Is this J.Crew swimsuit the perfect example of customer-centric marketing?

 

In the early days of advertising, brands would present their audience with product marketing messages aimed at encouraging demand and shifting product, rather than explaining benefits or quality. These days we’re more battle-worn and savvy, aware that marketing messages are attempting to persuade rather than objectively inform.

 Search ‘unbiased product reviews’ on Google and you get over 4.5 million hits.  Or, consider the success of websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Amazon through which you can crowdsource experience and opinion before laying out your dollars. We just don’t trust marketers. (Say it isn't so!)

But is this really a problem? Well, it could be.

84% of customers feel that online research and feedback helps influence their buying decisions.
— Google, 2012

Businesses are slowly learning that we tend to take their carefully prepared advertising with a grain of salt, and one method is by using third party perspective in order to present their marketing messages as information to be trusted. This might be through blogger outreach or by finding creative ways to involve a third party in their advertising.

Most of the time this is done in an open fashion such as with a disclaimer from the blogger that their post or review is sponsored in some fashion. But this isn’t always the case. Compare two of the promoted ‘independent’ review options in Australia today: ‘Choice Magazine’, a trusted source of independent reviews, and BrandPower ("Helping you buy better"), who brands pay to have their product information presented as being unbiased. Who would you trust more?

 A good example of third party perspective is a recent competition run by Honda, looking for the Honda Odyssey’s ‘Best Critic’, where the winner, a member of the public, got to review the car:

It clearly shows the benefits of the car if you’re juggling a busy life, and on the face of it refreshing to see an ‘independent’ review. But as an execution does the critic (who apparently won a car in exchange for her stirring testimony) give us what we’re looking for in a review?

 We want the good and the bad. Let’s face it, when we’re searching for reviews, looking as much for a reason not to buy, as justification for our decision to purchase. In fact, 22% of Australians change their minds while in-store about a purchase after completing a mobile search – perhaps seeing a better option, a cheaper price - or a bad review.

And yes, people want to know about the bad. You can tell this from the video comments: a commenter asks if there’s any truth to the rumour that the comfort factor of the ride is less than the previous Odyssey model. Interestingly, Honda so far haven’t responded despite the video having well over 200,000 views.

This is the downslide of social media and why we say it should be considered as a customer service channel as much as a marketing one. If a customer wrote in or walked into a store and asked a question about a product they would be answered. The risk of ignoring these questions on social media is that the audience being ignored is amplified - in this case, 200,000 times.

This is also why companies can get slammed for deleting negative comments; the perception (rightly or wrongly) is by censoring the public view, they are limiting choice and trying to control the conversation rather than listening and trying to resolve the complaint.

When third party perspective is used as a creative device in ads it can work well. Napisan has used it in the past where they encouraged ‘unexpecting’ members of the public with tough stains to take the Napisan Challenge.

But what happens when this is taken online into 2-way communication environment? They’ve tried this recently with their Tip Exchange

Now, Napisan’s a great product and definitely in my laundry, but there are some alternatives which can work just as effectively on certain stains; and you won’t find these mentioned in their promotion.

 Is it working? Engagement seems to be low, when measured by video views and social media shares. Perhaps when every promotion is a variant of ‘put Napisan on it’ the tips start to sound repetitive and a little unobjective, which makes this sort of comment very refreshing:

Oil in your white shirt.. No worry a mate, 1st grab your vanish then throw it away 2nd grab some WD-40 and spay it on the stain and scrub like hell.

Now that’s the real voice of the consumer.

 

The power of listening done well

Freelance writer Jenni Avins penned an open letter in New York Magazine's The Cut to J.Crew and its Creative Director Jenna Lyons about her favourite bathing suit, which had sadly been discontinued. In it she raved about the quality, the fit and the colour palette, and how in many years nothing else had come close.

What is a brand to do when faced with a review like that?

2 page spread in NY Mag's The Cut; perfect customer service

2 page spread in NY Mag's The Cut; perfect customer service

Beautiful, personal, and I bet they sell out of those swimsuits.

 

So how can you get a little customer perspective in your marketing?

  • Seek out testimonials from satisfied customers, and make sure they’re on your website
  • If you sell online, allow customers to review and rate, helping others to make purchase decisions
  • Share positive reviews and tweets by retweeting, sharing online or via customer newsletters
  • Engage and say thank you!
  • Consider creating a website FAQ containing questions and answers from your customers
  • If you’re a B2B business make sure you’re requesting personal recommendations through LinkedIn

 And if the comments are negative? Take it offline quickly if possible, but be sure everyone knows you’re committed to resolving the issue online first. Think creatively about what you can do with the feedback. After all, Jenni Avins’s letter could just as easily been treated as a minor recreational outrage and ignored, rather than being turned into a rather wonderful PR coup.

 

Source: Google, 2012

Image/F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal