customer engagement

What’s better than a great communication strategy? Conversation.

Originally published as a Special to The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, Mar. 13 2013

Fluevog-porter-shoe-1The other day, I was walking out of the office of an industrial manufacturer and one of its executives looked at my new briefcase and said, “Oh cool, you’re a Fluevog guy”.

That comment really made me think about the dynamic relationships that we form with companies and their brands today. It reinforced how certain, well-developed brands define you as a person to those around you. And, most importantly, it reinforced the fact that this status can and has been achieved by companies – big and small – like Apple, Zipcar or Fluevog.

As an advocate of branding and innovation, and a business practitioner, I try to maintain a measure of brand objectivity. But, for a minute, I’m going to put the shoe on the other foot, literally. I’m going to be the actual zealous consumer and use Fluevog Footwear as an example of a company that has progressively won my appreciation and affinity with innovative branding and wonderful products. (Full disclosure: they have never been a client of mine. I am simply a fan of the brand).

Founded in 1970 in Vancouver as a single, vintage shoe store, Fluevog now has 14 locations across North America and an amazing website where one can find this tongue in cheek corporate philosophy, ‘Moses used tablets, Picasso used paints, God used Moses, Alex G Bell used the telephone and John Fluevog uses shoes. Great minds of the past have used a variety of mediums to communicate their messages – since the beginning of time (or at least John) John has even been using the soles and foot socks of his shoes to communicate with the world.’ Compare this statement of purpose to the mission statements of most companies, and it’s evident that Fluevog has a pretty eclectic audience in mind.

Other than great shoes and briefcases, what compels me about Fluevog is its ability to connect on a whimsical and functional level with its customers. It has replaced a one-way communication strategy with what I’m going to call an open, two-way ‘Conversation Strategy.’ Today, a communication strategy can incorporate online dialogue tools. However, too many of us have simply carried forward the old “tell our story” approach to these new media, and that isn’t good enough.

Just being present on social media platforms isn’t enough to generate buzz and revenues. What Fluevog has managed to do is to use social media to seek out and attract kindred spirits to the brand. In addition to Fluemarket, a site where consumers can buy, sell or swap, Fluevog shoes, the company reaches out to potential designers through Open Source Footwear, where the best ideas are actually made into shoes and the designer given credit.

As a consumer, what distinguishes Fluevog from most companies for me is its passion for making its customers part of the journey. It engages rather than informs. It opens a dialogue instead of a monologue. And perhaps most crucial to Fluevog’s success… it lets its customers participate in and celebrate the creative process. So, not only do I own Fluevog products, I have also taken ownership of the company’s philosophy of making me a part of the conversion.

We may not all be as eclectic as Fluevog or as artistic. We may be a business-to-business manufacturer of industrial widgets versus purveyors of fashion-forward footwear and accessories. But, we all have a unique story to share. Not just about what we make or what we do, but how our business and our philosophies can enrich and engage our customers or our community. Creating a real conversation means connecting in a meaningful way. Not just about our products or the new innovative introductions that our company is bringing to market. That’s just a two dimensional conversation. What can make it 3D is by talking about the things beyond business that inspire us, like articles or books or trends or community events that help us to be better and more relevant people, leaders and managers. Fluevog inspired me by its approach to life in general, not just its shoes. It treats me like a sentient human, not just a paying customer.

Part of the conversion from communication to conversation is the ability to listen. Without the listening part, you can’t expect to know your audience and what inspires it. The days of speaking to our customers have been replaced by speaking with them. Conversation is the new cash. And in today’s era of social business creating an ongoing, engaging conversation is king. I’d like to invite you to be a part of the conversation by letting me know which organization has found a kindred spirit in you. How did the company engage, delight, involve and engage you in its mission?

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Clydesdales and Customers

Budweiser-horses

How do you cause a disturbance? Shake up the marketplace?

It begins by tapping into the emotions and psyche of the consumer. Take the Budweiser Superbowl TV spot about the man that raised and trained a Budweiser Clydesdale horse and gave him up to be a part of the Budweiser team. The horse never forgot his trainer, and sought him out by cantering down the street to find him after a parade. They share a ‘hug’, and the consumer feels heart-warmed by their happy reunion. Just about everyone felt touched by this commercial, and thereby touched by the brand as well. Everyone who saw the commercial in real-time talked about it, and many who didn’t see it live, looked it up later on YouTube. This is the essence of causing a disturbance.

While the phrase is often (over) used, it’s hard for people to think outside of the box. I tell them to start very simply.  Turn off of your computer, your iPhone or your iPad because the answers aren’t in your screensavers or mobile devices. Tilt your head up slightly and observe the world around you. Inspiration and ideas start with observation. Attend events, business groups and round tables. Most of all, talk to and be inspired by new people.

The ideas don’t have to be earth shattering. They just have to delight the senses or sensibilities of your market. After all, the cakepop is just a really little piece of cake dipped in chocolate coating and held up by the timeless popsicle stick. Just like that, you have take-out cake, a very small tweak to a favourite treat that puts big smiles on people’s faces.

How can you further delight your customer and keep them engaged? What else can you sell to them? It could be a product, a process or a service. So, don’t be afraid to shake it up. Today, more than ever, you have to be engaging and re-engaging your customers with things that are new and interesting.

That’s innovation. It’s as simple as that. Have an idea and bring it to market in a way that delights customers and keeps them coming back to you!

How will you shake up your bowl of oats?

Listen to the radio interview that this article is based on below.

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Innovation Drives Marketing Drives Sales

The-Business-Experience-Show

Ken Tencer was recently interviewed on The Business Experience Show about The 90% Rule and how to bring innovation into your company.

Innovation is about bringing new ideas to your customers and keeping them delighted with your business. The 90% Rule book explores the practice of asking ourselves what we are 90% capable of, and what that next 10% will be. We have to think in logical and manageable next steps to determine what that next 10% can be. Highly successful and innovative companies are already doing this, and we should learn from their example.

A few ideas include:

Ask yourself what your company offers its customers. The great companies answer this with customer benefits, not the commodities that they manufacture. Think of Disney which is in the the business of fun, family and entertainment. Or Dove that is about Real Beauty, not selling bars of soap.  Companies need to learn to understand their core business and how what they do impacts the market.

Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Too often, we get stuck in our everyday rut and forget about networking and pushing ourselves to get out and meet new people. We all need to get out there and learn about what others are doing and how it impacts us.

Build a backboard of trusted resources to bounce ideas off. We don’t always have the answers ourselves, and we need to learn to lean on others whenever it becomes necessary.

Don’t forget to weigh and measure new ideas. We have to establish filters and use metrics to discover which ideas we should pursue. Treat those bright new ideas as live projects by assigning a champion to the idea. Task that person to grow and build the idea.

Companies that fail to innovate will ultimately fall behind in the marketplace. Recent examples are Hostess failing to grab hold of the healthy snack trend and Kodak failing to embrace the digital camera era. Whether you are a solopreneur or in the C-suite of a Fortune 500 company, there is no need to fall into this trap.

To learn more about these principles and The 90% Rule, Listen to Ken’s interview at:  https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/author-ken-tencer-the-90-rule/id571670667?i=126358243&mt=2 or buy The 90% Rule book.

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