Happy customers, best advocates

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Tom Rapsas
Tom Rapsas

As a direct marketer, you already know the importance of identifying your company's best customers and keeping them happy. Yet, few marketers go the extra mile to turn their top customers into active proponents of your brand.

According to a desk-high pile of research from groups like the Word of Mouth Association, individuals are more inclined to believe word of mouth than more formal communication methods — like advertising.

So, who better to pass along a good word about your brand than your most loyal cus­tomers? There are a few ways to get your customers talking. One is to prove you're every bit as enthused about your product or service — and the category that product resides in — as your customers are, whether you're selling golf clubs, knitting supplies or a craft brewing class.

For example, at Patagonia's “Sports We Do” link, customers see stories on sports from fly fishing to extreme climbing, featur­ing the exploits of real-life employees — each wearing the latest Patagonia garb.

Another option is to create a community of like-minded people, like a social network­ing site. Today, many major corporations are getting into the act, like Coca-Cola with My Coke, Carnival Cruise Lines with Carnival Connections and Anheuser-Busch with Clink.

Similarly, Patron Tequila's members-only Web site, Patron Social Club, lets visitors can read about their favorite tequi­las, debate the merits of various cultural topics (Cosmo or Rita?) and answer a few questions to receive targeted information regarding sweepstakes, special events and select Patron products.

The key to any successful social network­ing initiative is to convert online activity into offline actions — that's something all the above sites do, by not only forming and nurturing communities, but by creating promotions that encourage participation.

By getting your best customers person­ally involved with your brand, you increase the likelihood that they won't just use your product or service, they'll talk about it. In turn, this will create even more customers.

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