Plain Thoughts Blog

on marketing, media and communication

Getting customers to do your work for you

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By peterurban - August 5th, 2008

It’s a well known fact that how a business interacts with its customers is crucial to its success. Part of it is how you respond to a question or concern that your customer has – but businesses also have to be able to draw the visitor’s attention. One way of doing this is simply by advertising. A well-designed billboard or storefront poster can easily draw people’s attention to a product they may not have known about otherwise.

But the media-saturated climate of the twenty-first century is causing problems for this tried and tested sales method. People are starting to tune out of traditional forms of marketing: units exist for cable and satellite channels that block ads on TV, and the popular Adblock Plus plugin for Firefox does an amazing job of cleaning up websites as you browse.

So how do you get people interested in your product? You let them interact with it!

Threadless is an excellent example of the success of this approach. In eight years they have gone from being a two person startup (after entering a t-shirt designing contest) to being one of the hottest sites on the web. They have now also opened up their own store. All this from a simple, fun concept: t-shirt designs are submitted by users, voted on by users, and then the winning designs are printed. There are other highly successful examples as well, like Build a Bear. The success of their business is based on enabling kids to wander in and build their own teddy – the one they’ve ‘always wanted’.

It is so crucial that you invite clients to give their honest feedback about your product. Even further, like Threadless, you can let your clients in on the creative process. Customers are experts in the field of what they want – they are the ones paying your bills, so let them show you how you can fit their needs. If they have a choice between a product that is close, and a company that let’s you play with the product so that it is perfect, it’s no surprise that the latter is the one which will be chosen more times than not.

The other advantage of this form of customer/business interaction comes in the form of marketing. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, and both good and bad buzz spread quickly, especially in this age of immediate international commentary via blogs, forums, and feed services like Twitter. By encouraging your customers enjoy and customize experience, you immediately improve the reputation of your company – the word spreads that you ‘get it.’

By letting your customers tell you exactly what they want, letting them use the product, and then changing it into exactly what they need, everyone leaves the table happy – the customer has the product that is perfect for them, and you know that they will recommend your business to others. A perfect cycle, for smart growth.

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