Marketing Your Startup

with Alice Lankester

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Turning customers into brand advocates

Alice Lankester

Startup Marketing Executive, Silicon Valley Veteran, Entrepreneur Enthusiast

Lessons Learned

Marketers should listen to customers through social media & customer interviews.

Create an automated email with the ‘heartbeat’ of your company: a snapshot of trends and activity.

Social media makes it easy for customers to become advocates.


Lesson: Marketing Your Startup with Alice Lankester

Step #8 Advocates: Turning customers into brand advocates

Marketing needs to look at a number of different touchpoints for customers. Now, they could, at a start, you mentioned sales people earlier, they could at a very basic level, speak to the sales people who speak to the customers and learn about it that way. They could do a ride-along and participate in sales meetings and hear what the customer has to say, and you can learn from that and to take notes and listen and absorb and reflect afterwards. Talking to customers or listening to customers on social is what everybody should be doing now, and that's extremely important. It is not scalable to bring customers in for focus groups but it's very important when you're trialing a new idea.

So I've had a lot of success working with experts who go out and find, after you've segmented the kind of customers you want, so, say you want 18 to 24-year-old college students or you want a 40-year-old mothers of three, I don't know, whatever it is, you've segmented your customers. You know who your customers are, or you hopefully know who your customers are, and then there are some great service providers who will go out and bring in focus groups that fit that profile and ask some questions and learn from them. It shouldn't be the only thing you do, but it is extremely useful.

Then there should be lots of ways for customers to get back to what they're saying. One of the companies I worked with for a number of years was a very large photo company called Photobucket, and I instigated this thing that I call a heartbeat and they had millions of photos getting uploaded a day and tens of millions of searches going on on the site, but when I would ask what are people searching for, they kind of knew but they didn't know.

I worked with the IT people to automate an email that would get sent out to everybody in the company every day. These are the top searches that happen every day on the site. These are the most common things that people are doing. These are the key stats, the heartbeat of the company, and everybody gets to see them every day, and suddenly you see patterns emerge and you see breakout things happening. So without talking to 80 million customers, I could still hear from 80 million customers, and this was in 2006 before social became the huge thing it is, so we have other ways of doing it now, so that's extremely important. So, focus groups when it's needed.

Every touchpoint; talking to sales people, talking on social, looking at email trains, going to support. Everybody should participate. You have a Get Satisfaction or anything like that, Get Marketing in there looking at what people have difficulty with. Lots of different ways to talk to customers, and if you don't, shame on you.

I use a phrase, I'm in a room with the lights off and I have a blindfold on, sort of like I'm doubly blind and you need to turn the lights on and take the blindfold off and actually see what's going on on your site or with your product, because if you don't then how are you going to make any kind of decision? So turning customers into applicants is a really interesting trend that has really come to the fore in the days of social, because the whole idea behind marketing your brand on social is that you allow or you enable your fans or your followers to tell your story for you or to somehow share your content for you. So when they share it with their friends or their networks, somehow because they say they love this, that somebody else will say "Oh, well my friend Shay says she loves this, so it must be cool, because she said it."

There are some very clever ways to do this. You can build campaigns where you can ask your fans or followers to answer quizzes or answer questions or vote on content or submit content. They can submit photographs of themselves wearing a product or using a product or you may be marketing a travel destination so you can ask people to submit photos of how they enjoy that travel destination and they can win prizes for it. There are all kinds of promotions you can do that way and every time they share, they are actually saying “I love this brand and I'm sort of sharing what I know about this brand and I'm going to share it with my network.”

That’s a really graciously wonderful thing they can do. But you are asking for their participation and you're making it clear that they are going to share it with their network when they do that. By doing that, you're saying I care about you as a customer. I want your opinion and I want you to share your opinion about what you think about us with everybody you know. So ask them their opinion, and then ask them if they would share their opinion with other people.

Now, you could incentivize them to do it for a contest or prize or something and that's okay as long as it's clear, or they could just do it just because they love you. There are plenty of brands out there who they say I just had this great experience with this company, and they may write to you and say, "Thank you so much," and you can say, "Would you mind telling other people that?" Ask them to share it with other people. So every time you have a customer touch point, look for ways that they can tell other people about it and social is an absolutely wonderful platform for doing that. So, you can definitely ask customers if you have their permission to tell people what they think.

I don't know if you ever read reviews on Amazon. I mean, I think they're incredibly, awfully useless because I don't really believe that they're really authentic, but I think that there are other companies that do have fairly authentic reviews of content that appears on Instagram, effectively. There's a brand I work with called Smartwool. Smartwool is a maker of outdoor clothing, so they are very well-known for their socks, Smartwool socks. I mean, you want to spend $30 on a pair of socks, they are great socks. I mean, they have to be for 20, 30 bucks for a pair of socks, and they have these great wool products. People who use Smartwool products love Smartwool products, and somehow they are proud of the fact that they've bought these Smartwool socks and they are really studly outdoors people that are serious about the outdoors and they bought Smartwool.

Smartwool has this system called Fan Field Testers and people will volunteer to share, through the use of hashtags, photographs of themselves wearing Smartwool socks. And if you search for that Smartwool hashtag, you'll see all these pictures of people's feet by the fire in their Smartwool socks saying, "Great day hiking," hashtag Smartwool and showing their Smartwool sock. Money in the bank and Smartwool knows it. So they will accumulate all this hashtag content of people saying they love their product, they'll moderate it and they'll put it into these beautiful galleries and people will see it and they'll want to put their own content up there because they want to be in the gallery.

Then Smartwool will take it one step further. They will reach out to their very best. They see there are certain people they know appear all the time, and they say, "Wow, this person is always talking about Smartwool," and they'll reach out and touch that person, and say would you like to be a Fan Field Tester, and in that way you can try all our new products and give us your opinion. Like they're going to say no. They are so excited about this and they'll tell everybody "I'm a Fan Field Tester for Smartwool," and it's a perfect example of a brand that is just leveraging the fact that people love what they're doing.

There's another brand I've worked with called New Belgium Brewing, was the same way. They are one of the leading craft breweries in the United States and people who love New Belgium brews and Fat Tire ales, they love to talk about them, and this brand knows who those people are and sees them all over the country. They appear and appear and appear all the time. They engage them. They get them to talk about it more. So, if you can see those people, engage them. Get them to talk about it. Ask them, "Can we write about you? Can we put your photo on our home page? Can we sort of throw a beer tasting party for you in the local Whole Foods?" I mean, there are all kinds of ways that you can get the word out, and that's actually incredibly cool.

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