So Dell launched a blog today, joining the ranks of Earthlink and other leading-edge companies who have decided to interact with their customers in a new way. After a few harsh words from a couple of bloggers, it seems the vast majority of the blogging community is willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and see how they do. The bigger question is whether “corporate blogs” are merely another marketing channel for companies, or is there something more here? I’d argue there is MUCH more here. In fact, this is a glimpse of the future of customer loyalty management.
Marketing 101: 1975 – 2005
I recently sat in a lecture at Harvard Business School by one of the “old school” marketing strategy pundits of the last 30 years – Ben Shapiro. Shapiro dutifully put up slides showing how companies should understand their customer base by slicing & dicing data about how much profit potential each group of customers represents today, and their growth prospects in the future. As usual, he is the king of the one-liner – “The problem with older customers is that they tend to die more often.” The presentation reminded me of Bain’s Fred “Customer Loyalty” Reicheld approach – use lots of data to make decisions about which customers are the good ones. This has been a powerful way for a generation of marketing strategy MBA’s to analyze what makes their customer’s tick. However, it is an approach that was built in the pre-wired world. Even the emergence of the Internet only prompted companies to create smaller segments of customers (direct marketing to a “segment of one”) and improve customer service.
Marketing 101: 2006 – ???
The blogosphere changes everything. Now, as Dell has already proven 24 hours into its launch, companies can create A DIALOG with customers. Not feedback from surveys. Not customized marketing campaigns. Not automated email responses or “press #2 to reach a Spanish-speaking salesperson”. We are talking about creating respectful relationships – heck even friendships – between employees and customer “mavens”. Already you can see bloggers willing to provide frank and helpful feedback to Dell’s IR & PR people about site design, product improvements, and they’ve cleared up a hoax about Dell’s keyboard loggers. These types of feedback are a marketers dream, because not only does the company get good, honest feedback, the feedback is coming from influential customers who themselves are connected to thousands of other customers and potential customers. The impact of one friendly interaction between Dell and a blogger is amplied exponentially, in near real time, and without advertising expense.
Just when you thought productivity couldn’t improve any more (after email, the web & Blackberries have driven dramatic gains for the past 10 years), here is a development that will allow companies to quickly react to customer concerns and diseminate their responses instantly to vast interconnected groups of their customers and prospects. Marketeers rejoice – a world of real-time feedback is here and you no longer have to make product decisions in a vacuum.
Poor Ben Shapiro.