Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Digital initiatives can create RABID customers

By Mark Helfen


Communities of common interests have been around as long as humans. Maybe longer.

But the ever wider distribution of the web, supporting networks and social networking software have changed the dynamics, allowing the creation of digital communities that can have a large effect on the success of your business or organization. These "digital initiatives" (in the terminology of our speaker) can:

  • Improve, or damage, your relationships with your customers.
  • Improve positive images or your company, or strengthen negative images.
  • Improve customer service and satisfaction.
  • Give your customers a voice, which can supply innovative ideas that you might never have thought of. 
  • Help create a population of not just customers, but committed, even "rabid" fans.

At Monday's (6/14/2010) SDForum Marketing SIG meeting, Dylan Thomas, Digital Director at Rassak Experience, discussed strategies for developing your community initiative plans, but spent most of his talk describing digital initiative successes and failures.

Thomas gave a few ways of developing a strategy for community initiatives. This is part of a larger list limited by the time allotted to his presentation:

  • A digital community includes all of the people interested in your company, organization, or product. "The scary part about that is that you already have a community," said Thomas, even if you have done nothing to develop or communicate with it. Your first task is to figure out who these people are, and where and how they communicate.
  • Set goals for you digital initiative. Are you trying to increase revenue from existing customers, find new customers, increase the quality of your leads, build brand loyalty, or something else.
  • Decide on joining an existing community (Facebook being one example) or building a custom community.

Thomas gave a number of examples of businesses or organizations that have used community initiatives to improve their results. I will describe just a few of these:

The Axiom Group puts on conferences targeted to C-level, senior executives. Rassak Design created an on-line community (in this case built on Ning, a social media platform) to give conference attendees a controlled, and exclusive place where the can converse, both before and after the conference. Thomas reports that conference attendees felt that the overall value of attending (and paying for) the conference was increased by the digital community.

Factory Five cars, which are "kit" cars built by race car enthusiasts. Owners have formed their own community, ffcars.com, completely independent of the company that sells the kits. This community and the web site that supports it give the company a competitive advantage over other kit car companies.  The combination of the product and the independent community created rabid fans. Thomas said that people chose Factory Five products in part because of the large community.

Dell computers represents its own MBA case study, right up to the present day. In this part of their history (2006), Dell was having problems with customer satisfaction, and getting a terrible reputation in the market. The first attempt at fixing this was to create a blog called "Direct to Dell," where the company explained (to liberally paraphrase Thomas) why they were right, and customers were wrong - describing how difficult it was to make personal computers, Dells problems, and why customers should like them anyway. That didn't help.

Pass two was to create the Ideastorm, a web site that still exists. Here, customers were able to complain, make suggestions, and get social credit from other users for having good answers and ideas. Even better, customers got more credit when Dell adopted one of their ideas into the product line. The results were happier customers, and Dell getting better ideas. Dell has also adopted Facebook and Twitter to communicate with customers and prospects. A happy ending for all.

You can find a copy of Thomas' presentation on the SDForum Marketing SIG web page.


Mark Helfen is a freelance writer, journalist, and marketing consultant. He can be reached at:

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