In “Cool Influencers With Big Followings Get Picky About Their Endorsements,” Sydney Ember of the NY Times writes,
The more brands that use influencers for marketing campaigns on social platforms like YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, the less impact each influencer has. At the same time, many influencers, who once jumped at the opportunity to endorse brands, are being much more selective for fear of appearing to sell out.
The technology and services industry today is awash with individuals whose only professional activity is flitting from vendor conference to vendor conference, with the sole purpose of writing completely non-objective puff pieces praising their vendor hosts in exchange for money (or in the hope said vendors will pony up some dough in gratitude).
Okay, let’s admit some basic facts: when you look at many influencers, there’s really not much to them.
So “influencer,” it appears, is a euphemism for sell-out. We’re talking about shills here.
What should a brand do with truly valuable customers? I see three choices:
- Pay the customer to shill for them. That seems to be the default in today’s marketing world.
- Reward the customer in some way, as airlines do with frequent flyer programs.
- Recruit the customer to get more involved with the company itself, helping to improve its products and services. In other words, use the customer as an influencer on the company, rather than on some target audience. Generate real value at the source.
I submit that #3 has far more value than #1, and can add enormous value to #2.
Think of three companies for which you are a committed customer. Then think about what value you can give to those companies as a veteran user and good source of intelligence and insight.
As examples, I’ll name three of my own:
I’m way past a million miles with United, and have been a “1K” (100k miles/year) passenger for years. Naturally, United is nice to me, as it tries to be with all frequent fliers. I have no complaints, and can think of much to praise. I’ve also done my best to be good to United as well (though not by shilling them). One small way is by tagging with “United,” “United Airlines” and “UAL” all the 10,000+ scenic photos I’ve taken out the windows of their airplanes.
But I would be glad to do more. For free. Like other frequent (and expert) fliers, I have plenty of ideas it would be good for United (or any airline) to hear, whether or not they implement them. But, aside from United’s feedback surveys, there is no easy or standard way to do that.
According to my personal account pages at MyGarmin.com, I own six Garmin GPS units and a map for one of them. In fact I’ve owned more than I see on both lists. (Some have been lost or stolen.) I’ve also loved every Garmin product I’ve ever used. My current fave is the little eTrex 20 GPS. That unit and earlier Legend and Vista models have yielded lots of useful data for me, including what’s visualized here on the company’s free BaseCamp map app:
Same goes for data remembered, somehow, by Garmin’s older RoadTrip app:
Note the differences. I’d love to combine and reconcile them somehow, but have no idea how to do that. I’d also like to see the next-generation eTrex bring back some of the virtues I enjoyed in the Legend and Vista (such as the rubbery back and the non-flimsy way the earlier models held a MicroSD card).
I’ve had a number of conversations, over the years, with Garmin call centers, and their agents have always been highly knowledgeable and helpful. But I’d love to have a better way to relate to Garmin than the means the company alone provides.
I actually have only one Apogee product: the Mic microphone. It’s handy, and vastly improves sound over the built-in mics in my laptop and mobile devices. I carry it with me everywhere. In fact, I like the Mic so much that I would be glad to buy some of the company’s other products. But I haven’t, because the legs of my Mic have all fallen off. (Each were held on by a tiny phillips-head screw that easily unscrews and disappears. Two of the legs are now held on by substitute screws and the third by a twist-tie.) I just opened a support ticket on Apogee’s support page, asking for replacement screws, and attempted unsuccessfully to wake up the Live Chat thing. We’ll see how it goes with the support ticket.
I have two points here.
One I’ve already made: good customers have far more value to add than their patronage alone.
The other is new to business: we need a standard and common way for any customer to contribute useful intelligence to any company they care about. This would unlock immeasurable value through improved products and services.
We can’t get there by working the company side alone. Even if every company in the world improves its customer service to the max, every company’s systems and improvements would still be as different as they are today.
We can only innovate here on the customer side.
It helps that there is nothing new about this. The entire Internet is an example of exactly the kind of innovation we’re talking about here. It gives every customer scale, and provides a common way for everybody to engage everybody else. Same goes for basic tools we use on the Net. For example, browsers and email. Browsers especially provide standard and common ways for individuals to engage Web sites and services.
What we’re talking about here is a breed of VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. But it’s one breed, not the whole thing. And it’s a new breed.
I think it needs a name, so we can classify development there. Got one? Lemme have it.
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