Friday, 13 February 2009

Keeping up with the Joneses....getting excited about engagement

It is amazing just how many people are on Twitter sharing links about social media, not just people extending their own brand reach but genuinely interested in all things social. I struggle to keep up with the updates but am learning to be a bit more ruthless with what I read and what I act on. Otherwise, I really will have no life!

I’ve been busy helping write a presentation that e-inbusiness is giving @ the Retail Week eCommerce Summit on Tuesday in London. The focus is on social buzz and how important it is to use engagement online to create a buzz for your brand. That may sounds oh so Web2.0 darling but we genuinely believe in this. Thankfully the web has moved beyond basic transactions to a more sophisticated community in which people are increasingly demanding high quality service and positive experiences. The high street has already gone through this (obvious) evolution – people have emotions, so it is only natural they want enjoyment in life and not just functional service (disclaimer – yes I know there are those of you who don’t care as long as you get the right thing at the right price).

So, this week I’ve been thinking about how retailers can leverage social tools to not only satisfy but delight and engage their customers. There is a requirement to go beyond basic shopkeeping. There needs to be something that attracts the customer to your brand beyond the purchase need. Why would I be loyal to Brand X simply because they sold me something? I am more likely to come back if they make me feel wanted. Or show me that their customers are loved. Or make me laugh. Basically, do something to engage me and give me value from paying attention. A colleague of mine, Steven Hampson, used a neat word to summarise Web3.0, or better still Consumer3.0 (yep the whole numbering thing is far too media speak but it is what people understand, so please forgive me!) – meCommerce. We’ve had eCommerce, we know about mCommerce but now we need to put the individual at the heart of our thinking. Here’s where the gaskets blow and people raise the flag of CRM. Yes, CRM gave traditional DM great propensity models, customer segments and improved personalisation. Yes, it is still hugely relevant. However, traditional CRM does not cover the social space online and look at how communication can be used to share information and build communities. It does not build direct 1-to-1 dialogue like microblogging and social networking can. meCommerce takes CRM to the next level.

Take a look at what Free People has been doing with its customer reviews. Free People pays real attention to their customer reviews, so much so that they invited their #1 reviewer to an extensive interview. They asked her about her favourite Free People clothes, her lifestyle, her interests. They collected photos of her wearing their clothes and featured them on their Flickr event set. Then they dedicated an entire blog post to the day to share what they learned with other customers. There is a good summary on the BazaarVoice blog page.

Why do I think this is a good example of “meCommerce”? I just love the attitude that drives this behaviour. Free People put in customer reviews for commercial reasons but also because they wanted to understand what their customers thought. They then wanted to go further and speak directly with their most prolific reviewer. Thinking more creatively, they wanted to share what they learned with the wider community and embraced blogging & Flicker. This shows commitment and passion. It also shows they have a handle on social media and how it can be applied to their customer base. This also shows a company willing to engage its customers and create content that is both interesting and relevant. Dialogue not monologue. Nurture and nature.

So what can other retailers learn? That engaging customers requires passion and creativity. You need to understand all the touch points for your business and work out how to knit them together. Most importantly, you need to give your customers a reason to get involved. Simply offering them somewhere to be is not reason enough.

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