fans, and more or less have the same conversation. Some companies, such as Harley-Davidson, have many brand advocates, and as a result, the internal and external conversations aren’t that far apart. Harley-Davidson loves its products and brand for many of the same reasons its customers do.
But many companies have difficulty with this because the conversation the company is having and the one the customers are having about the company, are usually quite disjointed. This process attempts to address that, and bring the two conversations more closely together.
At the end of the day, companies cannot afford to ignore their customers any longer. Customers now have the tools available to them to mobilize and communicate with themselves far faster than the company can communicate on its own behalf. Recent PR trainwrecks like Motrin Moms and Kenneth Cole’s #Egypt tweets on Twitter attest to this. Companies have to not only be aware of what their customers are saying, but find a way to bring that conversation into their walls, and vice versa. This process helps them get started along that path.
What have I missed? And there is a TON I have missed, trust me. Does this make sense? Again, it’s the starting point, the execution side hasn’t really been addressed yet. What would that look like?