Kerry recently forwarded me this case study post from First Round on the early success of Credit Karma. More specifically, the article talks about how CEO Kenneth Lin made a daily habit of skimming Reddit. One day, the article explains, he found something that changed his life:
A thread about credit monitoring kicked off by a user suspicious that his company’s free credit check service was a scam — including a passionate response from a user defending and extolling Credit Karma. “Oh my god,” Lin thought. “That person doesn’t even work for us.” It was a purely organic moment — foreshadowing the word-of-mouth trend that would win the startup millions of users in the months to come.
Ten years later, Credit Karma has established market dominance, with more than 50% of all customers hearing about the site from other users. It’s Googled more than Geico — considered the standard bearer for companies that have managed to build sexy, personality-driven brands in patently unsexy industries. Which makes it all the more surprising that Credit Karma pulled this off with a staff 1% the size of Geico’s, a paltry budget, and no PR agency help in those early, critical, brand-establishing years.
One of the conversations I often have with companies in regards to digital marketing is about new customer acquisition. Companies want to leverage social media and content marketing as a way to drive new sales, but they want to do so often with limited resources.
One of the most effective ways to drive new sales and build awareness is to embrace your current, happy customers. As the above example proves, all companies have current customers that are out extolling and sometimes even defending their favorite brands.
The best part? A recommendation from a happy customer carries far more weight with potential customers than an advertisement from the brand itself. Think about it: What would have happened in the above example if Credit Karma CEO Kenneth Lin had started a Reddit post promoting Credit Karma? He would have quickly been shouted down by other Reddit users for leveraging the site to advertise his company. But when a current, happy Credit Karma user defends the company, people listen.
Years ago, I worked with a large, global brand on a brand advocacy initiative. Part of the project included sitting down with customers that were identified as being loyal advocates or ‘fans’ of the brand, and talking to them honestly about the brand and how it could best move forward.
At one point, one of customers noted that “You guys have to give us better tools to tell other people how awesome you are”. The other customers in attendance quickly agreed, chiming in with stories about how they were constantly interacting with other customers and having opportunities to promote the brand more effectively to other customers.
As this was happening, I made a point to glance around the room and look at the brand representatives in attendance. They were stunned at what they were hearing. “Wait, so you’re saying you WANT us to give you information to better promote our brand to other customers?” “YES!” was the enthusiastic reply from the customers.
This is what you have to understand about your brand’s fans: They are proactively promoting you to other customers every single day. Right now while you are reading this article, somewhere, a happy customer is doing their best to convince another customer to buy from your brand.
Why in the world would you ignore this? Every single brand on the planet should have a program in place to identify, engage with and help its most passionate customers. These happy customers are already promoting your brand, and they WANT you to interact with them and WANT to work with you to grow your brand, so why would you not engage directly with them? You should be working with your fans constantly to not only collect feedback from the customers they engage with, but also work with them to help better promote your brand to those customers they encounter.
After all, they are the most effective marketing department you have, that you probably didn’t even know existed.