Helping Customers Carry Your Brand

I listen to a lot of Leo Laporte’s TWIT network and am caught up in the concept of ‘curation’.  Curation is the process of organizing, finding, and maintaining a collection.  In terms of content and the web, curation is what we do when we find things we like and send them to our friends and family.  Some things are a chore to curate, like news.  Daily news requires sorting through thousands of non-news stories to bring forth relevant material.  The volume and diversity of the news makes it really difficult to curate and the payoff is pretty pathetic.  In the end there are some things that are best curated by people paid to do the curation.  Some big stories are so juicy we want to play a part in bringing them to the attention of our friends and family but for the most part, we let places like Huffington Post and Gawker do the heavy lifting.

Other things are fun to curate and have a lasting benefit for being the person who curates that type of content.  Restaurants and bars, movies, bands, and all those fun and classy things are fun to curate.  As a broad generality, people like to be associated with these three things: Fun, Class, and Bargains. 

Before Groupon created an app and became a bigger deal, every once in awhile I’d get a bunch of emails from friends whenever Groupon had a deal with a service or restaurant my friends new I used.  I honestly preferred those emails than getting the app alert every day for stuff I really don’t have any interest in.  The friend curated information was definitely more valuable to me.  My friends wanted to be associated with awesome deals or be the ones who introduced me to a new exciting and/or classy experience.

The other night I went out to a new restaurant that really blew my socks off with how great it was.  I was eager to share my find with my friends and sent out messages on Twitter, Foursquare, and Yelp.  I wrote a Livejournal entry about the experience, wrote a Yelp review, and mentioned it on Facebook.  I liked the experience  and thought my friends would also like the experience.  I wanted credit for bringing this to their attention.

Most people are like me to some extent in this regard.  They want credit for introducing people to new awesomeness.  It is this tendency that businesses can tap into for marketing efforts.  Every customer is a potential marketing agent.  Every customer has the ability to carry and promote your brand to others traditional marketing efforts aren’t going to reach. Every customer is part of a complex web that can create amazing returns for a business.  These statements aren’t an amazing revelation as there have been countless books and courses of study devoted to guerrilla marketing, viral marketing, and the like. The question that needs to be discussed is how to enable this behavior?  How can a business make it easy for a customer to carry the brand to their circle of friends and promote the brand in a way that is consistent with the businesses intent?

Is it too pedantic to say “be awesome’?  Okay, it is, but that is the essence of what needs to be done.  Take the elements the brand are to be associated with and make sure those elements are as excellent as possible.  Is the brand representing value? Then make sure it is a value and make sure the customer understands in very simple terms why it is a value.  Sometimes value doesn’t mean cheapest, it means the lowest cost for its class.  That means making sure the customer understands the class the brand is in and then sees the value of it.

Customers aren’t getting paid to promote the brand so they aren’t going to spend a lot of time analyzing it, dissecting it, and coming up with the perfect 140 character sentence to send to their friends and family regarding the brand.  It is up to the business to give the customer the phrases and messages to send forth.  I will often retweet messages from my favorite businesses.  If the business is promoting an event that I think is cool, has a special I think is valuable, or is saying something witty, entertaining, or meaningful I am more likely to retweet it.  I’m being handed the ‘awesomeness’ on a platter and all I have to do is make a small effort to be associated with it.

The business needs to provide me the handles that make it easy for me to promote their brands.  Even if it is a Facebook fanpage that I can ‘Like’ in order to demonstrate to my circle of acquaintances how cool I am for liking something awesome.  I don’t really see this as being significantly different than what happens internally.  The business gives employees marketing talking points and the employees utilize those talking points when interacting with others.  All that needs to happen is reshaping those talking points a bit so customers can also use them.

Now I know that feels contrary to my other opinion about modern marketing, that it is a dialog not a message.  It isn’t contrary as I think the talking points a business gives to customers should be opening lines, should be starting points for a conversation.

One of my favorite places doesn’t really do any social media marketing.  They have the framework for it established but they don’t put any energy into it.  When I am there, I keep thinking about how they should be having on ongoing communication with their customers.  They offer live music but don’t Tweet about it.  I think they should be tweeting about it constantly.  I may not be able to attend but I would retweet it because I want to be associated with that experience.  They should be tweeting about their beer specials since they have a really nice selection.  They should be talking about their favorites, or daily recommendations. They should be talking about items on their menus as suggestions.  By doing this, they make it easy for me, as a willing agent who wants to be associated with them, to begin the conversations that end up promoting their brand.

What is your business doing to make it easy for customers to promote your brand?  What handles are you providing to your customers to make it convenient for them to carry your brand? How much energy do you devote to that process and what sort of return on investment are you seeing?