Radio ads rarely intrigue me. They typically invoke an immediate response to change the station, or they just hang in the background until the next song comes on.
But, recently, a radio advertisement for Boar's Head meats demanded my attention. It was about an old flimflam and a unique way that Boar's Head is trying to battle a longstanding problem.
After hearing the commercial, I came home and immediately visited the Boar's Head Web site.
Here's a quick rundown. About 20 years ago, Boar's Head realized a disturbing trend: Some deli owners would show Boar's Head in the deli case, but then use a cheaper deli meat when actually making sandwiches—not good for Boar's Head, not good for customers, and ultimately not good for the deli owner.
Fast-forward to today. Unfortunately for Boar's Head, a company with a long and proud history, it seems that the old flimflam has again reared its ugly head.
But Boar's Head isn't sitting back and taking the punches. It's fighting back. How? Well, it isn't sending an entire force of lawyers out on the streets, and it certainly isn't sending the deli police on raids. That wouldn't scale, or be that powerful.
Instead, Boar's Head is tapping into a much more powerful force that it has worked hard to build over the years. That's right—the Boar's Head loyal customer base! The company is asking consumers to report any deli that's pulling the old flimflam. It has set up an 800 number and wants customers to demand to see the actual product that is being sliced. Brilliant!
If the deli owner is pulling the flimflam, then the customer can call the 800 number and report the incident. Boar's Head would then take action and stop supplying that deli. I love it! It's empowered its own army of meat lovers. No guns, no grenades... but you bet they're armed!
With word-of-mouth marketing (WOM) so hot right now, and everyone trying to empower customers, it's hard to overlook the power of what Boar's Head is doing.
Let's first take a look at a hypothetical situation of how empowering customers could help your business, then I'll list six things you can do to empower your own customer base—that's right, to build your own army.
How an Army of Loyal Customers Can Protect and Defend Your Brand
Let's face it, there are some unscrupulous people out there in the business world. Imagine for a second that your director of marketing called you this morning after learning that several companies were misrepresenting your brand and product, swapping out your product with a cheaper one from a lesser company. Ouch.
How would you feel? What would you do? How would you defend the brand that you've spent years building?
Now imagine how powerful it would be to unleash your loyal following of customers on the creeps doing this to you:
Jim, the schoolteacher from Westchester, New York, comes across one of the retailers pulling the flimflam and whips out his iPhone to take snapshots, which he then emails to your flimflam email address. Then Pearl, a grandmother of six, who gets so angry that she tears into the retail salesperson and uses his own smartphone to call your customer service line (unfortunately, she then proceeds to keep your customer service rep on the line for 10 minutes as she touts her award-winning apple pie). But it doesn't stop there. Mitch, the college kid from the University of Delaware gets so angry that he walks into his fraternity house and exits five minutes later with 20 of his fraternity brothers to see whether the retailer pulls the stunt again. When he does, all 20 fraternity brothers call your customer service line, while also reminding you about their keg party on Saturday night. As everyone leaves the store (after hearing what's going on), a four-year-old-girl looks at the store manager and says, "Mommy says you're a bad man." Powerful stuff, right?
How to Follow Boar's Head and Empower Your Own Army of Loyal Customers
Now that we've seen how powerful an army of customers can be for defending your brand and products, let's look at six ways to empower your own customers.
- Earn trust by always going above and beyond for your customers. Yes, a basic point, but without this basic point you are dead in the water. This is the proverbial "catch." You need to constantly impress your customers, provide outstanding products that help them, and then provide topnotch customer service when they need assistance. This is the foundation for building a loyal customer base. Without exceeding expectations, you would be giving your Patton-like speech to the sound of crickets.
- Communicate with your customers! They won't bite... most of the time. But build several lines of communication with your customers from email to blogging to surveys to rewards programs to using social media. If you don't join the conversation and build a dialogue, then there's almost no chance of building a great relationship. Also, as part of your communications, make sure that you are always educating your customers, arming them with data, and differentiating your products.
- Build your insider program. Launch a concerted word-of-mouth marketing campaign and build your database of insiders. You can provide them with exclusive information, deals, and programs that connect them with your business. Get out there and meet your loyal customers. Set up happy hours in various cities, bring them to your company for tours, take them to dinner, etc. Your insiders will be an extension of your company, or the boots on the ground, so to speak. You should work hard to foster a relationship with them.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help when needed. If you have built a loyal following, then don't hesitate to ask for help when you need it. If you've done a solid job communicating with your customers, they should be up to speed on what's going on with your business. Think about Boar's Head. It asked for help... You might be surprised to see how many people bend over backwards to help your situation, especially in the Web 2.0 world we live in. If your customers don't respond, refer back to first point and re-evaluate how well you are meeting their expectations.
- Arm them. Just to be clear... not with guns. Provide several mechanisms for getting in touch with you: for example, an 800 number, email address, SMS, your Twitter account, your blog, etc. Make it easy to get in touch with you and you'll have a greater chance of hearing what's going on in the field when it happens. And let your customers send whatever they've got... whether that's simply leaving a voicemail, sending photos, video, etc. Gather the intelligence so you can make informed decisions.
- Follow up with your customers. If a loyal customer takes the time to help you out, make sure you follow up, and reward him/her! If you don't, there's a good chance that person will never help you again. As you set up your own "anti-flimflam" program, make sure you map out a system for following up with customers and for rewarding them. For example, will you let customer evangelists build up their profiles? Can they become your version of a company black belt? A brand sensei? A master of your brand? What do they get and how will you communicate this to them?
Now Go Build Your Army
Let's face it. At some point, everyone needs a little help. You might be in a tough situation, your brand or products might be attacked, and you will be looking for assistance. So, who will back you? Your $500-per-hour lawyer? Your PR agency? Your entire family? Or... your own customers, chomping at the bit to vigorously defend your reputation. How beautiful would that be?
Now's your chance to help build your own army. Your volunteers await.