A good way to put more loyalty, community building, and fun into your marketing is by giving your customers a chance to be creative with your offering. You can open up the doors to your proverbial “workshop” by inviting outsiders to create new versions of your product or service, then tell all your prospects about their efforts.
At first this may sound like you are giving up too much control of your business, but when you look around, it’s really not that far-fetched. Independent book and video stores often make staff recommendations part of their regular service to shoppers. So why not offer customers the chance to make recommendations as well? Gourmet food makers and upscale markets often include customer recipes as part of in-store promotions.
But there’s no reason to stop there. Using online tools, such as e-mail, blogs, and Facebook, many types of businesses can let customers design products and then promote the most unique of those customer designs. It is an inexpensive way to both boost sales and create buzz about their businesses.
For instance, Adagio Teas, an online tea business based in New Jersey, encourages customers to blend unique combinations of teas and submit the blends for sale. Every time someone purchases a customer blend, the creator earns $1 toward his or her next purchase. The most popular customer tea blends are also given away as thank-you gifts to other customers during seasonal promotions.
Grasping that the personal touch can be compelling, the company shares details about the customer blends on its website. For example, there you learn that tea lover Debbie Truitt blended a fruity, pink-tinted concoction and named it after her pet dog Scarlet Rose. With such an approach, the role of marketing shifts; instead of bragging about your offering and reputation, you share the details and back stories of your customer-created products. The result is a stronger sense of community among your base and a touch of entertainment in the shopping experience.
Lest you think this homegrown approach is too provincial for your company, look at how it is moving into the mainstream. Papa John’s pizza chain just started a national promotion asking people to share their recipes for new specialty pizzas. The top pizzas will be put on the menu, and the company will share part of the sales income from these pies with the winners. In addition, all the recipes will be shown on the company’s Facebook page as a way to drum up more Web traffic and online pizza orders. And yes, Papa John’s customer pizzas will include a story about why the recipe is special.
In her book Outside Innovation: How Your Customers Will Co-design Your Company’s Future (HarperBusiness, 2006), management strategist Patricia Seybold cheers this approach. She says that dynamic businesses of every size can unleash innovation by inviting customers to co–design what they do and promote it. “Let your customers strut their stuff,” she says. “Companies that are staying ahead of the pack are collaborating at every level of their business with their customers.”
So open those workshop doors. It may feel strange at first, but the response from your creative customers and curious prospects may make it well worth it.