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Rethinking What It Means ...

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All companies recognize that customers saying positive things about their products is marketing gold.

Think about the last time you were searching for a ramen restaurant and put stock — can’t resist a bad pun — in Yelp to find your destination. Or your dependence on online reviews before shelling out money for the latest gadget.

Same goes for B2B companies. Study after study point out the most trusted source for buying decisions are peers, those with similar jobs (who may or may not be actual customers).

Yet, how PR amplifies the customer’s voice hasn’t changed much in 20 years.

We fling out news releases with clever narratives like, “We’re pleased that Company XYZ conducted an exhaustive evaluation and selected us.” We place application articles. We retweet customer tweets. And those with enough budget might create customer videos.

Fragmentation of “Customer Influence”

Assuming good execution, these tactics do amplify the voice of the customer.

But the fragmentation of “customer influence” in today’s world calls for fresh thinking on how we help those who use our clients’/companies’ products get the word out.

Consider all the tools for digital communications — new tools coming on the scene all the time — at the disposal of buyers to share their point of view. As noted earlier, the data says that opinions from customers impact buying behavior even if there’s not a personal relationship. And it’s only a matter of time before the technology arrives that allows buyers to aggregate the viewpoints of business peers, family members, friends and other trusted sources on a given topic or product category.

Which brings us back to the never-ending debate on what constitutes influence. Wanting to avoid this holy war for the time being, let’s keep it simple and look at “reach” as opposed to “influence.” Doesn’t it seem logical for companies to identify their top customers by social reach? I don’t think many companies take on such an exercise. For consumer companies, simply including a checklist of social channels participation on the registration card starts the filtering process. For B2B companies, it could be that a more qualitative approach is in order with a Google search on the customer’s name.

Once you’ve identified your “customer advocates,” how you engage with them is tricky ground. A request to become a cheerleader only works if the person is 16 years old and enjoys the pageantry of high school football.

McKinsey recently published a point of view on innovation that included this passage:

“Customers — empowered by digital tools and extensive peer-reviewed knowledge about products and services — now often do a better job of choosing among buying options than companies do. Switching costs are low. Most significant, the former passivity of customers has been superseded by a desire to fulfill their own talents and express their own ideas, feelings, and thoughts. As a result, they may interpret efforts to win their loyalty as obstacles to self-actualization.”

Customers Don’t Want to Feel Handled

Yet, most people enjoy recognition and even attention.

As Hamlet put it, “Ay, there’s the rub.”

Finding answers to this quandary calls for experiments.

We certainly haven’t cracked the code with “customer advocates,” but we’re trying new things. For example, as our campaigns continue to blend owned media and conventional PR, we’re taking matters into our own hands to tell customer stories like this one:SavvyShipper - Gollihur Music 08-15Beyond the obvious, this type of engagement also allows for the company to develop more meaningful relationships with its customers.

Again, we’re not saying that this is the answer to “customer influence” fragmentation.

Instead, it’s about experimenting and repeating the activities that work.


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