A soggy crowd swam out to the Times Center Monday afternoon to hear a Digitas-led panel speak about one of the hottest topics of the year: how should we rethink mass marketing in order to leverage our most passionate customers — also known as “affluencers” — to help carry brand messages?
Moderator Liz Ross of Digitas kicked off the conversation by asking where brand marketers find their most valuable customers and how they help ignite brand-relevant conversations.
Megan Hanley, General Manager for Global Media at Microsoft, said listening is the first step to establishing any relationship. Before joining conversations around the Windows 7 launch, Hanley said her team took the time to evaluate and understand the dynamics of the community.
“If you plant the seeds the right way, you can get some really interesting content,” she said. By enabling a community of loyal consumers to tell their story about Windows 7, Microsoft was able to leverage great content from their most passionate consumers, which considerably amped up Microsoft’s credibility.
While other panelists emphasized the importance of taking risks, Hanley reminded the audience that it’s helpful to have a few rules of the road, including a tip to handle perennial haters: “Don’t mud wrestle with a pig, because the pig loves it and you’ll just get dirty.”
Pat Dermody, VP of Media Buying, Digital and Social Networking at Sears Holding Co., sticks to a “listen loudly” policy. “It’s no longer about retail companies selling to a customer,” she said. “It’s about a retailer sourcing information from customers and then trying to respond to their needs.” Dermody said she has been pleasantly surprised by the open and honest ways Sears customers are willing to engage with the brand. She’s also been increasingly excited by the high level of entrepreneurship and innovation in the digital space.
Sears is harnessing that innovation by getting their best customers engaged on multiple platforms. They recently partnered with CBS to create an online version of Survivor so consumers could create videos describing why they were the perfect Survivor contestant. They’ve also created a live studio in Chicago where customers can interact directly with their products in new and innovative environments.
Craig Bierley, Director at Buick GMC Advertising, agreed that it’s essential to find new and innovative ways of finding influentials; he’s focused on finding new customers across platforms in order to get Buick into their consideration set and provide a place where they can find peer validation. He’s particularly bullish on mobile and gaming as inflection points where consumers can interact directly with brands in social environments. And while he said the right content is integral, it’s also important to distribute it in contextually relevant environments.
Buick recently launched a new site called “Moment of Truth” for the 2011 Buick Regal. Customers are able to post exactly what they think of their car. Risky? You bet. “We decided to go ahead and put anything and everything out there,” he said. “It made sense, and it has paid off.”
What about you? We’d love to hear how you’re listening in and sparking conversations with your customers. How and where are you engaging? And how do you deal with those mud-wrestling pigs?