Engaging the customer. It goes well beyond those stalwarts of mass marketing, the original 4Ps: product price place and promotion.
Certainly we start there, because our product is the first place we’ll find a shared interest with our customer. The customer needs or wants it and the company wishes to sell it.
In a mass market, we could stop at this and use our traditional tool chest of advertising and public relations to communicate at our prospective buyer.
But strictly speaking, the mass markets of Darren Stephens and Don Draper don’t exist anymore.
Long tail products find their buyers online and mass market products find value in niche marketing.
Nearly every mass consumer product is sliced diced and tailored to ever smaller focused needs. Just look at laundry detergent. At my last count, one side of an entire aisle at Target was devoted to Tide. Multiple varieties, each available in multiple packaging options to meet a perceived multiplicity of laundry requirements. Overkill? Almost certainly. Nevertheless it is the market reality.
Amidst this continued clutter, brands needed new ways to attract the customer.
They found it online. Through online advertising and websites. And the motherlode. The ever expanding communities of their customers engaging with social media – blogs, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, online portals.
Companies and their PR agencies began pitching bloggers about their products. Some well. Most not so much. But pitching isn’t engaging the customer.
To engage implies a closer relationship than the simple exchange of gelt for goods. To engage implies a conversation, not an advertising campaign or product pitch. To engage expects mutual respect and a balanced exchange – everybody gets value out of the deal. As I said at the Mom 2.0 Summit Friday, nobody gets screwed… unless of course they want to.
In my opinion, engagement demands that the company bring more to the table than just its product. In the offline world, we generally don’t have conversations about products, unless we are highly invested in them. Entertainment products, video games, cars. Perhaps. Cereal, laundry soap and soup? Not so much. Why should companies expect it to be ANY different in the blogosphere?
When I do workshops I often show this Technorati data. Technorati’s rankings may be rank, but the 2008 research offers some good data about bloggers. Scan down this list of reasons why bloggers blog. I’m sure you’ll notice that “help companies promote their products” isn’t on this list.
Likewise, people generally don’t form communities around product features. Around products, yes, but not as a channel for promotional messages from the vendor. Around the passion for what the product lets them do, make, achieve.
This is where the concept of relevance comes in. You have to make your product relevant to the needs of the community, the needs of the blogger. Put the product in the blogger’s context; get beyond how someone uses your product to the why of it. Why does the customer want to use your product? How does it fit into her life?
This puts you down the path to discover the values you, the brand/company, share with your customers,. These values form the basis for better pitches and a long term sustainable relationship with your customer.
How to find the shared values
For some products – for example entertainment and technology where trial might be a draw or folks do get caught up in exciting new features – you may be able to build an outreach campaign on features. Some of the most successful campaigns I’ve seen recently are indeed for entertainment franchises like Wii and amusement parks, and trial or trip forms a big part of the program.
But consumer product goods are a bit harder. Many product marketing folks get caught up in features, but to be really effective you’ve got to go beyond that and relate to something the blogger is doing. How the product fits their life, not how they can make their life fit your pitch. Relevance. Context.
Here’s an example recently sent to me by a mom blogger, a pitch for mouthwash.
(click on image for larger size)
I can’t be any clearer than this: the bullying example in the pitch is totally lame. It is a made-up problem.
And it’s a shame because they could have done a much more relevant pitch related to a parent’s desire to establish good oral hygiene habits with the kids. Sure, it’s been done before – most good ideas are not new, just new or better executions – but so what…. It is relevant, and that’s what really matters when reaching out to an online community. It doesn’t have to be new, just “new to you.”
In this economy, budgets are going to be a lot tighter. Relevance isn’t as critical when you can offer an all expenses spa weekend in exchange for sitting through a few product pitches. Still important , but we can easily imagine someone who doesn’t care that much about the product going if the event is slick enough. That won’t fly anymore.
Events of that scale have always been out of reach of small to mid size companies, and increasingly won’t be in the budget for big ones either.
We have to be more clever.
We have to meet the customer, the blogger in her context. Not expect her to blithely sign up for ours.
I have been working on a model that explains HOW to do this. How to find the context or shared values. It’s hard to explain it in a blog post, but here’s the mind map.
I’ve promised to share an example of how to apply this to consumer products. My next post will apply it to cotton swabs, as close to a commodity as I think you can find in the consumer markets.
This post is based in part on material prepared for the Mom 2.0 Summit panel on Communities.